Elections of 2000 and 2004

Candidates

2000:
George W. Bush (271* Electoral Votes)
Albert Gore (266* Electoral Votes)

2004:
George W. Bush (286 Electoral Votes)
John Kerry (255 Electoral Votes)

Even at the time, it was obvious that the tumultuous aftermath of the 2000 election posed one of our worst electoral crises (perhaps exceeded only by the Electoral College tie of 1800 and the secession crisis subsequent to the 1860 election).  From the perspective of twelve years on, we can now see that this election ushered in a period of creeping political crisis, legislative gridlock, and a polarization of the electorate comparable only to the divisions leading up to the Civil War.

The campaign, conducted in the shadow of Bill Clinton’s intern indiscretions and subsequent impeachment, pitted the charismatic (at least to some) but lackluster Governor George W. Bush of Texas against the dull (at least on television) but accomplished Albert Gore.  Bush promised to restore dignity and honor to the White House.  Gore unfairly carried much of the burden for Clinton’s personal failings, and he was even more unfairly vilified by a press corps that actually lied by accusing Gore of being a serial liar.  (The mind boggles, but the press corps’ lies during the 2000 campaign are exhaustively and excruciatingly documented by the indispensible Bob Somerby at http://www.howhegotthere.blogspot.com/.)  It may not be too much to say that the press corps’ misconduct was the first sign that our political system was beginning to go off the rails.

The next sign of longer-term trouble was the crisis over the vote count in Florida, on which (despite Gore’s 500,000 vote margin in the national popular vote) the outcome of the election depended.  Butterfly ballots, hanging chads, and dimpled chads revealed a startling level of inconsistency and incompetence in the conduct of our elections. After six weeks of court hearings, dueling talking points, and even a “bourgeois riot” organized to intimidate vote counters in Miami, the Supreme Court ruled in Bush’s favor and effectively handed him the presidency.  However, the court decision did not so much resolve the crisis as become the basis for further polarization, both because it was decided on a “party-line” vote (by an institution supposed to be above party) and because, contrary to basic legal principles, the decision was characterized in the majority opinion as unique to the occasion and not a precedent for future decisions.  (“Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.”  Indeed.)

Thus began the dubious presidency of “Dubya,” who quickly became the hero of conservatives (especially religious conservatives) and the nemesis of liberals and Democrats.  Despite this, Dubya enjoyed a period of nearly unanimous support after al-Quada’s terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  But after an inconclusive campaign against al-Quada’s strongholds in Afghanistan, which culminated in the escape of al-Quada leader Osama bin Laden over the mountains into Pakistan, Dubya ordered the invasion of Iraq to remove the danger supposedly posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.  There a quick conventional victory against Iraq’s overmatched conventional forces soon bogged down in a lengthy struggle against an unconventional insurgency.

The stalemate in Iraq, along with the failure to find the weapons that had been the pretext for the invasion, gave Democrats hope that they could oust Dubya in 2004.  They nominated Massachusetts Senator and Vietnam War hero (later Vietnam protest leader) John Kerry.  But Dubya’s political Svengali Karl Rove turned Kerry’s virtues against him in a series of televisions advertisements that questioned his war record as a Swift boat commander in Vietnam.  These Swift boat ads set a new low for political mendacity, but the political press corps revealed its indolence and self-absorption by failing to expose the many lies in the ads until their damage to Kerry was irreversible.  Kerry lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, but would still have won the election if he had carried the state of Ohio.  The many irregularities of the voting in Ohio (e.g., a more generous supply of voting machines in Republican areas than in Democratic areas) increased the festering doubts of many about the legitimacy of our voting processes.

Dubya went on to a disastrous second term, featuring a pathetic attempt to privatize Social Security, a pointless national controversy about whether it was ethical to allow an irreversibly comatose woman named Terry Schiavo to die, a thoroughly botched response to the tremendous destruction wreaked on New Orleans and the

Gulf coast by Hurricane Katrina, and culminating in the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.  Good times!

*OK, set aside hanging chads, dimpled chads, overvotes, and undervotes.  In the absence of the Palm Beach County’s infamous butterfly ballot alone, there can be little doubt that the outcome of the election would have been:

Albert Gore 291
George W. Bush 246

 

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