For most progressives, this presidential election is not a choice between Al Gore and George W. Bush. It is a choice between Al Gore and Ralph Nader, or Gore and some other third party candidate, or Gore and not voting. Bush, like an inescapable force of nature, is simply assumed to be awful.
The question—and it's a question that may well determine Washington state's electoral votes—then becomes: How bad is Gore? Is he redeemable enough that it's worth voting for him to prevent Bush from becoming president, or is he another one of those forces of nature littering our corporatocracy?
For the answers, don't turn to the campaigns, where both the candidates and the media are eager to play up the meager differences between the two men. Turn instead to Gore's substantial record, as son of privilege, congressman, senator, and vice president. Here's a sample:
War on Drugs: A marijuana smoker in his early years, Gore now pushes hard for tough-on-crime policies that have imprisoned a record two million people in America—more than the entire population of the state of West Virginia and four times as many as were incarcerated in 1980. He supported application of the death penalty for over 60 federal crimes (mostly drug dealing offenses) and calls for the elimination of federal habeas corpus review.
Military Attacks: Gore was one of the few Democratic senators to lobby long and hard, during the contentious debate preceding it, in favor of the Gulf War. He also supported "intervention" in Libya, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Sudan, and Yugoslavia. He is an ardent supporter of militarism in any situation in which the United States claims a "humanitarian" motive. As senator, Gore was a key proponent of development of the MX missile; now, he supports $60 billion for Star Wars (the ludicrously renamed "National Missile Defense").
Civil Rights: Gore's "Reinventing Government" initiatives of 1993 and 1994 were a successful, and thinly disguised, attack on minority protections in the civil service. In 1980, he supported a bill by Representative Bob Dornan of California that, if passed, would have preserved tax-exempt status for schools that barred black students.
Supreme Court: Before Anita Hill went public, Gore was a strong supporter of the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas, enthusing, "I believe there is no question of Judge Thomas' competence . . . he possesses a quick and incisive intellect. He speaks and writes with precision, power, and persuasiveness. . . ." Senator Gore also voted to approve the most reactionary member of the Supreme Court, a corporate lawyer named Antonin Scalia.
Abortion: Gore opposed abortion rights for most of his congressional career, speaking of "a fetus' right to life." He supported the Hyde Amendment banning federal funding for abortions for poor women and even at one point opposed a provision allowing exceptions in the case of rape. He voted for an unsuccessful House measure that defined a fetus as a person from the moment of conception and denied federal funding to any hospital or clinic that provided an abortion.
Gay Rights: Gore voted in 1980 for an amendment prohibiting the federally funded Legal Services Corporation from assisting people discriminated against because of their (actual or perceived) sexual orientation. In August 1986 Gore voted for a Jesse Helms amendment forcing the District of Columbia to overturn a law prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating against HIV+ applicants. A year later, he voted to prohibit HIV+ immigrants from settling in the US. At the behest of pharmaceutical corporations, he has led efforts to prevent South Africa from introducing affordable generic HIV drugs.
Free Trade: The Democratic Party platform this year touts Gore's role in brokering "more than 200 trade agreements, including NAFTA and GATT [WTO]," and calls for fast track authority to sidestep future congressional opposition to such disasters.
Welfare Reform: The same Gore-crafted platform crows over the dismantling of the federal welfare program and vows to crack down on "food stamp fraud," long a bugaboo of the far right.
Environment: Gore has long-standing financial interests, now totalling $500,000 in stock, in Occidental Petroleum, a company that is trying to build a pipeline that would threaten the very existence of the U'Wa tribe in Colombia. In a scam reminiscent of the Teapot Dome scandal of the 1920s, Occidental was the lucky beneficiary of a 1996 Gore plan for the federal government to sell off a strategic military oil reserve outside Bakersfield. His current energy plan calls mostly for tax breaks for energy companies. Gore also signed off on strip mining adjacent to one of the most popular state parks in his home state of Tennessee. As vice president, he has led US efforts to stonewall international agreements on ozone levels and global warming and calls for "protecting the environment without trapping businesses in a tangle of red tape"—code for abolishing inconveniences such as the Endangered Species Act.
Labor: During the Carter presidency, Gore provided one of the key votes that sank a bill aimed at expanding unions' rights to picket during a strike.
During Bill Clinton's 1992 and 1996 presidential campaigns, liberals argued that sure Clinton sounded conservative, but once elected he would do the right thing. He almost never did, of course, but in 2000 liberals are focusing on how bad, or how stupid, George W. Bush is. They aren't even trying to make a Clintonesque apology for Gore. There is no chance that he'll do the right thing when faced with a politically risky decision. He never has.
On all of these issues—with the exception of military intervention, where he is actually less of a hawk—Bush is just as bad. But when a Republican politician acts on such issues, there is opposition. When a Democrat such as Gore does it, politicians and pundits proclaim a national consensus and dissenters are shunted aside.
With this formula, the Clinton/Gore administration achieved in its eight years countless destructive policies that Reagan and Bush Sr. advocated but could not push through. Gore is more conservative than Clinton, and more effective than Bush. His administration will be a nightmare.