On the theory that purgatory is, if nothing else, better than hell, I suppose I should be grateful the United States hasn't gone to the devil just quite yet. At the end of one of the most astonishing, bewildering, intermittently exhilarating and nauseating evenings in American political history, Al Gore still has not lost. Who among us would have predicted that Al Gore would win the popular vote and yet quite possibly lose in the electoral college? That Ralph Nader would bomb at the polls (getting roughly 3 per cent of the national vote) but still win enough votes to deny the Democrats the White House, at least on Tuesday night -- and likely for the next four years?
This last point was something that a number of rightly apprehensive progressives repeatedly predicted. Consider the numbers: in Florida, where Gore may end up trailing Bush by very little, Nader's vote, though just 2 per cent of the total, is 97,000.
In New Hampshire, Bush beat Gore by 7,200 votes, while Nader pulled down 22,150. In Oregon, with roughly 80 per cent of the vote in, Gore is trailing Bush by about 22,000 votes, while Nader has won 54,000.
I mention these last two states because, even if Gore loses Florida, the combination of New Hampshire and Oregon would have gotten him to 271 electoral votes -- good enough for a two-vote victory in the electoral college.
Which is to say that while we still don't know who won last week, we can be sure who one of the biggest losers is: the Green party. By running dismally on the presidential line yet managing to ensure W.'s almost-election, it has appalled, infuriated and sickened the vast majority of American progressives.
Worse yet, in the last 10 days of the campaign, Nader made a special point of holding rallies in states where he had no chance of getting anywhere near 5 per cent of the vote but could still damage Gore. One such state, which he visited just days before the election, was Florida.
But the self-destruction of the Green party is mighty cold comfort weighed against the spectre of the Bush Frat Boy Restoration and all that entails.
To be sure, Bush's margin, should he win, and the Republicans' margins of control in both the Senate and the House are all but nonexistent. The GOP will likely have no more than a 51-49 majority in the Senate and a margin of just a few votes in the House.
Anything truly radical that W. proposes will be blocked by a Democratic filibuster. A tax cut on the super-duper scale he's proposed, one that showers nearly half its largesse on the wealthiest 1 per cent of Americans, will be dead on arrival. Privatizing social security will probably remain a pipe dream at best.
Other changes, less high-profile but tremendously dangerous for the poor, may have better prospects. In 2002, the Congress must revisit the food-stamp, child health care and welfare programs -- which could well mean major cutbacks in the aid and services available to the working poor.
As with health, so with the environment. Bush has pledged to authorize oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and environmental activists expect him to de-designate some of the lands that President Clinton set aside as national monuments.
While a proposal to privatize social security will provoke a torrent of opposition, there aren't likely to be many marchers protesting a failure to expand the Children's Health Insurance program.
There will be time enough to fret about what will happen to the uninsured, the non-white, the non-straight and the non-affluent if Bush prevails. For now, we can brood on Gore's failure to have a coherent message for his fall campaign, just as he failed to have one for the spring. We can brood on a man so unsure of his merit that he was constantly polishing up the smallest details of his resume, and on a party so unsure of its identity that its major funders and its volunteer cadres are diametrically opposed on the central issue of our time, globalization.
Or, we can brood on the thought of George W. Bush as president. (What was it that French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing said after his first meeting with Ronald Reagan? "Je n'ai jamais rencontré un tel imbecile" -- "I have never met such an imbecile." Valéry, you spoke too soon.) We can brood on how a republic that once elected Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt is today on the verge of entrusting the most powerful office in the world to this dimwit.