Friday, January 1, 2010

The pivot point

I am generally hesitant to look back on history and say, "If only X hadn't happened, everything else would have been great."  People tend to do that about the Kennedy assassination, Neville Chamberlain's capitulation to Hitler, Napoleon's invasion of Russia, that one boy/girl you should/shouldn't have made a pass at in high school, etc.  It's a counterfactual nightmare that can drive you mad.

That said, it's hard not to look back on the 2000 presidential election as the poison fruit from which the rest of the crappiness of the past decade grew.  It's tempting to say, as Yglesias does, that, had a few tiny things in Florida been different that fall, the rest of the decade would have been astonishingly different.  The Gore response to 9/11 (if the 9/11 attacks had even been successful) would surely have been different, and there would have been no war with Iraq.  And no elimination of the estate tax.  And a better federal response to Hurricane Katrina.  And no abandonment of environmental goals.  And so on.

On the other hand, it's extremely rare for a party to hold onto the presidency for four consecutive terms.  Gore might well have lost in 2004, producing a President McCain?  Romney?  Cheney?  And maybe with a Republican House and Senate?  Who knows?

Okay, I'm back to my original point.  Best not to think about this stuff.


Unknown said...

At the risk of being the plebian at the forum here... Family Guy had a really great episode about Al Gore winning the 2000 election...

chris said...

I would be interested in your views and/or reading suggestions on the aftermath of 2000. Specifically, why and how was there not a major political crisis? It seemed pretty clear at the time what was happening with the election and yet there was little to no real public outcry of a stolen election. I’m not suggesting that it should have generated a Habermas-like legitimation crisis, but it striking how the political system, media, and the public so quickly moved on.

Seth Masket said...

Chris, it's an interesting question. I think part of the answer is the way Democratic elites dealt with the crisis. Gore very publicly announced that he disagreed with the Supreme Court's decision but that he accepted it. The liberal members of the court did essentially the same thing. Imagine if Gore had given a different speech, calling on his supporters to fight on and refusing to accept the verdict. And imagine if Ginsberg, Breyer, and Souter had resigned from the Supreme Court. We'd probably have had a very different outcome.

I also think that expert testimony might have had some role to play here. The fact is that Bush didn't win using outright fraud. You could blame the butterfly ballot, but that appears to be an innocent mistake. Yes, Florida cracked down on black voters, but they couldn't know those votes would determine the whole national outcome. Even a full statewide recount of all the ballots likely would have still indicated a Bush victory. So, yes, it felt wrong to Democrats, and Republicans really pushed the envelope and the SCOTUS got involved where it really shouldn't have, but pretty much any other post-election approach would have resulted in a Bush victory anyway.

Anonymous said...

If you read SF at all, Ken MacLeod's _The Execution Channel_ is a dystopic nearish future that -- sorry, unavoidable spoilers -- is set in a world where Gore won, 9/11 was foiled, and we invaded Iraq anyway.

It's deeply depressing for a while and then there's a weird diversion into autonomous AIs fighitng each other and spindizzies.