2000 Presidential Election
The Democratic Party nominated Vice President Al Gore to head their ticket in 2000. To oppose him the Republicans chose George W. Bush, the governor of Texas and son of former President George H. W. Bush. Gore ran as a dedicated liberal, intensely concerned with damage to the environment and determined to seek more assistance for the less privileged sectors of society. He seemed to place himself somewhat to the left of President Clinton.
Bush established a position closer to the heritage of Ronald Reagan than to that of his father. He displayed a special interest in education and called himself a “compassionate conservative.” His embrace of evangelical Christianity, which he declared had changed his life after a misspent youth, was of particular note. It underscored an attachment to traditional cultural values that contrasted sharply with Gore’s technocratic modernism. The old corporate gadfly Ralph Nader ran well to Gore’s left as the candidate of the Green Party. Conservative Republican Patrick Buchanan mounted an independent candidacy.
The final vote was nearly evenly divided nationally; so were the electoral votes. The pivotal state was Florida; there, only a razor-thin margin separated the candidates and thousands of ballots were disputed. After a series of state and federal court challenges over the laws and procedures governing recounts, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a narrow decision that effectively gave the election to Bush. The Republicans maintained control of both houses of Congress by a small margin.
The final totals underscored the tightness of the election: Bush won 271 electoral votes to Gore’s 266, but Gore led him in the national popular vote 48.4 percent to 47.9 percent. Nader polled 2.7 percent and Buchanan 0.4 percent. Gore, his states colored blue in media graphics, swept the Northeast and the West Coast; he also ran well in the Midwestern industrial heartland. Bush, whose states were colored red, rolled over his opponent in the South, the rest of the Midwest, and the mountain states. Commentators everywhere dwelled on the vast gap between “red” and “blue” America, a divide they characterized by cultural and social rather than economic differences, and all the more emotional for that reason. George Bush took office in a climate of extreme partisan bitterness.
Bush expected to be a president primarily concerned with domestic policy. He wanted to reform education. He had talked during his campaign about an overhaul of the social security system. He wanted to follow Reagan’s example as a tax cutter.
The president quickly discovered that he had to deal with an economy that was beginning to slip back from its lofty peak of the late 1990s. This helped him secure passage of a tax cut in May 2001. At the end of the year, he also obtained the “No Child Left Behind” Act, which required public schools to test reading and mathematical proficiency on an annual basis; it prescribed penalties for those institutions unable to achieve a specified standard. Projected deficits in the social security trust fund remained unaddressed.
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