The Presidential election of 2000 was one of the most controversial and divisive political events in recent history, perfectly illustrating the schism between the two political parties and the almost uncannily equality of these groups. However, this election also showed the nation that although many issues keep these two parties in two distinct camps, an equal number of issues drew very similar responses from the Republican candidate, George W. Bush, and the Democratic candidate, Al Gore. Truly, the past few years have seen a gravitation on the parts of both parties towards a middle ground that has frustrated extreme conservatives and liberals; two minor candidates, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchannan, illustrated this conformity by their bids in this election on, respectively, more liberal and more conservative platforms. Nader’s claims of two identical major party candidates were exagerrated: the two men did have greatly varying viewpoints on such issues as health care, abortion, tax reform, education, and the environment. However, other issues, such as campaign finance reform, gun control, the war on drugs, and foreign policy, have drawn remarkably similar stances from the two men.
The issue of taxes became central to the 2000 election when Republican candidate George W. Bush promised to use a third of the current surplus to enact a substantial tax cut. This $1.6 trillion dollar sum would allow a tax cut in each income bracket, an increase in child tax credits and credits for married couples, and a repeal of the estate tax. Gore wanted to reduce this $1.6 trillion dollar sum to $480 million and limit the tax cuts to those he feels need them most, the tax payers in the lower brackets. He also wanted to create credits for college tuition, preschool, care for an elderly parent, the purchase of a fuel-efficient car, and retirement-savings accounts, all credits designed to give tax breaks to those who need them (Frank 72).
The differences in the two candidates’ views on abortion will chiefly influence the appointment of new supreme court justices. Several justices are looking towards retirement within the next four years. Bush would appoint justices such as Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, while Gore would appoint justices such as Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These justices would also have an effect on vouchers for religious schools and affirmative action. Bush would support banning partial abortions, but, while Gore claims he does not support these abortions, he would oppose banning them. Another crucial difference concerning abortion concerns the abortion pill known as RU-486. This pill is taken orally after conception and kills the fetus as in a doctor assisted abortion. Bush opposes legalizing this pill, while Gore supports it (Frank 72).
Bush and Gore differ concerning health care in their methods of ensuring that all families are medically insured. Bush wants to give a $2,000 tax credit to uninsured families in order to encourage the purchase of insurance. Gore would like to rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program to allow low- and middle-income children’s parents to buy subsidized insurance. Both candidates would like to give patients the right to sue HMOs, but Bush would like this right to be much more restricted than Gore would. Gore wants to preserve Medicare by pushing $435 billion dollars into the “lockbox”, while Bush would turn Medicare into more of an insurance based operation than social security based, allowing the money to be used for insurance and prescription drugs (Frank 72).
Another major bone of contention between the two candidates involves environmental concerns. Bush and Gore disagree on where the needs of the nation outweigh the needs of the earth. A focal point of these environmental concerns has been the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Bush would like to drill in this reserve in order to increase the United States’ petroleum reserves and reduce the prices of gasoline. However, Gore would like to keep this reserve pure as it contains several endangered species and is a unique preserved natural environment. Bush is also an opponent of the Clean Air and Water Acts, pet projects of Gore, because he feels they limit the sovereign powers of individual states (Globe A28).
These issues illustrate that there are certainly differences between the parties. However, there are many issues that, when presented to the candidates, made clear the fact that both candidates were scrambling towards a middle ground that would be appealing to more voters.
Campaign finance reform is a sore subject for many in Washington, especially those who feel that the country is run by special interest groups who donate significant amounts of money to presidential candidates, expecting political favors in return. Both Bush and Gore are no stranger to hefty donations, and have been known to make decisions while thinking towards their parties’ piggy banks. Neither candidate is very likely to be a pioneer in the limitation of donations. Both want to ban soft money, both are reluctant to completely dissolve the chain of money that keeps their parties’ political campaigns going in the interest of fair play (Presidential Debate). This similarity in the two candidates was amplified by the presence of Senator John McCain in the Republican primaries. McCain’s staunch lobbying for stricter rules for campaign donations stressed that the two major party candidates are all too unwilling to give up funding.
Gun control is another issue that traditionally was the source of fierce controversy between Republicans and Democrats, but this year found itself centralized by the need for swing votes. Both want to focus on allowing hunters and sportsmen to keep their guns, but want to keep these weapons out of the wrong hands. Both also want to ban automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. There are subtle differences in the two men’s policies. Bush wants to protect gun manufacturers from lawsuits, while Gore does not. The similarities and disparities between the two men’s policies can be seen in these answers during the October 17, 2000, debate in St. Louis.
BUSH: Law-abiding citizens ought to be allowed to protect their families. We ought to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. That’s why I’m for instant background checks at gun shows. I’m for trigger locks. I think we ought to raise the age at which juveniles can have a gun. I also believe that the best way to make sure that we keep our society safe is to hold people accountable for breaking the law. If we catch somebody illegally selling a gun, there needs to be a consequence. The federal government can help.
GORE: All my proposals are focused on that problem: gun safety. None of my proposals would have any effect on hunters or sportsmen or people who use rifles. They’re aimed at the real problem. Let’s have a three-day waiting period, A cooling off, so we can have a background check to make sure that criminals and people who really shouldn’t have guns don’t get them.
Both men also have a similar position on the war on drugs. Predictably, they differ on the success of the Clinton-Gore war on drugs: Gore says that as long as spending was maintained, the drug war was successful; Bush says that their policy was inconsistent and thus doomed to fail. Both feel that stronger laws are the answer, feeling that their preventive approach is working.
Both candidates are similar in the interventionist action they are willing to take. In the presidential debate at Wake Forest on October 11, 2000, both men were remarkably similar in their support of some of the interventionist actions of the past twenty years. They only differed on two counts: Bush felt that action in Lebanon was necessary, and Gore did not, while the reverse was true for action in Haiti. Concerning Grenada, Panama, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, and Kosovo, both felt that military intervention was necessary. Only when speaking of intervention in Somalia did both candidates feel that military aide was unnecessary and even harmful. This agreement of the two candidates is not much of a surprise, since in 1990 and 1991, Gore was one of the few senators to openly support Desert Shield and Desert Storm. This has led to frustration among voters who favor a more isolationist viewpoint.
These similarities in the two candidates led to an interesting election year full of recounts and controversy. In the primaries, two strong contenders in the forms of John McCain and Bill Bradley made a much stronger showing than runners up often do in these primaries. Two third party candidates, Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, picked up voters that were disillusioned by this gravitation towards the middle. However, claims that this was essentially a one party race were somewhat exaggerated. The candidates took differing viewpoints on several key issues. That kept them from appearing, as Ralph Nader put it, like “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum.” All of these factors contributed to one of the most politically interesting elections in the history of the United States.
Frank, Mitch, and Andrew Goldstein. “The Four Big Differences.” Time. Nov. 6, 2000: 72.
Presidential Debate, Boston MA October 3, 2000.
Presidential Debate, Winston-Salem NC October 11, 2000.
Presidential Debate, St. Louis MO October 17, 2000.
“The Issues.” The Boston Globe. Nov. 3, 2000: A28.