by Martin SheehanNews Weekly
United States: ClintonÂ’s legacy to determine U.S. presidential poll
, November 4, 2000
The 2000 US presidential election campaign will probably go down as one of the dullest in modern times. Though obviously straining to seem radically different from each other, the Democrat Vice-President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush, have only managed to emphasise their similarities on a number of issues. They even wear the same coloured clothes in their television debates.
On foreign affairs, economics and law-and-order issues, the candidates often seem to have secretly colluded over their policy positions. Both have stressed the need for a tough foreign policy, particularly against so-called rogue states, such as North Korea and Cuba; and both candidates have praised the virtues of free trade and globalisation as the best means of promoting prosperity and employment.
Also, both candidates have showed strong support for the death penalty. Once upon a time, a Democratic and a Republican could have been expected to hold diametrically opposed opinions on the issue. But in the era of poll-driven policy making, which the Democrats under Clinton and Gore turned into a fine art, both candidates have followed the popular opinion across the US which still clearly supports the death penalty.
One area in which Bush has managed to distinguish himself is in the area of tax cuts. Gore has repeatedly claimed that such a policy would essentially amount to huge tax breaks for the top one per cent of American society. Bush simply counters that this benefit to the rich would somehow flow down to the middle-classes.
The Bush tax cuts would reduce the tax take by $US1.6 trillion over the next ten years.
The plan, designed by former Federal Reserve state governor, Larry Lindsey, has been criticised by many economists, and by the present head of the Reserve Bank, Alan Greenspan, as potentially highly inflationary.
Lindsey insists this view is wrong: "If I thought this was going to get in the way of what the [Federal Reserve Bank] wanted to do; if I thought the Fed was worried about this proposal which is phased in gradually over five years, I wouldn't be recommending it."
Yet, as a poll issue, tax cuts consistently rank rather low, well below education, law-and-order and welfare. Why the Bush camp is so keen to make this the principal area of difference remains a mystery. It is true that Bush has developed other policies - on education particularly - which have struck a chord with voters.
Gore's strategy has been simple. He hopes to win the election by:
1. distancing himself from the salacious exploits of Bill Clinton; and
2. emphasising the experience-intelligence edge he believes he has over his rival.
This, together with the credit he is claiming for the current state of the US economy, was thought to be enough to deliver the election.
Unfortunately for Democrat strategists, Gore is a wooden, uncharismatic performer. Moreover, he is seen increasingly as less trustworthy than the Texas Governor who, whatever his shortcomings in grasping policy detail, is far more at ease with himself and this has come across clearly in his public appearances.
In the Oprah world of American politics, Bush has been the more marketable package and, despite an early and dramatic dip in the polls, he now appears to have a clear break.
The effect of continuing volatility in the Middle East could also be working in Bush's favour. The Vice President believes his grasp of names and places is a major advantage on the foreign affairs issue, but in an uncertain world a President George Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell team has more weight and electoral appeal than a Gore-Lieberman-Albright ticket.
As expected, Gore has been endorsed by leading liberal newspapers, The New York Times and Washington Post. Bush enjoys the support of business journals and the popular press.
The latest polls indicate a victory for Bush. A recent Zogby poll showed that on 23 of 25 specific issue positions, Americans favoured Bush over Gore.
This, perhaps, shows the basic conservatism of the electorate, who while turned away by the uncompromising ideology of a Newt Gingrich, are more favourably inclined towards the "moderate" position of a George W. Bush.
The Zogby poll predicted a Bush win, 45 to 41. Others, including Gallup, have the margin in Bush's favour even greater.