When an election is so close, it is inevitable that odd factors will come into play. The flawed ballots and voting errors are simply unfortunate. It was more unfortunate that the Supreme Court favored a voting deadline over the counting of ballots as accurately as possible. The racial bias in the Florida elections was undemocratic. The NAACP has documented the bias in detail. Officials in Florida eliminated thousands from voter rolls on false grounds, and African-Americans suffered disproportionately. Local officials seemed to sabotage registration and voting efforts of blacks. There are grounds to suspect that some state and local authorities engaged in rigging against African-Americans to tip a close election. Throughout America, every year, the biased application of criminal laws upon African-Americans disproportionately disenfranchises them. Other problems in Florida disproportionately disenfranchised blacks without anyone necessarily intending it. Universal suffrage came to America late, in 1965, when the Voting Rights Act cleared the way for all African-Americans to vote. Regressive tendencies have not disappeared.
A great mystery of the 2000 election has been obscured by the controversy in Florida. The Clinton economy delivered benefits to most voters, and they recognized it. Yet, Bush did not merely win, he led Gore in the polls in all but a few months in the year before the election. David Tabb, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, suggested an explanation. The immediate cause has to do with Gore’s persona and campaign strategy. The structural cause lies in the sociology and psychology of the vast information class that has been created by the new economy. Surveys show these workers are especially disloyal to political parties. That has made for a large bloc of centrist voters who recognize personalities and not parties, and thus for unstable electoral coalitions. The new class does not reward whole parties for good performance. Clinton was rewarded to the point of having his scandal and impeachment overlooked. But credit did not flow to his Vice-President. Neither Reagan nor Clinton could create a durable electoral coalition despite winning two terms.
In foreign policy, the Bush team values unilateral American capability and devalues ideals of international community. This attitude is not as realistic as it sounds. Clinton had focused on building international rules and agreements under American hegemony. The Republicans are more suspicious of Chinese intentions and more skeptical of influencing them through economic and diplomatic engagement than Clinton was. Still, the Republicans are even more the party of business than the Democrats. They will not deliberately disrupt trade with China. The fount of Republican threat perception is China’s attitude toward Taiwan. If the Clinton policy of strategic partnership has failed to bring satisfactory Chinese patience on Taiwan, the Republicans want to try something else. The world will likely witness the spectacle of military rivalry and economic intimacy between the same powers. Ballistic missile defense is the heart of the Bush attitude. It is a quest for unilateral security and absolute advantage. It embarks on a huge technical project while American engineers are already in dire shortage, the dot-com bust notwithstanding. In the end, Bush will likely get a larger Chinese ICBM force and no effective missile defense.
Clinton sought to draw India, China, and others into his system of rules. Some rules were: cross-border terrorism would be criticized; nuclear testing would be sanctioned; and trade in goods and services, except nuclear weapon systems and components, would be liberalized. India benefited from U.S. pressure on Pakistan and China and its commitment to liberal trade in services, particularly in software. In return, India was asked to sign the CTBT, halt nuclear testing, and to open its markets to imports and foreign investment. The Bush Administration will not think in terms of international rules, but their actions toward India will not change much. Current indications are that they will favor India as a partner in the balance of power. The danger is that India and America will face a more belligerent China than before. The Republicans are probably wrong about what works. Let us see what they learn.
Bush and his appointees have given very few hints of their attitude toward India. Nonetheless, the available hints are broadly favorable. Bush’s most famous engagement with India was not knowing Vajpayee’s name. However, the two did speak on the phone during Vajpayee’s visit. Condaleeza Rice has written that the U.S. should engage India more broadly, and not just focus on the standard issues of Pakistan and nuclear weapons. Other Bush advisors have also made favorable noises. Republicans in Congress are mostly supportive of India.
Most of the forces that drew India and the U.S. together under Clinton will retain their strength under Bush. The shared IT boom will continue, even if it slows down for a while. Americans still regard the Pakistani military as a counterweight to the jihadis, rather than as the godfather. But their skepticism is rising. India must work to develop the partnership with America without becoming a front-line state in a new cold war with China.
Sanjoy Banerjee teaches International Relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.