I didn’t vote in 2000. I believed at the time that ours was a terribly lost society, and the elections merely distractions to give the masses the illusion of control. Too much Rage Against The Machine and Fight Club, I suppose.
And during most of the first year of the Bush Administration, it seemed like the election would indeed turn out to be generally inconsequential. I even got it into my mind that the Florida insanity was all staged to further the illusion that the outcome was important.
Even when the first round of tax cuts were passed that summer, I didn’t know enough yet to see it for the upward wealth transfer it was. I was more concerned with what I was going to buy with my $300 peasant payoff (Pearl Jam tickets, if memory serves).
Then, of course—on that day Ani DiFranco described as “beatific in its Indian summer breeze”—everything changed.
Leave aside whether Gore’s response to 9/11 would have been different—that’s obvious. The deeper question is whether a Gore Administration would have been able to prevent 9/11 altogether.
There is, of course, no way to truly know the answer to that inquiry, but the asking is productive, especially given new revelations about the Bush Administration’s dismissive handling of pre-9/11 warnings from the CIA.
Gore’s national security team would presumably have included plenty of Clinton Administration veterans—people who, interestingly enough, had also warned Bush’s people about the threat from al-Qaeda.
With the CIA ringing the alarm for months leading up to the attacks, it is quite conceivable that an administration on high alert and aware of the threat might have been able to prevent the horrific tragedy of that day.
On the economic front, it is unlikely Gore would have enabled the elites of society to loot the Treasury in the manner of Bush. However, it’s hard to say whether today’s economy would have been much different.
After all, the Clinton Administration supported the changes in the Glass-Steagall Act—removing the barrier between banks and investment firms—that many believe set the stage for the financial collapse of 2008. So there likely would have still been a housing bubble, and its bursting would have still done plenty of damage to the world economy.
But without the budget-busting tax cuts and the untold billions spent on Iraq, perhaps we would have been on better footing as a nation to take action to mitigate the suffering—providing greater federal assistance to the states, for example.
And the thousands of dead and maimed—American and Iraqi—or even the possibility of a world where 9/11 never even happened—would have been well worth the time it would have taken to vote for Al Gore.
Of course, there was no way to know that at the time, just as there is no way to know what challenges the next four years may bring.
What I do know is that the thought of Mitt Romney and the old Bush team—because that’s who would populate a Romney Administration—being in a position to respond to any type of crisis gives me chills.
If Obama is re-elected, I have no doubt the growing surveillance state will continue to encroach on our lives. The elite will continue to accrue wealth in ridiculous sums while those who toil at the lower end of the economic spectrum struggle on as best they can. The corporate consumerization of our culture will continue largely unabated.
That is because those things—the erosion of civil liberties, the inequality of the 21st century economy, and the dumbing down of our culture—cannot be changed via presidential election. They are things that come from rot that lies deep within our society, and, truthfully, within us all.
Such problems can only be changed at the ground level, and it doesn’t happen because of an election. It happens when people come together and work towards what they believe in, as best they can. It happens when we change the way we think, the choices we make, and the way we interact with the world around us.
It takes a long time, and requires dealing with setback after frustrating setback. Only after that struggle does the political system start to reflect those changes.
Until then, we have a choice between two options. They are not the same thing, and it does make a difference which one we choose.
The Civil Rights Act was passed because of generations of struggle by millions of people. But it took Lyndon Johnson to sign it. Gay Americans can now serve openly in the military because of countless activists working towards change one day and one person at a time. But do you think John McCain would have given the order to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
Personally, I am voting for Barack Obama in November. I may have my criticisms of his administration, but those pale in comparison to the criticisms I would undoubtedly have of a President Romney. And one of those two men will be President next January. That is the choice we have.
Refusal to participate is your right. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that the outcome doesn’t matter.