Ah yes, Al Gore. He’s so relevant this fall that he absolutely had to emerge from the mists of history.
Millennials were in grade school when Gore headed the Democratic ticket, and many of them probably think that history began when Obama was sworn in. But they’d be wise to heed what Gore said yesterday while stumping with Hillary Clinton in Florida. Because he’s “exhibit A” of what can happen — in America’s case, tragically — when people cast protest votes for dead-end candidates.
Gore was never a subtle rhetorician, and he’s no better now. But perhaps this is the time for blunt repetition, as voiced by the ex-veep:
Your vote really, really, really counts — a lot. You can consider me Exhibit A of that group. Now, for those of you who are younger than 25, you might not remember the election of 2000 and what happened here in Florida …. Elections have consequences. Your vote counts. Your vote has consequences …. Please take it from me. Every single vote counts. Every single vote counts …. If you think your vote does not matter, take it from me. Your vote can make all the difference in this election.
The young-uns in the crowd — those who presumably are flirting with Gary Johnson or Jill Stein, both of whom are on the ballot in pivotal Florida — probably could’ve used a quick math tutorial on what happened 16 autumns ago. Ralph Nader, who barnstormed in Florida with his preposterous claim that Gore was no different than George W. Bush, racked up 97,000 votes. The final Florida tally, after the recount was stopped, put Bush on top by 537. The exit polls said that if Nader had not been on the ballot, the Naderite voters would’ve favored Gore over Bush by a margin of more than 2-1. A spread that would’ve easily erased Gore’s loss and spared us Bush.
The Florida farce changed history. I doubt that a President Gore would’ve reacted to 9/11 by marching into the wrong country on the basis of no evidence, destabilizing the Middle East in the process. I doubt that he would’ve taken the budget surplus that he’d inherited from Bill Clinton, and driven us into a sea of red ink with Iraq War spending and massive tax cuts for the upper brackets. By the time Bush was midway through his first disastrous term, the only person who still thought Gore and Bush were interchangeable was probably Ralph Nader.
As history lessons go, this one is a no-brainer. Anyone who thinks there’s no difference between Hillary Clinton and an ignorant deadbeat demagogue should read up on the Gore debacle. Anyone who thinks that voting for Gary Johnson (“what’s Aleppo?”) or Jill Stein (winner of 0.36 percent of the votes in 2012) is an inspired act of protest should heed Gore’s message that this is no time to play with dynamite. The national polls, and those in Florida, show that Clinton’s lead over Trump is larger when Johnson and Stein are factored out.
How important is Florida? Look at it this way: Eighteen states plus D.C. have voted blue in the last six presidential elections. That’s 242 electoral votes. If Clinton holds the blue coalition (as expected) and adds only Florida (29 EVs), she tops 270 and it’s game over.
Gore’s Florida appearance was actually a two-fer. As the most prominent prophet of climate change (for which he was mocked when he ran for veep in 1992; the senior George Bush called him “Ozone Man”), he cited the issue to highlight one of the most fundamental differences between Clinton and Trump. Clinton, reflecting the scientific consensus, believes that man-made climate change is real, and her campaign website is festooned with proposals to combat it; Trump, by contrast, told a Florida newspaper two months ago, “I’m not a big believer in man-made climate change.”
Anyone who thinks there’s no difference between the two parties on this issue should read these new stats. And anyone who thinks Gary Johnson is a chic choice should check his views on climate change. He thinks it’s futile to spend money to fight it, because nature will solve the problem eventually: “In billions of years, the sun is actually going to grow and encompass the earth, right? So climate change is in our future.”
Clinton, flanked by Gore, hit the issue yesterday: “On the ballot is not just my name, it’s every issue you care about. Climate change needs to be a voting issue …. We cannot keep sending climate deniers and defeatists to Congress or statehouses, and certainly not to the White House.”
It’s possible, of course, that nobody cares about what happened to Gore 16 years ago, and that millennials in particular are content to know Gore only as a cartoon character on “South Park.” Perhaps it’s futile to warn that those who can’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it. There is, however, one saving grace: Trump himself.
He’s currently busy trying to burn down the Republican party. As he declared yesterday, “It is so nice that the shackles have been taken off me.” The beast is loose! If Trump spends the last 27 days in Gotterdammerung mode, the third-party factor will blessedly fade to black.