Al Gore will have to come up with better reasons to vote for him than the fact that he has been a dutiful vice president. National polls in early May showed Gore trailing Texas Gov. George W. Bush by 5 to 8 percentage points, and Bush is giving Gore trouble in states where the Democrat should be running strong, such as Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington. This despite reports of a booming national economy and a general feeling of voters that they agree more with the Democrats on key issues such as education, taxes, health care and protecting Social Security than they do with the Republicans.
Despite the pretense of compassion covering his conservatism, Bush's policies make no sense for working-class Americans -- but they didn't make any more sense for working-class Texans when Bush ran against then-Gov. Ann Richards in 1994. Like Gore is doing now, Richards ran on a centrist, business-friendly platform that failed to get working people out to vote for her on election day. Meanwhile, big business types figured that if Richards would do alright by them, Bush would give them anything they wanted. She lost, and he has.
The businessmen who put up the money to bail George W out of the oil business, set him up as a partner in a major-league baseball club, ran him for governor and now for president expect their money's worth, and he will do his best to deliver for them as president, as he has as governor.
Meanwhile, Gore has been all over the map on working-class issues. He relied on the labor unions to secure his nomination over Bill Bradley during the early primaries. Since then Gore seems to have veered right with hopes of capturing middle class and Wall Street support in the general election.
The top issue for organized labor this year is trade with China, and Gore knows that granting permanent normal trade relations for China is a bad deal without binding labor and environmental standards; he said so to AFL-CIO leaders last winter before the business lobby got him to "clarify" his remarks. Still, he knows what is right and we wish he had the backbone to stick up for it.
Maybe Ralph Nader's insurgent campaign as the Green Party candidate will force Gore to buck up and remember those who brought him to the dance. Nader hopes to raise $5 million, get on the ballot in 45 states and draw voters who are disaffected by the pro-corporate stance of the two major parties. He already is polling 5 percent of the vote nationwide, topping Reform candidate Pat Buchanan, and Nader is especially strong in California, which Gore needs in any scenario to win the election.
Gore will need the enthusiastic support of organized labor as well as minorities, environmentalists and family farmers to win in November, but he is giving those groups scant reason to get excited about working for him. Already George Becker of the United Steelworkers union has said his members may not be very enthusiastic about Gore despite the union's endorsement. Teamsters President James Hoffa is reported considering an endorsement of Buchanan and United Auto Workers President Steve Yokich is considering endorsing Nader. Yokich said on the eve of the China vote: "America's working families need and deserve a president they can count on to stand with them on their tough issues, not just the easy ones. That's why we have no choice but to actively explore alternatives to the two major political parties. It's time to forget about party labels and instead focus on supporting candidates, such as Ralph Nader, who will take a stand based on what is right, not what big money dictates. Supporting those who support us is our political agenda, not just a slogan."
Five months remain before the election. If Gore wants progressive votes, he should show us that he deserves them. Nader's campaign on the left may stop Gore from drifting right over the center line and taking progressive votes for granted. There's still time to bring Gore home.
Scuttlebutt around Washington, D.C., has it that Justice Antonin Scalia might quit the Supreme Court if Bush doesn't win -- which is as good a reason as any to root for Gore. Scalia apparently wants to be the Chief Justice and incumbent William Rehnquist is reportedly ailing but hopes to give a Republican president the appointment. Bush is an admirer of Scalia, so a promotion for the right-winger is likely. However, if Gore (or Nader) is making the call, Scalia would find himself increasingly on the losing side of 6-3 and 7-2 decisions, sharing dissent-writing duties with his ideological soulmate, Clarence Thomas. Other justices with health problems who may step down in the next administration include 80-year-old John Stevens, 70-year-old Sandra O'Connor and 67-year-old Ruth Ginsburg.
As we have said, Gore is not much of a progressive and less of a populist, but even if he continued in the centrist vein of Clinton's appointments of Ruth Ginsburg and Steven Bryer, they would be preferable to Bush's affinity for jurists of the stripe of Scalia and Thomas.
The court alarmed progressives and feminists in May with a decision that struck down a federal law that allowed rape victims to sue their attackers in federal court. Five Supremes held that the federal law trampled on state jurisdictions. Populists should be more alarmed by a 1998 decision in Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, which struck down a law holding mining companies responsible for the health care costs of their retired workers, and a 1994 decision, Dolan v. City of Tigard, which struck down a local zoning ordinance that required a property developer to set aside land for public use to minimize flooding and to relieve traffic congestion. Both cases were decided on 5-4 votes and were based on the argument that the laws were unconstitutional "takings" of private property by the government. The Eastern ruling suggests that any regulation can be struck down that interferes with "reasonable investment backed expectations." That is, the right for investors to make a profit is consecrated above the government's authority to protect public health and safety. Taken to extremes -- and that seems to be where Scalia and his brethren would like to take it -- the courts could strike down virtually any regulation that costs corporations money.
Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan got another interest rate increase in May and the nation's press thinks that's just great. Greenspan is spooked because the nation's unemployment rate seems to be stalled at 3.9 percent and there doesn't seem to be anything he can do to put more people out of work after five previous rate hikes in the past year.
Yes, Greenspan's trying to "slow down the economy," that is, put more people out of work, because conventional wisdom has it that if too few people are competing for jobs, then pretty soon the people who have jobs will be able to bargain for higher wages and better benefits. Greenspan fears that such leverage on the part of workers would be inflationary and since the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee consists of representatives of the banking community, who are deathly opposed to inflation because it cuts into the profits of the fixed-rate loans they have outstanding, it is easy to talk them into higher interest rates that not only keep inflation in check but allow the banks to charge more for new loans.
Seldom does the Fed-flattering press focus on what these adjustments in the cost of money do to those who can least afford it. The most immediate effect, the Christian Science Monitor noted on May 18, is that the interest rates on credit cards and mortgages will go up, making it harder for working people to pay off their credit card balances, much less buy a house. According to Cardweb.com, which follows credit-card trends, the latest rate increase will cost Americans $1.4 billion over the next year, while home mortgage rates are expected to rise from 8.5 percent to 8.8 percent. Small business owners and farmers who rely on loans to carry them through the year also will be hit with higher operating costs, all in the name of keeping inflation below the current rate of 3.7 percent. -- JMC