the choice 2000
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editor's note
What is not being debated this year is perhaps as revealing about the national mood and priorities as the issues that are making the headlines. Some issues from past elections are non-issues today, others have changed form and focus, and still others are not discussed because both major party candidates seem to agree on what to do about them (or, at least, they agree not to disagree or even to discuss them at all).

Crime and welfare reform are not on the agenda, perhaps for the first time in a generation. With welfare rolls and violent crime levels at record lows, there is a general feeling that both problems have already been solved. The effects of the 1996 Welfare Reform bill generally have been thought to be positive, but few hard numbers or in-depth follow-up reports are available from even the first "welfare to work" states. To the extent that crime is talked about, it is in connection with violent crime committed by children with guns.

Some proposals have been discussed within constituencies which are affected by them, but have not caught the imagination of the country as a whole. Al Gore has talked about ensuring equal pay for women, and raising the stature of professions where women dominate, which typically pay less than professions which are male-dominated. While some women's groups have lauded the idea, no counter-proposals have been forthcoming from the Republican side.

George W. Bush has proposed several reforms in immigration laws and in the Immigration and Naturalization Service to make legal immigration easier and to separate the agency's enforcement and naturalization functions-- but, again, these proposals have not been engaged by Gore or widely discussed. Neither has agriculture policy, though both candidates have come up with detailed plans.

Some issues are sidelined because they are traditionally seen as too risky during an election year: gay rights are not on the agenda at all despite the fact that several states are debating whether to grant homosexual partners many of the same benefits as married couples. The issue was discussed during the second presidential debate, and both candidates opposed same-sex marriage, though Gore said he supported some sort of civil union for gays. Despite his opposition to gay marriage, Bush promised his administration would be tolerant, adding "I support equal rights but not special rights for people." The only issue on which candidates have been willing to take a public stance is the military's current 'don't ask don't tell' policy, later expanded to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Don't Pursue, Don't Harass': Gore's against it; Bush wants better implementation of the policy.

Affirmative action and civil rights issues are almost completely absent from public discourse, outside of a brief exchange during the debates about hate crimes legislation and "racial profiling." During the second presidential debate, Gore promised to make a ban on racial profiling the "first civil rights act of the 21st century". Bush was also supportive of the idea. During the same debate, Gore supported affirmative action, which he described as redressal for past prejudices. Bush contrasted his notion of "Affirmative Access" with affirmative action, saying, "I don't like quotas, quotas tend to pit one group of people against another, quotas are bad for America, it's not the way America is all about." Gore made it clear that affirmative action, on his view, was not about quotas--quotas were a "red herring"--but the debate format rules did not allow Gore to question Bush directly on this point.

Both Bush and Gore are described as centrist within their own parties, and many commentators have pointed out that there is very often significant similarity in their views. Both, for example, favor increased legal immigration by highly qualified foreign workers, especially for high tech jobs ("Everyone loves H-1B"); both are pro-NAFTA and say they believe America should remain engaged with the rest of the world; and both are for a federal role in the setting of standards for public schools.

The war on drugs continues with the recent approval of a controversial $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package for Colombia, but there is very little discussion by the candidates of the policy's rightness or potential effectiveness.

Further reading:

"The issues that aren't"(The Atlantic, July 2000)

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