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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2000 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow
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Consumer Reports

A Bush presidential mandate? -- TEXAS GOV. George W. Bush should become America's next president. But his ability to govern will depend most importantly on the quality of the ideas he brings with him.

He narrowly leads Vice President Al Gore in Florida, the 25 electoral votes of which gives him a winning majority of at least 271.

Assuming a Bush victory is not snatched away through a dubious "manual" recount in Democratic counties, upon less than 300 votes might control of America's presidency rest. Nearly 100 million votes were cast across the nation, but, in Florida, a shift of less than three-ten-thousandth of 1 percent of those votes would give the presidency to Al Gore.

Assuming Bush prevails, his mandate would appear sparse. Even if he wins New Mexico, where the margin is equally narrow, he will gain only 276 electoral votes, compared to 262 for Gore.

This is the smallest margin since 1876, when Rutherford B. Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden by just one electoral vote in a scandal-plagued contest. Jimmy Carter enjoyed a cushion of 57 in 1976; Woodrow Wilson won by 23 electoral votes in 1916.

More important, Bush will probably be on the losing side of the popular vote. He may, thus, join three other presidents who lost the popular vote while triumphing in the electoral college. The last such divergence occurred in 1888.

Obviously, Bush can claim no mandate. Yet, the 200,000 gap in popular vote between Bush and Gore is minuscule - about two-tenths of a percent - and has been shrinking as absentee votes, of which more than a million remain uncounted, trend for Bush.

In contrast, the 100,000 difference in 1888 occurred with only a tenth as many votes overall.

At the same time, Bush can claim a broader geographic mandate. He appears to have carried 31 states, meaning that he won most of the American heartland.

Moreover, were Gore to triumph, he, too, would be a minority president. The Green, Reform, Libertarian and other parties received 3.7 million votes. Even more votes were cast for Ross Perot's Reform Party in 1992 and 1996, which left Bill Clinton twice a minority president.

Third-party candidacies also left some of America's most noted presidents with unimpressive popular pluralities: Richard Nixon, Harry Truman, Woodrow Wilson, Abraham Lincoln.

Finally, the presidency carries inherent authority, available to any occupant. Used well, America's great "bully pulpit" will allow Bush to lead irrespective of the closeness of the race.

Indeed, skillful leadership will be necessary because of the Republican Party's narrow majority in Congress. The GOP appears to have slipped from 223 to 221 seats in the 435 member House.

The Senate Republicans might end up with just 50 seats, when only the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Richard Cheney will keep them in charge.

Even a president with a landslide victory could not ram his program through such a legislature. What will be required are serious, substantive proposals and a persuasive, personal approach.

In both areas, Bush is more likely than Gore to succeed. Vice President Gore turned into the true conservative: He sought to preserve expansive, expensive government.

He committed himself to income redistribution through complex tax rules and high tax rates; paternalistic mandates through Social Security, even though it is heading for bankruptcy; maintenance of a monopoly public school system that is leaving America's poorest children behind; and liberal social engineering around the world, through "nation-building" in Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and elsewhere.

All of these policy approaches are proven failures. They are not worth pursuing even if Gore could convince Congress to follow his mistaken lead.

Bush, in contrast, has suggested cutting tax rates across the board, allowing workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in private accounts, increasing educational accountability and requiring other nations to take on greater defense responsibilities.

Many of his proposals are unnecessarily limited, and are mixed with expensive promises of "compassionate conservatism." But, at least, he has an agenda with a tinge of new thinking, which offers some hope for Americans and something worth selling to Congress.

Equally important, Gore, a relentless partisan who was disliked even by his colleagues when he served in the House and Senate, would be ill-suited to creating winning coalitions. Bush, in contrast, has successfully worked with Democrats in his home state.

Bush will, if his winning margin survives, come to the presidency burdened by his slim margin of victory.

But, whether he succeeds or fails as president will ultimately depend upon both his agenda and salesmanship.

JWR contributor Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Comment by clicking here.


11/07/00: Exprienced Gore? Yeah, right
11/01/00: Interventionist follies
10/17/00: America's brightening prospects in Ukraine
10/11/00: GOP budget scandals
10/03/00: How a pharmaceutical 'crisis' was created
09/27/00: Clinton's empathy has helped nobody
09/13/00: AlGore's risky budget policies
09/05/00: Military readiness and Korean commitments
08/29/00: Let sleeping hypocrites lie
08/21/00: Targeting a journalistic pariah
08/15/00: European garrison for Kosovo?
08/08/00: Journalistic cleansing at the Boston Globe
08/04/00: Junk science on trial
06/22/00: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty
06/15/00: The end of U.N. peacekeeping
06/07/00: The Clinton regulatory miasma
06/01/00: Administration stupidity, congressional cowardice
05/25/00: The silence of the international community
05/18/00: Protecting the next generation

05/11/00: Freer trade with China will advance human rights

05/04/00: How not to save the Constitution

04/28/00: American tripwire in Korea long ago disappeared: Why are we still involved?

04/18/00: Clinton administration believes the IRS is too gentle, wants more auditors

© 2000, Copley News Service