Maybe the worst thing Al Gore did to Bill Bradley during the primaries was to accuse him of being bad for blacks. In November, when Gore was still fighting his way back to dominance in the Democratic contest, the vice president charged that Bradley’s health-care plan would be harmful to minority groups–mentioning African-Americans, Latinos, and AIDS patients in particular. Gore’s logic went as follows: Bradley’s health plan would not be an adequate replacement for Medicaid; minorities are disproportionately Medicaid beneficiaries; ergo Bradley’s plan is a hazard to minorities.
You couldn’t say this assertion was simply untrue, because there was no way to verify or falsify it. The question of whether Bradley’s plan would have been better than Medicaid was a legitimate subject for debate. But whether it would have been bad for people on Medicaid or not, Bradley’s health-care plan was universal in scope and had nothing to say about any minority group in particular. It would have been no worse for blacks or Latinos on Medicaid than for whites on Medicaid. And, of course, one might have attacked the Clinton health-care plan, which also tried to replace Medicaid, on the same basis.
The slur was a Gore special: an interest-group suck-up blended with the slander-by-implication that his opponent was in some way a closet bigot. In one of the later debates, Bradley cited the charge as something that deeply offended him. He was right to be upset.
Now Gore is attempting to do the same thing to George W. Bush by injecting racial conflict into issues with no racial component. This time Gore isn’t singling out blacks, who can be assumed to be solidly in the Democratic column already. He’s focusing on Hispanics, a minority group that Bush prides himself on courting, and whose support W. dearly needs, especially in California and Florida. In a statement titled “Gore vs. Bush: Protecting the Future for Hispanics,” which was e-mailed to reporters this morning, the Gore campaign charges that Bush’s ideas are “risky for Hispanics.” But, as with his assault on Bradley’s health-care plan, Gore singles out policies that have nothing to do with Latinos. They’re universally applicable measures, such as a tax cut (“BUSH’S RISKY TAX SCHEME COULD ENDANGER HISPANIC PROSPERITY,” blares the release) and Bush’s advocacy of Social Security reform that includes some form of individual retirement accounts (“SOCIAL SECURITY IS IMPORTANT TO HISPANICS AND OTHER MINORITIES”).
Whether wise or foolish, Bush’s positions on these issues have nothing to do with Hispanics as a distinct group. If his tax plan endangers prosperity, it endangers golfer prosperity and vegetarian prosperity as well as “Hispanic prosperity.” The only point on which Gore’s claim of Hispanic-relevance is remotely plausible is on the matter of the census. Bush favors actual enumeration over “sampling,” a policy that means Latinos are likely to be undercounted for purposes of congressional representation as they were in 1990.
Equally fatuous is the way Gore takes credit for having a strong record on Hispanic issues by taking all of his claims about the administration’s accomplishments and recasting them as accomplishments for the sake of Latinos. His release notes that Hispanic unemployment is down, Hispanic real wages are up, and so on. “Hispanic Families Have Flourished Under the Clinton-Gore Administration,” the release declares. “The Administration’s economic policies have helped thousands of Hispanic families.” This may be a valid claim, but it’s an absurd way to boast about an economy that has brought the same good things to all people without regard to size, shape, or color. You could change all 37 instances of the term “Hispanic” in Gore’s statement to “Episcopalian” without making it any less accurate–or any more meaningful.