In 2000, the United States presidential election was one of the closest and most controversial presidential elections in history. A month of recounts and court challenges followed, culminating in the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore. Following the court’s 5-4 decision, George W. Bush was declared the winner over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes in the state of Florida. Domestic issues as opposed to foreign policy dominated the campaign. Key issues were prescription drug prices, campaign finance reform, Social Security, and education. Each candidate claimed their economic plan would reduce the deficit. Bush parodied himself as a “compassionate conservative.” The Bush campaign did not make an issue over the sex scandal and impeachment of Bill Clinton’s Presidency less then two years ago. Gore refused to allow Clinton to campaign and did not himself campaign on the Administration’s record of peace and prosperity, and disappointed Democrats by his lackluster performance.
The contest for the Republican nomination came down to two men: Texas Governor George W. Bush and Arizona Senator John McCain, an ex-POW in North Vietnam. Most Republican leaders endorsed Bush, who was popular with
social conservatives. Despite early victories for McCain in the New Hampshire and Michigan primaries, Bush went on to win South Carolina and 9 out of 13 super Tuesday states. McCain dropped out in March after a bitter
Incumbent Vice President Al Gore faced a challenge from former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. Bradly ran to left of Gore on universal health care, gun control, and campaign finance reform. Gore eventually trumped Bradly, winning all 50 primary states.
As a Vice President for eight years to a popular President during a time when the economy was still believed to be doing well, Gore appeared to have some strong starting advantages. Indeed, he easily won the Democratic primary. But due to Clinton’s scandal and impeachment in 1998, Gore sought to distance himself from the sitting President. Clinton, for his part, did little to help Gore. Indeed, when Clinton gave his big speech where he was supposed to pass the baton to Gore, he could never quite do so – instead talking about his own accomplishments and saying little more than ‘and Al Gore was there too’. During the campaign political pundits stressed the need of Gore to show that he was the ‘alpha dog’, but he never quite achieved that breakthrough and it would ‘dog’ him throughout his campaign. Gore tried to find a balance between adopting the economy and yet steering clear of Clinton’s moral failings, but could never quite find the right mix. He was also hampered by the public perception that the economy under Clinton was due more to good fortune than any Clinton initiatives. With Republicans controlling Congress for the last 6 years of Clinton’s terms, there was a view that Clinton’s role was one of not doing anything to stop the expansion more than doing something to cause it.
Bush also came out of the Republican primary relatively unscathed, and had a ‘pedigree’ of being the son of a previous President and a strong record as governor of Texas and being well liked by the Latino populace, a group that Republicans had struggled to vote their way. The press began to attack Bush and his speaking style where he had a tendency to sometimes mispronounce or garble words.
Momentous Supreme Court cases tend to move quickly into the slipstream of the Court’s history. In the first ten years after Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision that ended the doctrine of separate but equal in public
education, the Justices cited the case more than twenty-five times. In the ten years after Roe v. Wade, the abortion-rights decision of 1973, there were more than sixty-five references to that landmark. This month marks ten years since the Court, by a vote of five-to-four, terminated the election of 2000 and delivered the Presidency to George W. Bush. Over that decade, the Justices have provided a verdict of sorts on Bush v. Gore by the number of times they have cited it: zero.
Both sides had their reasons for consigning the decision to history and leaving it there. In his concession speech on the day after the decision, Al Gore said simply, “It’s time for me to go.” He meant it, and he left politics for a life of entrepreneurship and good works. George W. Bush, for his part, found little reason to dwell on the controversial nature of his ascension to office, and in his memoir, “Decision Points,” he devotes less than a page to the Supreme Court decision. (“My first response was relief,” he writes of his reaction.) In public appearances, Antonin Scalia, a member of the majority in Bush v. Gore, regularly offers this message to people who question him about the decision: “Get over it!”
Even at the time, Bush v. Gore was treated as a kind of novelty item, a one-off decision that applied only to the peculiar facts then before the Justices. The majority itself seemed to want it that way. In the most famous sentence from the decision, the Justices wrote, “Our consideration is limited to the present circumstances, for the problem of equal protection in election processes generally presents many complexities.” (Unlike most weighty decisions, Bush v. Gore had no single author and was delineated “per curiam,” or by the Court, a designation the Justices usually reserve for minor cases.) In light of all these admonitions to leave the case be, might getting over it be the best advice? (more…)
After eight years of President Clinton’s leadership, the 2000 campaign centered on whether to give his vice president, Al Gore of Tennessee, the reins of power or instead turn to a familiar name, George Bush, the son of the
With a heavy focus on domestic policy, including what to do with a growing budget surplus, the campaign and the debates seemed as much about style as substance, with Al Gore’s sighing and rolling his eyes appearing to hurt him in the first debate.
“I’m beginning to think not only did he invent the Internet, but he invented the calculator as well. It’s fuzzy math.” – President George W. Bush
In the first presidential debate of the 2000 election, Vice President Al Gore audibly and repeatedly sighed while the Republican candidate George W. Bush responded to questions. Those sighs captured as much attention from commentators as the substance of the debate and left the impression that Gore was disrespectful and condescending.Source: http://press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/530413.html
Two quotes from Larry Bartels and John Zaller’s paper(pdf) trying to assess whether the results of the 2000 election deviated from what models based on economic performance would’ve predicted.
Irony the first: A tax cut might’ve won the election for Al Gore, and it instead won the election for George W. Bush:
Why the unusually large discrepancy between (robust) output growth and (mediocre) income growth in 2000? That is a question perhaps best left to economists. We note, however, that the federal budget surplus for fiscal year 2000 was $217 billion – more than $750 for each man, woman, and child in America. If half that wealth had been added to disposable income (say, in the form of a middle-class tax cut) it would have increased election year income growth by about 1.6 percent, which would have made Clinton’s second-term economic performance notably strong in terms of income growth as well as output growth. Clinton may have displayed more fiscal discipline than political sense in spurning Republican proposals for a tax cut.
Irony the second: Bush was very lucky where his father was very unlucky:
Our best guess is that the slowdown was a major factor in Gore’s defeat. Had real income continued to grow through Election Day at even the moderate annual rate observed through the first half of the year (about two percent), our estimates suggest that Gore would have won an additional half percent of the popular vote. Thus, the long economic boom that arrived just a little too late to re-elect George Bush in 1992 seems to have ended just in time to elect his son in 2000.
Story Courtesy of Washington Post
Photo credit: Susan Biddle/The Washington Post