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.