Courting ignominy

Published January 23rd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

After some trivial transgressions are long forgotten, say his friends, he will be recalled as a great president who led America through a golden age of unprecedented peace and prosperity.  


His foes, on the other hand, would have it that he will be forever remembered as an amoral self-promoter whose only goal was power and whose only achievements while in office were to not undo the good works of his predecessors, particularly Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.  


But at least until the 2000 election fiasco, more objective historians would probably have eventually come down somewhere between those two extremes.  


Most of his two terms, after all, were spent in the middle area of American politics, in the place where compromises are made.  


Indeed, Clinton's addiction to polls, though hardly statesman-like, often convinced him to abandon his own liberal roots to champion such conservative causes as welfare reform, expanding global trade and budget restraint.  


But that generous interpretation of the Clinton years may now never be written thanks to the shameless efforts of his heir-apparent to win the presidency at all costs.  


As Nixon will forever be the 'President who resigned', Clinton may live in infamy as the president who loosed upon America a presidential candidate who finally and irrevocably broke faith with a people whose form of government demands both trust from and participation by the governed.  


Even Clinton's most lenient biographers will be unable to separate him from the events of November, or more accurately, from the eventual effect they will have on the American Republic.  


That is because the depth of the cynicism with which many Americans regard Gore's efforts to overturn the election of George Bush Jr to the presidency is made possible only by the pervasive uneasiness with which they have learned to regard anything emanating from Clinton's scandal-ridden administration.  


This newly hardened attitude is particularly poignant among young voters since many of them are too young to remember much about any president besides Clinton.  


And the ramifications of those feelings for the future of a participatory democracy are the most troubling of what is an extremely saddening circumstance.  


Indeed, had it not been for the scene setting of the last eight years, an optimist could be forgiven for regarding the current fight over vote counting as proof of the robustness of America's democratic institutions.  


There is, after all, no fighting in the streets and most Americans seem to be remaining calm. Unfortunately, candidate Gore is more than willing to sacrifice even that slim bit of silver lining to assure his bid to keep a Washington DC address.  


At one point, Gore actually went so far as to tell the American people that the end of their precious democracy was in sight should is assertions about improper vote counting in Florida not prevail.  


'And if we ignore the votes of thousands in Florida in this election,' he said, essentially accusing Florida's Secretary of State of what surely amounts to high crimes against the Republic, 'how can you or any American have confidence that your vote ill not be ignored in a future election?'  


It may be that votes were wrongly tossed aside in Florida which forces the conclusion - unless it is to be assumed Florida counters are uniquely stupid or corrupt - that votes were similarly trashed everywhere.  


And that is what is so damnable about Gore's challenge. By working so hard to discredit the decision of a duly elected Florida official exercising her sworn duty, Gore has sent a clear message to voters that every office-holder throughout the land is, like himself, motivated only by the desire to win.  


The syllogism, of course, is that corruption at the highest levels of government is not only quite credible, but probable. His fellow American can be forgiven for henceforth believing the same and acting accordingly.  


Of course, it would be wrong to absolve President-elect Bush of any blame attached to the current imbroglio.  


Had he simply acquiesced to Gore's initial call for a state-wide vote recount, and kept his own lawyers at bay despite being technically correct to loose them upon the Florida courts, much of the nastiness that followed would never have occurred.  


But it can at least be argued that Bush's action was in truth a reaction, an aberration born of anger and frustration at doing battle with one of the least ethical men in American politics.  


And while such an interpretation of Bush's sorties into court may require a leap of faith, given his track record, no such leap for Gore is possible.  


It is, after all, not the first time during his campaign or even during his tenure as vice president that Al Gore has shown how much the politician in him dominates any vestigial inner statesman.  


Having come to the head of his party as payment for loyally standing by the most scandal-ridden administration in US history, he opened his campaign as the logical choice to continue the prosperity and peace created during the Clinton years.  


But he soon found his message, according to the polls by which he has lived all his life, was not being well-received by voters. Somehow the masses did not credit Clinton, and by extension, him with the happy condition of life in America.  


So, in midstream he got off that horse. Suddenly, despite the Clinton claim to be standard bearer of the 'new democrats', friendly to business and opposed to the 'old democrat' tradition of tax-and-spend, Gore re-invented himself as an old-line populist.  


He portrayed himself as the only person capable of saving the country from avaricious 'Big Corporations', particularly those pharmaceutical thugs who were gleefully lining their pockets with money extorted from the sick and elderly on fixed incomes.  


And, predictably, he attacked Big Oil for its greedy price increases and shameful profiteering, again at the expense of the elderly and others on fixed incomes.  


He even convinced his running mate, Joseph Lieberman, an honorable man by all accounts before associating with the wrong crowd, to join the rhetoric and to claim that wile a Connecticut senator he had 'held off the big oil companies'. Lieberman did not expand on just how, when or where that fight was waged.  


Gore even went so far as to question the wisdom of globalization that has been the hallmark of his benefactor's foreign policy initiatives because he needed the endorsement of major labor unions that have long considered the whole concept a threat to job security and wages.  


(That just a few years earlier the vice-president had touted his part in getting NAFTA through congress seemed to bother no one, least of all Al Gore.)  


There is much to be feared from a Gore administration and it is hoped that soon after OE goes to press the palace guards will have peeled him from his vice-president's office and installed Dick Cheney while Bush is moved into Clinton's old digs.  


At any rate, the office of President will not be an enviable posting in a country whose millions of votes cast tallied statistically dead even. Both Bush and Gore have given the obligatory speech pledging to work to heal the national rift caused by the election fiasco.  


But the real damage done to the nation in the past weeks was not that it divided the people, but that it completed the job, begun eight years earlier, of uniting them in a deep and abiding distrust of the men who would run their government.  


There are many devoted and honorable servants of the people at all levels of American politics who should resent this deeply.  

by Rick von Flatern 


© 2001 Mena Report (

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