Gore concession speech: Democrats capitulate to right-wing attack on voting rights

The concession speech delivered by Vice President Al Gore Wednesday night was an unvarnished capitulation to the right-wing forces responsible for stealing the 2000 presidential election and installing George W. Bush in the White House.

Gore was incapable either of articulating the nature of the political crisis or of drawing any lessons from the bitter struggle of the previous 36 days. Instead, he delivered a cliché-ridden address, combining mawkish sentimentality with the inevitable invocations of religion, while bowing before the Supreme Court decision that halted the vote-counting in Florida.

From a political standpoint, the most revealing aspect of Gore's speech, coming as it did at the apex of a crisis that has seen an unprecedented challenge to democratic rights, was its unseriousness. The Democratic candidate's attorneys, in a brief to the Supreme Court December 10, decried the Bush campaign's demand for a halt in the counting of legal ballots in Florida, calling it “contrary to established law, the US Constitution, and basic principles of democracy.” Three days later, after the Supreme Court decision brought the vote-counting to a permanent end, Gore went on national television to tell the American people, in effect, that nothing of great or lasting import had occurred.

It is no doubt the case that, within the framework of American bourgeois politics, Gore had few options for continuing the struggle for the White House. But more profound issues were at stake than whether Bush or Gore would become the next president of the United States. Gore never addressed these issues, or sought to warn the American people of the growing threat posed by the right-wing assault on their basic rights.

The United States was brought to the brink of a full-blown constitutional crisis by the successful drive of the Republican Party to falsify the results of the November 7 election through the suppression of thousands of votes in Florida. Bush, who campaigned as the man who “trusts the people, not government,” lost the popular vote, but is being elevated to the presidency by an unelected agency of that government.

The Supreme Court's decision was a display of ruthlessness and political reaction. Even media commentators were staggered by the cynicism of the five-member majority, who abandoned their professed conservative legal principles—states' rights, judicial restraint—to seize jurisdiction over a case involving state election laws, overturn the state supreme court's decision, and impose conditions which effectively declared Bush the winner of Florida's electoral votes.

The political and constitutional essence of the Supreme Court's action was spelled out in the majority's decision, which explicitly attacked the principle of popular sovereignty, declaring that “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States.”

Yet beyond stating that “I strongly disagree with the Court's decision,” Gore said nothing about the implications of the high court's ruling for American democracy. Instead, he uttered patriotic platitudes aimed at fostering illusions that the bitter conflict of the past five weeks was merely a case of “partisan rancor”—nothing more than a conflict between Democratic and Republican politicians over political office.

Gore's exhibition of political cowardice reflected more than the personal traits of one individual. His speech exemplified the prostration of American liberalism before the right wing. He hailed “the honored institutions of our democracy,” under conditions where the most powerful sections of the ruling class are moving to overturn these institutions and establish new, authoritarian forms of rule.

Gore's appeals to unite behind “President-elect Bush,” which have been echoed by Bill Clinton and a host of other leading Democrats, have a deep class significance. Gore spoke as a defender of the capitalist system and the machinery of the capitalist state. He went out of his way to deny that the “unusual nature of this election” should call into question Bush's legitimacy or effectiveness.

The Vice President specifically warned “our fellow members of the world community”—i.e., countries that are potential adversaries of American imperialism in economic, political and ultimately military conflict—that they should not “see this contest as a sign of American weakness.”

Above all, Gore sought to deny that the election conflict had opened up any serious rift within American society, declaring, “Now is the time to recognize that that which unites us is greater than that which divides us.” These are political code words, a reassurance to the ruling class that the Democrats are abandoning their opposition to the establishment of a Bush administration in the interests of maintaining the stability of the US political system. To continue the conflict would require an appeal to broader social forces, among the working class and oppressed, who are systematically excluded from political influence in America.

There is nothing surprising in Gore's conduct, which was prefigured by his silence throughout the election campaign on the impeachment conspiracy against the Clinton White House, carried out by Republican lawyers, judges and congressmen, working with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, and using the bogus Paula Jones lawsuit that was sanctioned by the US Supreme Court.

The same forces that sought to overturn the results of two presidential elections through a quasi-constitutional political coup have now manufactured the results of a third presidential election. Gore's silence on the attack on democratic rights today reproduces the refusal of Clinton to publicly expose the right wing, even when his presidency was at stake.

Predictably, the corporate-controlled media fawned over Gore's remarks, hailing them as “gracious”, “poignant”, “magnificent”, even “incredible.” The same media outlets were largely hostile to the Democratic candidate throughout the election campaign and during the protracted struggle in Florida. Now, when Gore does his duty as a loyal servant of big business, his masters administer a pat on the head.

But the surrender of Al Gore and the Democratic Party to the anti-democratic machinations of the extreme right does not signify the acquiescence of the broad masses of the American people. As the social agenda of the incoming Bush administration and the Republican-controlled Congress becomes more evident, it will meet with growing opposition from working people.

Gore claimed, “Now the political struggle is over.” On the contrary, the conditions are being created for a colossal shift in American politics and the emergence of an independent political movement based on the working class.