copyright Bill Widener 2000

Dewey Beats Truman

What a relief not to be at a daily paper or a news network (using the term loosely) this week.

What a relief to wake up to zombies on our cover the morning after the election, and to be able to put the whole sordid mess behind us - momentarily - before we go back to the political trenches next week and begin the job of slogging through the fallout.

But right now, I'm writing this on Wednesday morning.

After a very long and sleepless night.

Right now, I don't know who the next president will be - though I have a strong suspicion.

The morning news programs were struggling to fill time when I left the house a little after 7 - busily recanting, and abashedly trying to find new ways to say "too close to call" as they stood around interviewing each other, and looking almost as hapless and embarrassed as they did last night. As they should have.

My copy of the morning daily hasn't arrived yet. Because they - along with many other dailies - had to hold the presses.

Everyone had forecast that the popular vote would be neck and neck, but nobody seemed to expect that the electoral college could follow suit.

There's never been a presidential race like this one in my lifetime.

It's been a tense week.

And after our endorsements last week, it's fair to say that I was not exactly a welcome guest at any cocktail party last weekend (even less so than usual).

Gore supporters had expected a ringing and unequivocal call to arms, which he had not earned.

Bush fans - notably my students, who are the only true Bush fans I really know - insisted that his election would not result in the Götterdammerung I predicted. (That's not the word they used. It's just the word they'll have to look up for this week's journal.)

We just spent a unit evaluating the candidates, and they elected Bush in every straw poll we held. Although they are the first to admit that savvy political analysis is not the guiding passion of their lives.

Still, they gave me the opportunity to view the presidential election from a fresh perspective, as when one of my freshmen (Eddie Wolling, who insists he'll accuse me of plagiarism if I don't credit him for this comment) observed early on in the semester, "Ralph Nader? If he's not on TV, he can't be that important, can he?"

From the mouths of children....

A statement like that is part of the reason we were so editorially committed to covering the Greens in a fair and objective manner.

News coverage is one thing, though. An endorsement is another matter.

Which brings me to the fury of our Green readers - and how they wondered aloud how this paper could abandon all principle and fail to endorse Ralph Nader (though many staff members did vote Green).

It was easy, actually.

First, Nader's argument that Bush and Gore were indistinguishable - while politically savvy - was flaccid, puerile, and blatant fiction. I could distinguish between them very clearly, as could anyone with a brain.

Todd Gitlin delineated them rather nicely on last week: Global warming? Gore knows it's happening, Bush isn't sure. Gore wanted a tax on fossil-fuel energy - a tax that was blocked by Republicans and always will be - while Bush governs over the worst air in the country and justifies it on the grounds of industrial growth. Gore's an environmentalist who makes political deals; Bush is half of an all-oil-company team. No difference? The Supreme Court? Bush's favorite justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He owes the Christian right bigger than big-time. The Bush court, one-third of whose membership he might get to appoint, might not repeal Roe vs. Wade, not quite, not yet, but would surely tilt mightily toward states' rights and corporate power, against labor, against gun control, against affirmative action. Bush will owe the fundamentalists, the union-busters, the South Carolina Confederate flag-fliers. Labor? Gore owes the AFL-CIO for its early support; Bush doesn't owe a thing - to the contrary. Gore's party has pushed up the minimum wage (not nearly high enough), Bush's couldn't care less...They'll rig what they can for the bosses. That's what Republicans do. Poverty? Inequality? The Republicans practice class warfare from above. The Democrats are divided, but despite inconsistencies, President Clinton is responsible for an earned income tax credit, and finally, belatedly, the appalling inequality between rich and poor is shrinking, unemployment is low... Nuclear weapons? Bush is for abrogating the anti-ballistic-missile treaty. He loves Star Wars. His party crushed the nuclear test ban. Gore has been flabby, alas, on these issues, but he is budgeable. Bush lacks even Reagan's nutty antinuclear utopianism. I have not even mentioned the limited (but scarcely unimportant) issues the candidates talk about: the Social Security hoax Bush wants to perpetrate; the Bush tax cut that Puts Billionaires First; ...campaign corruption (sorry, "finance"), the auctioning off of access and bias at which Bush is so spectacular that he did not even need the Lincoln Bedroom - he could offer an entire government. That pretty well sums it up.

Then we got the "build the third-party argument." Fine.

The Greens get their five percent and they get federal funding. And then what?

We still live with a winner-takes-all electoral college system. Reform that, and then we'll revisit.

Then again, why do we have the electoral college? Well, as my friend Walt put it - who rang me from his editorial perch atop a wild west daily around midnight last night - "the founding fathers didn't trust the public." And he's onto something there.

But ultimately, Nader was his own worst enemy. While it was easy to see why he grew so exasperated with being asked to get out of the race, in the final week of the campaign, he clearly acknowledged that if Gore couldn't even beat a weasel like Bush, he didn't deserve to be president anyway. Fine. But the followup question was along the lines of, "So you do admit that Gore is better than Bush, and yet you admit that your campaign helps to elect Bush. Don't you care who the president of this country is?"

And he said No.

And that's why he didn't deserve my vote.