Two weak candidates, a hung election. Who could have expected otherwise? Not only that, they begin making spectacles of themselves almost immediately. First, Al Gore, foolishly relying on television news as his source, concedes. Then, a few minutes later, he retracts his concession. Does George Bush react in a statesmanlike manner? Perhaps, if it’s statesmanlike to be snippy.
Then there follows the grotesque, contradictory and foolish battle of the ballots in Florida, as each candidate frantically seeks to get the roulette wheel to stop on his color. The actual truth is that balloting this close has a random outcome. So the electorate hasn’t spoken at all. The roulette wheel has spoken.
In any case, it matters not which candidate wins. We are going to go through a very hard period in our history, in either case. Personally, I think that George Bush is going to be the next President. In which case, he will have an electoral victory but a popular defeat. What a shame and what an embarrassment for him.
Worse, the congress is a house divided. In order to maintain their razor-thin majorities, the Republicans will not become less partisan, which is what the electorate has clearly demanded. On the contrary, they will have to become more partisan than ever, ruthlessly disciplining the slightest defection in order to have any kind of functionality at all.
Even so, they will be seriously hampered because party control is in the hands of the far right, and the swing votes in both houses are in the hands of moderate-left Republicans.
What does this mean? It means the same thing it meant back in the fifties: the filibuster is going to become a primary governing tool.
No matter which candidate wins, we cannot expect to enjoy a functional government over the next four years. This is a consequence of the two major parties fielding candidates that did not seem adequate to the electorate. Both were perceived as not being presidential material, with the result that the electorate was split almost literally down the middle.
There have been serious allegations of electoral fraud in Miami, with blacks filling churches, telling tales of being given pre-punched ballots, of being turned away at the polls, of having their ballots mutilated and destroyed.
This sort of thing is par for the political course in many parts of the United States. Voting procedures are not fair, and they are fraught with corruption. Usually, it doesn’t matter and the whole thing is swept under the rug. But this time, every vote counts, and so the system has been exposed for what it is: an absurd mess shot through with partisan attempts to subvert it in many different ways. And this isn’t true just in Florida, believe me. There are many states with problems like this, but they don’t surface unless the majority happens to be razor-thin or there are substantial numbers of disputed ballots.
Growing up in a political family as I did, I heard dozens of stories of ballot stuffing of various kinds. It was the ordinary course of business around here then, and it still is in lots of places.
So, what can we expect in terms of legislation over the next four years. If Gore wins, the government is going to go into a holding pattern. Things will get real quiet. The various programs he advocated will not be passed, probably not even introduced. If Bush wins, there will be somewhat more activity. Some kind of a tax cut will be passed. There will be changes in environmental regulations that will allow much more clear cutting of virgin forests and oil exploration in parks areas. The US will cease to support UN family planning initiatives. We may get an official secrets act, and a bankruptcy bill similar to the one that just failed, which will effectively end bankruptcy protection for the ordinary person.
No matter who wins, there will be constant partisan infighting, to an extent that it will sap the strength of our country at least as much as the silly business that went on during the Clinton presidency. It is probable that George Bush will come under attack in the media for many more undisclosed sins. There are rumors flying at the moment of cocaine use and of a mistress called Arnette, but nobody seems to know the last name. In other words, pointless, partisan junk, mudslinging that wastes our time and money just like the Monica Lewinsky affair.
However, the world is going to be a very busy place. The middle east is a very serious problem, and no matter what happens there, American power is going to suffer. The most serious problem is still Saddam Hussein. At a time when Iraqis formerly prominent in his government are claiming that he has an atomic bomb, delegations of well-wishers are flying from various European countries to Baghdad in defiance of the embargo. In fact, during the next administration, the embargo will fail. The UN will suffer and the United States will suffer. This will happen because the clown-college presidency we are about to inaugurate is going to be completely unable to project any meaningful power abroad.
The result is going to be that anything might happen in the middle east. Certainly, we will see higher oil prices. Certainly, we will see an increasingly beleaguered and belligerent Israel.
Will we also see an atomic explosion somewhere–the ultimate act of terrorism? Or will it be bioterrorism?
Without the American policeman, the world is going to become a very much more dangerous place. Sure, we can still send USS Coles to Aden. But getting beat up is not projecting American power. Government projects what it is, and a weak government projects weakness, whether it does it with troops or words.
On the environmental front, the news is no better. People write me occasionally to complain about the fact that there are a lot of environmental stories on this website. Or they attempt to prove to me that it’s all a “liberal” conspiracy. But I don’t think that the worst floods in history in England have anything to do with the shadings of American political opinion, or the fact that we have just come off the warmest fall in history.
There aren’t too many close encounter witnesses who aren’t concerned about the environment. It’s one of the most powerful messages of the visitors. It’s why I’m so concerned, and believe me, it hasn’t got a single, solitary thing to do with “liberal” vs. “conservative.”
We are going to see a terrible environmental time, from now on. Throughout most of our lifetimes, the weather is going to keep getting worse and worse, especially in the northern hemisphere. It’s probably too late to do a whole lot about it, too. Plus, the deterioration is going to become extremely obvious over just the next few years. We are either going to have a situation develop where there is a sudden snap back to a colder climate, or the warming trend is going to become unstoppable. In either case, watch out–hell is on the way.
A Gore administration will try to address the environmental issue. It will not be able to do anything, though, because the US Senate will never affirm the Kyoto Protocol, no matter how many compromises are made. In any case, there is going to be a British study published in a couple of months that will tell it like it is: it’s already too late to do anything about the environmental changes that are coming. They are going to crash down on us like an avalanche. Period. We’re going to have to live through whatever mother nature decides to dish out. Bush has made it abundantly clear that his approach is to just let this happen. So one candidate will try and fail. The other will not try at all. Which is the better approach? You pick. I can’t.
Economically, the US stock market is hanging by a thread. We could see one hell of a break in the early part of the year. This will not depend on anything at home. It will depend, rather, on the health of the European currency, the Euro, which is now at 85 cents, down from its opening price of 1.20 two years ago.
Why is this so important? Because, if you read the fine print in the profit warnings coming out of the tech sector, you find that a great deal of the problem has to do with softening sales in Europe. This is happening because the price of American goods is skyrocketing there–up 30% on currency exchange alone. Most of the 3rd quarter reports are in. The bad news has been absorbed by the market, and it will probably rally nicely once the election crisis is resolved. (Unless, of course, the dopes manage to turn it into a real constitutional crisis and we don’t have an inauguration.) Next quarter, however, unless the Euro rises, there is going to be more red ink, and not only in the tech sector. If the 4th quarter is as bad as the third, the market will fail fundamentally.
Just when we were about to reap the harvest of cold war victory, we have ended up with a ridiculous governmental failure. One thing that will not change, unfortunately, under either administration, is the cancerous growth of secrecy. The CIA will hold sway as never before. Why, you ask?
Bad government has more to hide, and make no mistake, the classification process is no longer about hiding things from foreign powers. It’s about hiding them from us. As far as weak governments are concerned, there is always a first enemy among many, and that enemy is an informed electorate.
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