Election 2000

Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2000 14:27:01 -0500 (EST)

Dear All,

These past few days, our nation has been absorbed in the question of who should be our next President. We all know that the people have voted, but now the question is, who won?
I hesitate to use this list for an issue that raises such partisan passions, but because of my firm belief that the outcome of the election does matter and will shape the world of the coming years, and may very well also affect our own effectiveness as citizens working for a better world, I choose to do so.
The big question now is, if Al Gore remains behind Bush in Florida following the recounts and after all of the absentee ballots are in, should Gore mount a legal challenge in Palm Beach County, in light of the ballot problems there? Most of the discourse surrounding this question has focused on democracy. To quote a friend, Matt Segal, "In America, we don't hold elections so the people can get a president, we hold them so that the people can CHOOSE a president." We make this choice through our vote. Our vote (at least in the ideal) is a way for each of us to connect to a process that is far larger than ourselves, to the entire human enterprise. Through our vote, a statement of our view of what the world ought to look like, we help that vision of the world come nearer to reality. It is a profound act.
This may not express the thought processes of most voters, but even when we are not conscious of it, that is the role of the vote. The vote is a solemn instrument. We must, therefore, be very reluctant to endorse actions that would effectively disenfranchise people, to endorse actions that say, better to get this process over with than to do our best to make sure that every vote is counted.
Our fidelity to democratic values is not all that is at stake, however. The nature of U.S. involvement in the world is as well. And the stakes are high. For all the talk of the prosperous times in which we live, extreme poverty remains widespread, with 1.2 billion people living on less than 1 dollar per day. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is taking a tremendous toll on Africa, and is a rapidly growing problem in other places, such as India, desperately needs our attention.
U.S. policy with respect to these and innumerable related issues, policy that is to a large extent shaped by the president, will affect very many millions of people throughout the world.
And so I fear a Bush presidency. During the second presidential debate, Bush said the following, in response to a question that referred to Africa: "Africa's important. And we've got to do a lot of work in Africa to promote democracy and trade. . . . It's an important continent. But there's got to be priorities. And [the] Middle East is a priority for a lot of reasons as is Europe and the Far East, and our own hemisphere. And those are my four top priorities should I be the president." See NYT, Oct. 12, 2000. In other words, nearly all the world but Africa would be his international priorities. And depending on the reach of "Far East," perhaps also excluding some of the world's poorest regions in Asia. "It's an important continent. But there's got to be priorities." It sounds, then, that poverty reduction, development, reducing public health threats, perhaps the greatest issues of social justice of our time, would receive little attention under a Bush presidency. People I talk to about the possibilities of future U.S. funding for the global AIDS crisis are one in telling me, it depends on the election.
The Clinton/Gore Administration has done far, far too little with respect to the global AIDS crisis and the setting of poverty in which it is embedded. But Gore has made some personal investments in the issue, including speaking at the Security Council's meeting on AIDS in Africa in January 2000. That month, during which American ambassador to the United Nations, Richard Holbrooke, took on the rotating presidency of the Security Council, the Security Council gave particular focus to Africa, at Ambassador Holbrooke's initiative. See NYT, 12/21/99. Many expect that Holbrooke would be Secretary of State in a Gore administration. See NYT, 10/26/00.
If, at the end of the process, it turns out that the American people have selected George W. Bush as President, then he will have become president through a democratic process, the best way we know how to govern ourselves. We will work with that reality, try to get Bush to add Africa, add poverty, add social justice to his priorities. And no doubt, if Gore becomes the next president, he will certainly need to be reminded of his responsibility to promote social justice around the globe.
When considering the costs of a possible war in the courts, with battles in many states, I urge you to keep in mind that the effects of the election will be felt not only at home, but also around the world. We cannot be certain that Bush would pay as little attention to Africa as the quote above suggests, nor can we be certain that a Gore administration would pay more than the nominal attention to Africa that has often seemed the case of the Clinton administration. But with so many lives in the balance, I believe that as we think about and discuss the present state of the election, with all the talk about the turmoil that prolonged uncertainty might cause here in the United States, we should not forget about the suffering throughout the world that may be reduced -- or augmented -- as a result of the outcome of the election.
There are several links you might be interested in:

Some students here put together a persuasive demonstration that the law in Florida requires judges to void elections in which there is doubt about the true will of the voters, an analysis I'm sure that many of you will find interesting. I will forward it to you as a separate e-mail. Apologies to those of you who may have already seen this document.
Thank you.



"I have only dreams: to build a better world, a world of harmony and understanding, a world in which it is a joy to live. This is not asking for too much." -- Yitzhak Rabin "Don't say the day will come. Bring the day! Because it's not a dream." -- Shir LaShalom, Song for Peace

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