Experts go by the Numbers to Pick Gore, but Bush will Triumph on Election Day
by Sean Tuffnell
July 09, 2000
A few political scientists recently announced that according to their equations, the election is mute. Their prediction; Gore will win and it won't even be close.
I must protest. Elections are a war of ideas between human beings. Equations can be as useful in predicting their outcome as who'll win the Superbowl.
Their equations looked at the economy and the popularity of the incumbent to predict whether the electorate will vote for change. Unfortunately this fails to understand each election as it relates to political time. You see, presidential leadership moves in cycles, with presidents gaining their authority for leadership in accordance with their standing with the nation's dominate philosophy.
Presidents either come to power opposed to the pre-established regime or affiliated with its commitments. Opposition leaders try to challenge the established agenda, perhaps to displace it with another. Affiliated leaders continue, or complete its work.
Yet it's more complicated. For example, Jefferson and Nixon were both opposition leaders; Madison and Hoover, both affiliated leaders, but their successes differed distinctly because of their place in political time. That's because successful leadership hinges on whether the governing commitments still offer credible solutions to the problems of the day, or have become irrelevant or even the problem themselves.
When the later happens, opposition leaders have the opportunity to reconstruct the ruling order and make new ideological commitments. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, FDR and Reagan all came to power in this kind of situation, and all five took advantage. All five claimed to be trying to retrieve fundamental values they argued had been lost in the indulgences of the establishment. What they accomplished, and what other opposition leaders failed to do, was to reformulate the nation's political agenda altogether.
Affiliated leaders look to continue and innovate upon the ideas established by the reconstructive president. Some are successful, but with each innovation the coalition becomes fractured. So much so, that affiliated leaders at the end of a cycle, like Adams, Hoover and Carter, are often attacked for "betraying the faith."
Then there are the wild cards, opposition presidents elected despite the continued popularity of the opposing ideology. These presidents also have the freedom of independence from the established order, but their power to fully repudiate falls short due to the lack of a real mandate for wholesale change.
These presidents probe for reconstructive possibilities, but when they go too far, they often get caught in a showdown crisis of constitutional proportions. Tyler's cabinet resigned in protest of his actions, and when he persisted, he became the first president against whom articles of impeachment were drawn. Johnson and Nixon faced actual proceedings, and Wilson lost leadership authority in a vote of no confidence.
Eisenhower stands out among this group precisely because he refused to take on New Deal liberalism directly, and therefore didn't face any political repercussions. Instead, he successfully cultivated his independence by being content to prune the radical edge off the New Deal. The center of his "New Republicanism" was moderation and accommodation. While failing to establish a lasting coalition, this did give the GOP new respectability, and a brake from its identification with Hoover and the Depression.
Clinton also belongs in this group of wild cards, as he sought the presidency to repudiate the political commitments of the "Reagan Revolution." Initially, he aggressively tried to reconstruct national policy with an attempt to nationalize the nation's health care system. But instead of finding popular support for his "New Democrat" vision, the electorate rewarded him with a Congress affiliated with Reagan's ideology.
Clinton learned from this defeat and began following the preemptive course of playing on the factions within the established order, tempering its excesses, and co-opting their policies for his own legacy. Indeed, his policy legacy will be the expansion of international free trade through NAFTA and PNTR with China, a balanced budget, and welfare reform. All in defiance of his own party and only achieved with the active support and outright demand of the regime he ran to replace.
So there you have it, Gore has a near impossible task. He seeks the third term of a presidency that in truth is opposed the ideology that remains legitimate and popular. Low taxes, less government and individual empowerment are still the appropriate solutions for today's problems.
This election will be close, but its not 1988, its more like 1960. Bush will probably win, and it will be because of what kind of leader Reagan was and Clinton isn't.