WASHINGTON, D.C. – With the first debate of the 2008 presidential campaign now set to take place on the campus of the University of Mississippi, it seems appropriate to reflect back upon the Supreme Court decision in Bush vs. Gore almost eight years ago and the subsequent history of the United States that has flowed from the swing vote of a single justice.
Writing for a 5-4 majority of the divided court, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a former Professor of Constitutional Law, upheld the Florida Supreme Court’s decision that a vote was legal if there was a “clear indication of the intent of the voter.” Following the recount of all “undervoted” and uncounted legal ballots, Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Al Gore giving him victories in both the popular vote and the Electoral College.
Justice Kennedy continued as the Court’s “swing” voter until 2005 when, following the death of William Rehnquist, President Gore appointed Senator Hillary Clinton as Chief Justice and his Attorney General, former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the three female justices have had a collaborative influence on the Court, causing even Justice Thomas to concur in several of their decisions.
In a clear reversal of its conservative drift, the Supreme Court has not only continued to uphold a woman’s reproductive choice as a matter of constitutional right, but it has also generally supported President Gore’s administrative regulations and the federal laws intended to protect the environment, workers, and the economy.
With the appointments of former Senator Sam Nunn as Secretary of Defense and retired Army General Colin Powell as Secretary of State, Gore’s first serious foreign policy and national security challenge was the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and the al Qaeda terrorist organization.
Heeding warnings by the CIA that bin Laden was determined to strike America, Gore brought intense pressure on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to cut off all funding and support of al Qaeda. He secured an UN Security Council resolution supporting military action inside Afghanistan, if its Taliban government continued to provide aid and comfort to bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Under the “Powell Plan,” the United States dedicated $25 billion over a five-year period to stabilize Afghanistan and to reduce the threat of war in the Middle East and Southeast Asia. With the extradition of bin Laden in 2001 and his murder conviction for complicity in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, organized terrorist activities were substantially reduced worldwide.
Once President Gore reaffirmed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, terminated development of the ballistic missile defense system, implemented a detailed and shortened schedule to reduce and ultimately eliminate the nuclear stockpiles of both nations, and increased the funding and support of Secretary Nunn’s Nuclear Threat Initiative to safely dispose of Russia’s nuclear weapons, he and Secretary Powell focused their efforts on the elimination of nuclear weapons in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Recognizing that the recession that struck the European Union in 2000 and 2001 could affect the United States, President Gore took immediate steps to deflate the “dot com” bubble and to secure the well-paying jobs of manufacturing and professional workers through high-tech initiatives. Although there was some economic contraction, it was far less severe than anticipated, and job creation quickly resumed.
The Republican Congressional majority had been narrowed in the 2000 election, and using Vice President Lieberman as his Congressional Whip, President Gore had been able to maintain the Clinton tax reforms and to push through indexing of the Alternative Minimum Tax, relieving pressure on middle-income taxpayers.
Although the Clinton budgetary surplus was reduced by the recession, Gore came very close to balancing his first two budgets.
The 2002 Congressional elections were a judgment on Gore’s leadership and his continuing application of President Clinton’s mantra, “It’s the economy stupid!” Overall, the economy was doing well and voters responded by electing Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.
Acting with public and Congressional support, President Gore commenced the series of the bold initiatives that have come to characterize his administration. Despite the initial opposition of Vice President Joseph Lieberman and the intense lobbying of AIPAC, Gore reasserted the principles of the 1993 Oslo Accords and brought extreme diplomatic and financial pressure on Israel to abide by the agreement and to publicly acknowledge its nuclear weapons program, which it did early in 2003.
Secretary Powell organized and chaired a roundtable conference at the United Nations exclusively focused on the nuclear weapons programs of Israel, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, India and North Korea. Threatening an international boycott, economic quarantine and diplomatic isolation, Powell applied unrelenting pressure until Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea agreed to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Iraq and Iran agreed to abide by its conditions.
The final agreement of the parties was to adhere to the same schedule as the United States and Russia for the elimination of their nuclear weapon stockpiles and for UN inspections.
Iraq’s agreement was a surprising development and represented another victory for Gore’s carrot and stick approach. Acting on inside information from Saddam Hussein’s foreign minister, Jaji Sabri, and Tahir Jali Hubbush al-Tikriti, the head of Saddam’s intelligence service (both of whom had become agents of the West), Gore authorized his ambassador to the United Nations, former president Jimmy Carter, to secure the removal of all economic sanctions against Iraq (and its people).
Gore then secretly informed Saddam that his resignation and exile would be the price for him to keep his foreign bank accounts containing funds he had diverted from the “oil for food” program. Otherwise, the funds would be judicially frozen by litigation resulting from his invasion of Kuwait.
After Saddam left on an “extended vacation” in Egypt, the Iraqi people elected a government more reflective of its Shiite and Kurdish populations. UN inspections continued to find that Iraq had abandoned all of its weapons of mass destruction programs.
Quickly rebounding from the mild recession of 2002, America’s business profits, job creation and the incomes of its workers began to steadily increase.
With a solid majority of progressive Democrats in Congress and a disorganized Republican opposition, President Gore convinced business and industrial leaders that national health care would be in their best interests.
His proposal went beyond the single-payer insurance concept, and Congress established the National Health Service to administer a program to provide medical care to all Americans, except those who opt out of the System in exchange for a tax deduction and private coverage.
Workers benefited from elimination of their Medicare payroll tax deductions, and once freed from the cost of providing medical insurance and most workers’ compensation insurance coverage, American businesses quickly gained equal footing with their competitors in other countries.
Exports soared and the balance of payments began to weigh on America’s side of the scale.
The demoralized Republican Party nominated Senator John McCain as its candidate for the 2004 presidential election. McCain, who had lost the primary battle in 2000 to Texas Governor George W. Bush due to the nasty campaign conducted by Karl Rove, Bush’s political advisor, hired Rove to manage his 2004 campaign.
Rove’s attempts to go negative ricocheted when several investigative journalists independently reported McCain’s active complicity in concealing the fate of more than 600 American POWs who were left alive in Vietnam at the end of the war. McCain’s campaign imploded and he backed out of his agreement to debate President Gore.
President Gore refused to comment on McCain’s erratic behavior, and he conducted an entirely positive campaign based on his record and his plans for the future. The American public responded enthusiastically and handed McCain the greatest electoral defeat in the nation’s history, even worse than that suffered by George McGovern in 1972. McCain carried only one state, Arizona, for a total of six electoral votes.
The voters also handed President Gore a filibuster-proof majority of progressives in both houses of Congress
President Gore had obtained Senate ratification of the Kyoto Protocol during his first term, and he had been able to get legislation through Congress that substantially increased the Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards and eliminated the “light truck” exemption that was allowing domestic manufacturers to turn out fuel-guzzling “sport utility vehicles.”
He then challenged American automobile manufacturers to take the lead in producing “hybrid” vehicles that combine battery power and small internal combustion engines to further reduce domestic fuel consumption.
To overcome the problem of incompatibility and to achieve economies of scale, Gore obtained Congressional legislation to fund research and development of a standardized and easily replaceable plug-in battery for all hybrids. Recharged batteries are now available at most automobile service stations across the country and easily allow for long-distance travel primarily using battery power.
Most American automobiles and small trucks are now hybrid powered and tens of thousands have been exported, along with interchangeable “American Hybrid” batteries, throughout the world.
Even though Americans continue to enjoy a service and consumer economy, the balance of payments deficit has declined steadily, as manufacturing and technological innovations have driven exports.
During the 2004 election, President Gore established a goal for the United States to produce “100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.”
Beginning with a concrete plan to establish a Unified National Grid, the Gore administration pushed through legislation giving tax credits for utility companies to upgrade their transmission lines and to connect to the Grid, requiring them to purchase electricity from private and public wind and solar installations at market rates, and establishing uniform building codes for the installation of solar roof collectors and water heaters, wherever feasible.
With the installation of hundreds of thousands of roof solar collectors, the price of specialized silicon used in solar cells continues to drop, and as small towns and farmers throughout the Midwest have established public and private wind farms, the generation of electrical power has soared.
President Gore announced an even more ambitious environmental and energy goal in 2005. He proposed that the United States energize all of its national highways with free electrical power within 15 years using space solar energy transmitted by microwaves from outer space.
Just as Americans once placed an astronaut on the Moon within a decade, the first heavy lifters are already moving gigantic arrays into orbit for assembly, microwave collectors and transmission lines are being constructed in the Southwest deserts, and the Interstate highways are being prepared for the installation of mutual inductance interfaces to transmit energy to vehicles.
The project is currently on time and on budget, with a fully operational date set for 2020.
The combination of these initiatives not only set the United States on course to become fully energy independent, but they were a substantial boost for the economy. An abundance of well-paying, high-tech jobs was created for American workers; however, President Gore was displeased to see that some American businesses were shifting operations overseas to take advantage of low-cost labor.
President Gore pushed Congress to amend the tax codes to eliminate business deductions for salaries paid to workers outside the United States. The outsourcing of jobs was substantially reduced by this change and has contributed to the very low unemployment rate enjoyed during the last eight years.
As the economy soared and the value of the dollar strengthened, President Gore’s financial advisors became increasingly concerned about the effects of a 1999 law passed in the last days of the Clinton administration that effectively repealed a depression-era law which had prevented combinations of investment and deposit banks and insurance companies.
The Gore administration sought legislation to stop and reverse the “megamergers” taking place between banks and insurance and securities companies.
Testimony and staff investigations during the Congressional hearings on the legislation also revealed major potential problems with the unregulated trading of derivatives, the unrestricted making and reselling of mortgages and the out-of-control activities of hedge funds and their managers.
The Omnibus Financial Regulation Act of 2005 established reasonable regulations of these financial activities, and it imposed limits on executive compensation and certain lobbying activities.
The restriction on lobbying quickly resulted in litigation that brought the Omnibus Act to the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the doctrine of “corporate personhood.” Supreme Court decisions had provided corporations with the legal status and protections afforded to “persons” under the Constitution, including the First Amendment right to lobby Congress.
In reversing the line of decisions culminating in the 1980 case of Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation, a 6-3 majority of the Court found that there was no authority in the Constitution for providing “personhood” rights to corporations, whose power had grown over the years to the extent that it “threatened the very foundations of individual freedom and the survival of the United States’ democratic form of government.”
One of the primary concerns of the Gore Administration about regulation of the financial sector was the preservation and stability of public and private retirement systems. Acting upon the recommendation of the Social Security Administration, Congress raised the annual cap on wages subject to social security taxes to be equal to the top salary paid by the federal government – that of the president. With that simple change, the solvency of the Social Security Trust Fund was ensured for at least 100 years.
A companion bill to the Social Security Solvency Act was the National Bond Fund Act in which Congress acted to provide a reliable source of inexpensive bond funds for state and local governments to use for the improvement and maintenance of their infrastructure.
Jump-started with a $10 billion federal contribution, the Bond Fund provides an alternative personal investment plan to workers as a supplement to basic Social Security. Employees can voluntarily make additional tax-free contributions to personal accounts in the Bond Fund, and employers can match employee contributions as a job benefit. All original deposits are guaranteed by the federal government.
Employees are allowed to take their accounts with them from job to job; workers can negotiate the level of each subsequent employer’s contribution; retirees can decide for themselves whether to invest their savings in a lifetime annuity at retirement; they can choose to spend their entire nest egg as they please, or they can leave their account to their heirs.
The 2006 Congressional elections revealed that the alignment of political parties had been substantially altered, perhaps forever. Although Republicans retained status as a national party, fully one third of all voters were registered as independents, and Green Party candidates were elected to congressional offices in a number of states. Overall, representatives and senators with progressive credentials were filling more than two-thirds of all seats.
Early in 2007, President Gore decided to act upon continuing complaints about the North American Free Trade Agreement by inviting the foreign and finance ministers of all North, Central, South, and Caribbean American countries to discuss the possibility of creating a customs union and single currency for the Americas.
Hosted by Secretary Powell, the conference produced a framework for further discussion, which took place when all American heads of state gathered in Washington last year to meet with President Gore. The resulting treaty established the Federation of the Americas as a counterbalance to the European Union and the emerging power of the “Asian Tigers.”
When President Gore submitted the treaty to the Senate for ratification, he also proposed that Congress enact a constitutional amendment eliminating the definition of citizenship based on birth within the United States. The amendment defines citizenship as birth to a citizen parent or individual naturalization.
The amendment allows for the movement of the citizens of all countries throughout the American Federation for employment or other economic purposes, without providing the benefit of citizenship to children born to non-citizens, who happen to be in the United States for economic reasons.
The Senate ratified the American Federation Treaty last year, and the constitutional amendment has already been ratified by 15 states. It is expected to take effect by the time the Federation becomes fully operational in 2010.
With the aging of the Baby Boom population and President Gore’s continued strong support for local law enforcement, the crime rate has continued to decline every year during his administration.
Administration efforts to quell gun violence were primarily directed to the encouragement of local and state governments to tailor reasonable gun licensing and registration requirements to meet their local needs and concerns.
These efforts were upheld by the Supreme Court’s decision last year ruling that the Second Amendment right to bear arms relates only to the power of states to form militias and national guards, and that it is not an unrestrained individual right.
One of President Gore’s pet projects to curb gun violence was funded by Congress early in his administration to provide money to local governments to purchase guns from the public and to pay artists to create public sculptures using the weapons.
Today, all across America sculptures incorporating millions of firearms provide mute testimony to the injuries avoided, the lives saved, and the hearts that have not been broken.
Most remarkable, the U.S. military has not fired a single shot, dropped a bomb or launched a single missile in the eight years of the Gore administration.
One of President Gore’s first orders as Commander in Chief was for every sailor, soldier and marine to be trained as a medical first responder. As a Vietnam vet, he wanted to ensure that American troops injured or wounded in the line of duty will have the greatest chance of survival possible.
The military medical training has proven invaluable at a series of major natural disasters during the Gore administration, including the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and most recently when Hurricane Ike struck the Texas coast. Today, the American military is the most respected fighting and life saving force in the world.
Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of the Gore Administration was the United Nations agreement negotiated by Secretary Powell and UN Secretary Carter in 2005 that eliminated the international weapons trade. Today, a country can waste its treasure on the production of military weapons and small arms if it chooses, but it cannot export those weapons to another country, nor can it purchase them without violating international law.
The 2008 Election
With the impending retirement of President Gore, the Democratic Party’s 2008 primary campaign was hotly contested in the belief that its candidate would be a shoo-in because of public confidence in the Gore administration.
Vice President Lieberman ran on his record of having managed the administration’s legislative agenda in Congress, but it was his attention to the party faithful over the years of attending local campaign fund raisers and funerals on behalf of the President that provided him his small margin of victory.
The runner-up, Illinois junior Senator Barack Obama attracted attention and interest as the first African-American to be a serious contender for a presidential nomination; however, his policy positions require further development if he is to have a chance in 2012.
Once Secretary Powell announced he would not be a candidate, the Republican primary settled on the most moderate candidates who pledged to do the least to change the policies of the Gore administration and the nation’s status quo.
The nomination went to Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, a decorated Vietnam War vet, who has been both logical and articulate in establishing positions of conscience over the years. He has sometimes voted with his party and at other times he has supported the administration.
With the emergence of the Green Party and the growing power of independents, the election of Joe Lieberman is far from certain. The strength of the Green Party is demonstrated by the invitation to its candidate, Cynthia McKinney, to participate in the University of Mississippi debate.
Depending upon McKinney’s performance in this and the following debates, she may draw enough votes from Lieberman to allow Senator Hagel to win in the Electoral College, even if he doesn’t receive a majority of the popular vote.
In some respects, the Gore administration has been unexciting – much like the President. There have been no wars, no financial recessions, no riots in the cities, and no major political scandals. His administration has been compared with Eisenhower’s, which may be apt in that it has restored the American Dream for millions of Americans and has provided hope for democracy throughout the world.
President Gore has been nominated several times for the Nobel Peace Prize and he will probably receive it this year. When asked about his future plans, President Gore, who is only 60 years old, talks about producing a film on the effects of global warming, and he is considering starting an independent television network aimed at young viewers, who will create much of its content.
It is hard to imagine American politics without President Gore, but it is more difficult to imagine what the United States and the world would be like today if Justice Kennedy had decided to cast his vote with his fellow members of the Federalist Society sitting on the Court in 2000.
Undoubtedly, it would be a different world, but would it be a better world, more prosperous, more at peace? Probably not, but we will never know for sure.
Copyright © 2008 William John Cox
William John Cox is a retired supervising prosecutor for the State Bar of California. As a police officer he wrote the Policy Manual of the Los Angeles Police Department and the Role of the Police in America for a national advisory commission. Acting as a public interest, pro bono, attorney, he filed a class action lawsuit in 1979 on behalf of every citizen of the United States petitioning the Supreme Court to order the other two branches of the federal government to conduct a National Policy Referendum; he investigated and successfully sued a group of radical right-wing organizations in 1981 that denied the Holocaust; and he arranged in 1991 for publication of the suppressed Dead Sea Scrolls. His book, You’re Not Stupid! Get the Truth: A Brief on the Bush Presidency is reviewed at http://www.yourenotstupid.com, and he is currently working on a fact-based fictional political philosophy. His articles are collected at http://www.thevoters.org, and he can be contacted at email@example.com.