AS ELECTION DAY approaches, look for Al Gore's campaign to get both desperate and ugly. Desperate not only because Gore's lead has vanished and Bush has edged ahead, but desperate also because this is the end of the line for Gore and everything he has worked for all his life, if he loses this election.
Political parties can turn savagely against candidates who have led them to defeat. With the Gephardt-Bonior wing of the Democratic Party already chafing so long under the Clinton-Gore administration, do not expect them to forgive and forget, much less give Al Gore a second chance in the presidential elections of 2004. It is now or never for Gore.
And ugly? Because only an ugly appeal to fear, envy and lies gives the vice president any hope of scaring enough people away from Governor Bush and into his column on election day.
The race card is one of those ugly scares. Blacks must be told that racism threatens them if Bush and Cheney win. Already hints and charges of racism have appeared whenever some liberal judge has failed to get confirmed by the Senate, when that judge happened to be a member of some minority group.
Al Gore and Hillary Clinton have already embraced racial demagogue and riot inciter Al Sharpton. Senator Lieberman has even said that he would meet with Louis Farrakhan. When the Gore-Liberman ticket is trying to appeal to both Jews and antisemites, you know that "inclusiveness" has been carried to the point of desperation.
With the black vote already solidly in the Democrats' column, why such extremes? Because it is not just a question of who blacks will vote for, but how many will bother to vote at all. If blacks become comfortable with Governor Bush, many may not see enough reason to vote for Gore, or at all. Not only is Bush in step with blacks on vouchers, black kids in Texas score higher on tests than black kids in states with liberal governors.
The best that the Gore campaign has come up with so far is that Bush does not go along with "hate crimes" legislation. The murderers of the black man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas, are already under a death sentence and a "hate crimes" law couldn't do any more than that.
What a "hate crimes" law would do, aside from serving as an election-year gimmick to play the race card, is tie up the courts in innumerable appeals over whether a convicted criminal really was motivated by hate or by something else. Nor should it matter whether a murderer killed because of hate or because he wanted to collect the insurance money. Ironically, a hate crimes law could provide yet another way for murderers to escape the punishment they deserve with frivolous appeals over whether hate was proved.
It is Gore, whose total opposition to vouchers makes him a threat to the future of a whole generation of young blacks, who are not getting educated in many ghetto public schools, even though a number of charter schools and private schools have achieved remarkable academic success with these same ghetto kids. Gore's opposition is not based on racism, but on the clout of the teachers' unions in the Democratic Party, which needs both their millions of dollars in campaign contributions and the manpower they can turn out to walk the precincts on election night.
Another group that Gore will have to try to scare are senior citizens. Somehow he must make Governor Bush's plan to let younger workers invest some of their own Social Security money seem like a threat to retired people. It isn't, but the truth has never stopped Gore before.
Gore will also have to try to scare women with the notion that Bush would appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade -- and supposedly ban abortions. The fallacy in this is that there was no national ban on abortions before Roe v. Wade. It was never a federal issue in the first place, until the High Court decided to settle the issue, once and for all -- and made it more unsettled and divisive than ever.
Then there are the scares about a polluted environment if Bush gets in, including lies about pollution levels in Houston, which were refuted by Houston's mayor, a Democrat. This was all part of Gore's campaign to scare up votes -- literally.
At the heart of all these tactics is the cold fact that Gore's political success depends on pitting groups of Americans against other Americans. If he succeeds, you can look for more such divisive tactics in future elections, despite how much it tears apart the fabric of American