Meanwhile, corporate profits have hit a 30-year peak. Income inequality is at extremes, and stock market speculation (the precarious engine of growth under Clinton-Gore) breaks all bounds. Against the profusion of day-traders, witness the average household’s ballooning debt, now almost equal to its disposable income.
As for “Putting People First,” since Clinton-Gore promulgated that slogan in 1992, education spending is down; transportation, down; Social Security, down; Income Security, aka welfare, disability, way down. Health spending is up, but 10 million more people were without health insurance in 1998 than in 1988. Gay people got “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act. The toll from “ending welfare as we know it” is well known: poor women blamed for poverty, punished for having children by family caps, denied state-assisted health coverage for most abortions but not for sterilization, forced into competition for low-wage jobs, forced off Medicaid and food stamps, forced to find child care whatever the cost, whatever the quality. As a proportion of gross domestic product, spending on all public assistance and food programs has been frozen in place: 1.3 percent in 1992 and in 1998. The Democrats don’t talk “win-win” anymore. Now the line is “expanding the winners’ circle.” For the losers, the Clintonite politics of lowered expectations has become the Gored politics of no expectations. And that’s just on the domestic front.
With such a record, no Republican administration would have won the shameful complacence, and now full-throated endorsement, of women’s groups, labor, the environmental, civil rights, and gay establishments. And in effect, we have had a Republican administration. In the match-up between Gore and Bush, the right-center meets the center-right, with the only fundamental, as opposed to incremental, difference being their positions on abortion and gays in the military.
But what about abortion? And gay rights and civil and labor rights? What about the Supreme Court? As prompted by Democratic vote-trawlers, these are fear-inducing incantations. None of these rights has been conferred from the top, and to believe so is to misread the role of politicians, which is not so much to lead as to be led by whichever side has superior force.
Abortion was attacked by a grassroots movement, and only a militant mass movement will save it. President Clinton’s position on abortion rights has not stopped state after state from constricting those rights, and neither will Gore’s. At the local, state, and congressional levels, energetic electoral action by organized feminists can sometimes make a difference, but only if those who win with that support are blasted by a threat of opposition as soon as they stray, and only if such action is part of a broader strategy of resistance. The same goes for labor, gay groups, and the rest. Nor is the Supreme Court immune to political pressure, as the 1992 majority opinion stated in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, which did strike at abortion access but also asserted that the public mood foreclosed a full retreat from Roe.
In September of 2002, the block grant program of the federal welfare reform law, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, expires. Poor people’s groups fighting the ravages of this law have banded together in the National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support (www.nationalcampaign.org). They cannot be left to fight alone. The same goes for supporting unionization drives, increasingly led by low-wage women. In every state in the country, particularly Arkansas, Florida, Mississippi, and Utah, gay groups could use straight people as gunners by their sides against legal discrimination in adoption and custody cases, and in every other area of life.
Nor can traditional feminist grouplets ignore the call of history and hope for po