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“I am not tortured over what-ifs at all,” Al Gore said on NBC’s Today
show. Sure, fight like a dog for every pimpled chad from Miami to
Tallahassee and then ask us to believe there’s no “what if” about losing
the presidency by what amounts to the number of votes in one Miami
condo.

There’ll be no end to the “what ifs,” of course, given the wafer-thin
margin of this election. For starters, what if Bill Clinton and Janet
Reno hadn’t played storm trooper to “rescue” Elian Gonzales? In Miami,
they call it “voto castigo,” the Elian revenge vote. In all, George W.
Bush received 50,000 more Cuban votes in Florida on Nov. 7 than
Republican candidate Bob Dole in 1996.

“My compatriots voted 90 percent Republican this time, higher than
our customary high level of Republicanism,” explains Cuban-American
writer Humberto Fontova. “We’re raised that way. It’s in our mother’s
milk. The pinks in the press insinuated that Bush was a dim bulb, a
doofus. Hah! We knew better. He knew exactly what he was doing. He knew
that, as a Republican, he had the Cuban-American vote locked up.
Especially after Elian.”

Nationwide, Bush cut the Democratic margin of victory among Hispanic
voters from an overwhelming 7-2 ratio in 1996 to 2-1. In Florida, even
with Nader in the race, a shift of 1,000 of those Cuban votes in Miami
would have put Florida in the Democratic column and Al Gore in the Oval
Office. The second big “what if,” of course, is Ms. Lewinsky. “Bush
would have never had a chance if the Democrats had had the brains to
force Clinton to resign after the Blue Dress materialized,” writes Marc
Cooper, a contributing editor to The Nation. “Instead, they bunkered in
with Big Bill and tried to portray him as, of all things, a martyr!
That’s all fine by me. I voted for Nader and would rush to do it again.
The longer these two parties wrestle around in the mud, the better. The
only ‘crisis’ for me is if I run out of popcorn.”

Half of all voters, according to exit polling by the Election News
Service, said the Clinton-Gore scandals, including the campaign finance
scandal in which Al Gore was the central figure, was a chief reason for
the way they voted.

True, some two-thirds of Americans said the country was on the “right
track”
– as high a percentage as have ever answered “yes” to that question.
What pops into the heads of most people when that question is asked are
things like peace and prosperity — no troops coming back in body bags
and good numbers on inflation and unemployment.

But when the “right track” question is rephrased, in explicitly moral
terms, a clear majority of voters, 57 percent, say we’re on the “wrong
track” as a country. Among voters who said they were primarily concerned
about a candidate’s character, Bush nailed Gore in a 61 to 36 percent
spread.

“One-quarter of American voters on election day said the most
important thing to consider when voting for a candidate was whether he
was honest,” reports David Frum at the National Post. “That one-quarter
voted 80 percent for Bush.”

In contrast, a smaller number of voters, one-eighth of the
electorate, said the most important thing was whether a candidate
“cares” — the victim vote, for the most part, looking for another
“I-feel-your-pain” sort. Gore took 83 percent of that smaller vote.

In terms of honesty, it didn’t help Al Gore’s I-invented-the-Internet
character standing when he turned into a chameleon during the three
debates, first making his overly-dramatic debut with too much make-up
and too much sighing into the microphone whenever Bush was speaking, and
then, making a 180-degree turn, coming out as Mr. Meek in the second
debate, and then Macho Boy in the third. After eight years of unending
lies, voters weren’t exactly in the mood for another run of games and
double-dealing.

Bottom line, it looks like the sleaze factor trumped the economics.
“By 2 to 1, voters said the main legacy of the Clinton era would be
scandal over leadership,” reports Wall Street Journal columnist Paul
Gigot. “Mr. Bush’s better showing among white Catholics — he won them
51 to 45 percent, while Mr. Dole lost them 37 to 53 percent — is
probably a reflection of this cultural divide. Without Monica and the
rest, Mr. Gore would have won easily.”

Instead, Bush made major inroads into the Democrats’ base
constituencies, winning 41 percent of the Asian vote, 36 percent of the
union household vote, 34 percent of the Hispanic vote, and 25 percent of
the self-identified “gay, lesbian or bisexual” vote. In addition, “among
those with incomes between $15,000 and $50,000, a relatively solid
Democratic group in 1996,” reports The Washington Post, “Bush
substantially reduced Democratic margins of victory; similarly, voters
who do not have college degrees — a constituency targeted by both
campaigns — moved in a strongly Republican direction.”

In Florida, Bush won the vote of white women, normally Democratic
voters, 53 to 44 percent, and the vote of seniors, 51 to 47 percent.
What if? What if Al Gore had been straight enough to win Tennessee, his
home state? What if he hadn’t played the old class envy card, and hadn’t
run against a tax cut and against allowing Americans to privately invest
some of their Social Security taxes, both favored by the majority of
voters?




Ralph R. Reiland,
the B. Kenneth Simon Professor of Free Enterprise at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh, is a WorldNetDaily columnist.

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