It's our worst nightmare: Clarence Thomas chose the president. While it's ironic that Al Gore's enthusiasm as a senator for reactionary Supreme Court justices—so assiduously ignored by liberals—came back to haunt him, we now need to ask: What was at stake with this semisanitized coup d'鴡t, anyway?
Not much, at the macro policy level. We already knew that we were going to get neoliberalism, military interventions, Star Wars, conservative court appointments, environmental degradation, stagnant wages, and more prisons, regardless of who won; the differences were a matter of degree. Most of George W. Bush's advisors are the same mandarins who littered the Reagan-Bush landscape for 12 years, and they are genuinely scary people. Of course, so were Madeleine Albright, Janet Reno, and Ron Brown. But for Bush's entourage, "sleazeball" isn't just a r鳵m頥nhancer, it's a job requirement. The same goes for Bush's cabinet picks—even the Democrats being mentioned are, in a word, awful. (Almost the only solace is that Bush's election probably lessens the chance of Israeli/ Palestinian war.)
Bush's impact will be more cultural than political: the revenge of the privileged WASP. Bush isn't dangerous because he's a moron (he's not, incidentally), it's because he's no empath. How could he be, when he's never had to work an honest day in his life? Bill Clinton's genius was in doing all the wrong things while making his victims feel good about it. That's over. Get ready for our bipartisan ruling classes to issue one triumphant, snarling "fuck you" to the world's poor.
The next four years won't be pretty. The Nasdaq collapse was more than a blip; it was a presage, one of many, of an inevitable end to Wall Street's ever-expanding economic party. Workers who wondered why their wages stalled during good times will find big business—now accustomed to hefty profits—responding by slashing the workforce and by trying to raid Social Security. Social safety nets that didn't seem important in the '90s will be gone when they're needed. We'll miss all those infrastructure investments we didn't make when we could afford them.
The media, which generally rooted for Gore, likes to underestimate George W. Bush. The hills are alive with the sound of imperial pundits urging us to "heal" (I wasn't aware I was sick), horrified by the "lack of a mandate" (read: stolen election), and glumly fearing that Bush will be weak and Congress won't do much. We should be so lucky. Class trumps party. The two parties may now hate each other more than ever, but if the economy falters, Bush's desire to cut taxes and shovel still more money to the wealthy will find a receptive audience among the alarmed millionaires in Congress.
Democrats have fully bought into what the senior George Bush once famously called "voodoo economics." After 20 years of conservative court appointments, gutted government programs, environmental exploitation, weapon boondoggles, corporate welfare, expanding gaps between the haves and the have-nots, and expanding prisons to house the latter, it won't take too much more to inflict some truly irrevocable damage on our society. Don't count on the Democrats to try to prevent it. They'll be busy claiming credit.
The only possible counterbalance at hand is the encouraging global growth of civil society institutions, through which people have been demanding the public policy values that profit-driven capitalism alone can never deliver. Governments under global capitalism respond almost entirely to the needs of corporations. Getting those governments, including our own, also to become responsive to the demands of civil society will be the great challenge facing us during the years of King George II. Organize, organize, organize.
Where were the torches?
In most countries, when the person who receives the most votes is screwed out of the highest office by a promilitary, procorporate cabal, the streets overflow with popular outrage. This is how it always happens: cronies installed in high places invent laws on the fly to justify their desired result; everyone is watching; and the streets erupt.
One of the most striking aspects of the slow-motion electoral hijacking by the forces of Dubya is that everybody watched but nobody cared. For the last month, local Democrats and their allies repeatedly begged for demonstrations at Westlake Park or the Federal Court House; invariably, a couple dozen people would show up.
Where were the 50 million Gore voters? Where were all the anti-Nader Democrats who were bleating so loudly that a Bush regime would be an apocalyptic nightmare? Well, for one thing, they're not used to demonstrating; for the last eight years, it's been their policies (Yugoslavia, Colombia, welfare reform, salvage logging, and, of course, WTO) that drove people to the streets. For another, they're under illusions which our Third World brethren aren't, regarding the inviolability of elections and the law. They never could quite bring themselves to believe that it could be so brazenly stolen.
Most importantly, I suspect that the vehemently (as opposed to reluctantly) pro-Gore folks were powerful, noisy, and well-funded—and scared the hell out of a lot of people—but were only a tiny minority with a not very convincing case. More people were enthusiastic about Bush than were enthusiastic about Gore, and more people by far, unlike most countries, didn't even vote.
Most Americans don't care passionately about which oligarchs work overtime to grease the extraction of labor and wealth from us. If Gore had ever in his long, privileged, obsequious career demanded justice or decried abuses of power or even taken a risk, then perhaps others would have been willing to do the same for him. He didn't; they didn't; and the streets of this country remained remarkably quiet.