Al Gore is fighting for the status quo. He won't get elected that way, says Clinton's former labour secretaryby Robert Reich / July 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
As i write, Al Gore is trailing George W Bush in the polls by 5 to 10 points. This is not fatal. The election is still four months away. Yet Gore’s failure to attract more support is remarkable, given his strong showing in the Democratic primaries and the strength of the US economy. What’s going on?
Gore’s problem, in a nutshell, is that he is acting as if he is desperate to be president, but sounding as if there is nothing new he wants to do once he is elected. The two messages are out of sync. Voters could understand why someone might be driven to get into the Oval Office if he was intent on making a lot of changes. But Gore’s message has been that we should stay the course. Keep cutting the deficit. Don’t tinker with social security. Protect Medicare. Don’t take any risks.
Yes, the American economy is still growing like gangbusters, and unemployment is as low as it has been in 30 years. But Gore can’t expect America to vote for him simply because he had an office in the west wing of the White House during these buoyant years. If polls are to be believed, the public only partially credits Bill Clinton for the expansion, anyway. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, wins some of the applause. And many people know in their bones that the main driving force has been technology: the internet, computers, satellites, fibre-optic cables and the rest.
The trouble for Gore is that every American under 40 is taking this good economic news for granted. The expansion which began in 1991 represents a sizeable chunk of the working lives of most twenty-and thirty-somethings. Anyone over 40, meanwhile, isn’t so sure the new economy is such a great deal. Middle-aged men, in particular, are finding themselves over the e-hill. Large old-economy companies are laying them off in droves.
George W Bush’s “new ideas” are terrible, but not because they are “too risky,” as Gore likes to say. They are terrible because they would further split the nation into the have-mores and the have-lesses. That is exactly what we will get from a huge tax break whose benefits would go mainly to people who became much richer in the 1990s; and from school vouchers which will cream off the good students with ambitious parents; and from privatised social security accounts…