“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Vince Lombardi
The liberal bias so characteristic of college history faculties is most apparent in the coverage given to modern day political issues. Any battle between modern day Republicans and Democrats is likely to be portrayed in history texts more or less the same way it is portrayed by the Democratic National Committee: making the Democrats, for whom college professors overwhelmingly vote, look good; and making the Republicans look bad.
A good example of this bias is the coverage given to the Year 2000 presidential race between Texas Governor George W. Bush (R) and Vice President Al Gore (D). Young students learning about this race in a freshman history class are likely to hear all the same talking points that Gore supporters were using back in late 2000 and early 2001. Students who are interested in hearing the other side of the story will have to resort to sources of information (like this website) that are as committed to a conservative point of view as college faculties are to their liberal agenda.
The Basic Facts
The 2000 race was extremely close. By the time the polls closed it was apparent that the candidate who won Florida’s 25 electoral votes would be the next President. To make matters worse, the voting in Florida was a virtual tie; the 1,784 vote advantage that Governor Bush had after the first vote count was well within the margin of error for anything as inherently sloppy as vote counting, in a state where some six million votes had been cast. This narrow margin triggered a re-count requirement according to Florida law. All six million ballots were run through the counting machines a second time, with the result that Bush’s margin of victory narrowed further, to a mere 327.
The absurd narrowness of this margin, in something as important as a Presidential election, was sure to frustrate the loser and his supporters, and it did. Vice President Gore decided to challenge the election results in court, demanding a hand recount of the votes in three carefully chosen counties.
The Partisan Positions
Conspiracy theories blossomed in late 2000 as Gore supporters searched for ways to make their candidate the winner. One of the primary objections that Mr. Gore and his supporters raised was the claim that Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of candidate George Bush, had deliberately prevented black voters from casting their votes for Mr. Bush. Another objection, and the chief basis for Gore’s demands for a manual count of ballots in hand-picked counties, was that the physical design of certain ballots was confusing to Gore supporters. A third objection, widely and loudly voiced by Gore supporters then and now, is that the Electoral College, the mechanism for electing Presidents spelled out in the US Constitution, is inherently unfair. Each of these complaints shows up in mainstream history textbooks today.
Bush supporters had their own gripes about the way the Florida voting was conducted, but these are not mentioned in any of the widely used freshman history textbooks.
“Disenfranchising” Gore’s Voters
The textbook Nation of Nations opens its coverage of the 2000 presidential race by telling students that Mr. Gore was better qualified than Mr. Bush to be President:
Gore had written a book on the global environmental crisis, promoted federal support for the Internet, and given new stature to the office of vice president. Where Bush knew little about world affairs (he had traveled outside the United States only twice), Gore seemed better prepared to conduct the nation’s foreign policy.1
After expounding on the relative merits of the two candidates, the book goes alludes to dark rumors of a racist conspiracy between candidate George Bush and his brother, Florida Governor Jeb Bush: “More serious charges alleged that the state had actively suppressed voting in heavily black counties. Those accusations were particularly sensational since George Bush’s brother was Florida’s Governor.”2 The book does not go into specifics, but this accusation may be based on complaints about a vehicle inspection traffic stop conducted by the Florida State Patrol, which supposedly intimidated Gore voters.
In his freshman textbook Give Me Liberty, Professor Eric Foner describes another of the mechanisms by which the State of Florida supposedly “actively suppressed” the black vote: “But the largest reason for Gore’s loss of Florida was that 600,000 persons – overwhelmingly black and Latino men, had lost the right to vote for their entire lives after being convicted of a felony.”3
Voting: Too Complicated?
Another partisan complaint faithfully repeated by left-leaning history profs is that the ballot formats used in several Florida counties were so hard to read and understand that they made voting an insurmountable challenge for thousands of Gore supporters. (Conservatives had fun with this claim when it was first made. One Bush supporter was photographed holding up a sign that said “Democrats: Too Dumb to Vote.”)
Nation of Nations describes the situation this way: “Some Florida counties had used ballots so complicated that voters with poor eyesight might choose the wrong candidate. Other counties used punch card machines so antiquated that they failed to fully perforate many ballots.”4
Give Me Liberty alludes to the so-called “Butterfly Ballot” used in Palm Beach County, and repeats a claim made by other Gore supporters then and now: “In one county, a faulty ballot design led several thousand Gore voters accidentally to cast their votes for independent conservative candidate Pat Buchanan. Had their votes been counted for Gore, he would have been elected president.”5
Objecting to the Electoral College
Another complaint common among Al Gore supporters is that the Electoral College system allowed Gore to lose the presidential race despite “winning the general election.” In other words, Gore was denied the presidency even though he got more votes than Bush on a nationwide basis. Professor Foner puts it this way:
Coming at the end of the “decade of democracy,” the 2000 election revealed troubling features of the American political system at the close of the twentieth century. The electoral college, devised by the founders to enable the country’s prominent men to choose the president rather than the ordinary voters, gave the White House to a candidate opposed by a majority of voters, an odd result in a political democracy.6
The Other Side of the Story: Allegations Refuted
When the authors of Nation of Nations state that “charges alleged that the state had actively suppressed voting in heavily black counties,” the authors choose not to tell their students is that these charges were investigated exhaustively by the US Commission on Civil Rights, which could find no evidence of such a thing.
According to the Commission’s report,7 the routine traffic stops that were conducted in three locations on election day were typical of the traffic stops the State Patrol had been conducting for years. (The State Patrol sets up roadblocks and briefly detains motorist to inspect their vehicles for safety, and confirm that each driver has a valid license.) Only one of the three was conducted in an area with a significant black population. Furthermore the State Patrol officers involved had arranged the traffic stop without the involvement of, or even the knowledge of, anyone in the Governor’s office or any other non-police government agency.
Criminals as a Voter Group
Even weaker is the accusation by history professors and other leftists that the State of Florida had engaged in some kind of sinister anti-Gore conspiracy by banning convicted felons from the voter rolls. The law in question pre-dated the 2000 election by many years, and had passed the Florida legislature with wide support among legislators of both parties.
Punishing criminal behavior is no more racist than it is sexist. While 91% of America’s prison inmates are male,8 no liberal has ever claimed that the prison sentences are some sort of sexist conspiracy against men. Yet leftists frequently claim that the disproportionate number of blacks and Hispanics in prison represents a racist conspiracy.
The law punishes behavior, not race. Bank robbers are sentenced to prison for their robberies, not for their race; and in Florida they lose their voting privileges on the same basis. (And, of the two things under discussion, prison time would strike most people as a more severe punishment than the loss of voting rights.)
On those Challenging Ballots
Of all the charges that liberals have leveled against Florida Republicans, the most ridiculous is that Republicans were somehow responsible for the difficulties that many would-be voters had in filling out their ballots in Democrat-leaning counties. Nothing could be further from the truth.
For one thing, the pro-Gore counties were not alone in having ballots rejected for technical reasons. Several Bush-leaning counties had higher percentages of rejected ballots than any of the three Gore counties that became so infamous. The simple truth is that there is no perfect system for eliminating individual error when millions of individuals are filling out their ballots.
More to the point, the ballot design used in each county is chosen by that county’s Supervisor of Elections. In counties with heavy concentrations of liberal voters, the Supervisor is invariably a Democrat. Thus the person who designed Palm Beach County’s infamous “Butterfly Ballot” was a lifelong Democrat named Theresa LaPore.
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On the Electoral College
The Electoral College system for electing US Presidents was written into the Constitution by the Founding Fathers. Whether it is a good or bad system is purely a matter of opinion. It is, however, the law of the land until such a time as the American people care enough about the issue to amend the Constitution.
And while it is understandable that leftists might complain about the system in general terms, it is disgraceful that a college professor would claim, as Eric Foner does, that the Electoral College was designed to “enable the country’s prominent men to choose the president rather than the ordinary voters.”
As Professor Foner must know, the College was a compromise between the larger and smaller states. It came about because the more heavily populated states were pushing, back in 1787, for the kind of presidential election system that liberals are calling for today, in which the candidate who gets the most votes on a nationwide basis is declared the winner. The smaller states wanted the President to be chosen by the states, with each state given an equal voice. The Electoral College, in which each state is given a number of electoral votes equal to the number of its senators and representatives, was the compromise finally agreed upon.
Dr. Foner’s misrepresentation of this important part of America’s history is a good illustration of the pervasiveness of bias in history texts.
It’s not surprising that liberals were frustrated with the outcome of the 2000 presidential race. And, given the partisan agenda of college faculties, it’s not surprising that some of that frustration would color the way history textbooks portray the events. The important issue for any student is to know that there is another side to the story.
1Davidson, Gienapp, Heyrman, Lytle, and Stoff; Nation of Nations; (2006 edition) p. 983
3Eric Foner, Give Me Liberty (2006 edition) pp. 961, 962
4Nation of Nations, p. 983
5Give Me Liberty, p. 961
6Ibid, p. 962
7USCCR Report, Chapter 2, under heading “Police Presence at or Near Polling Places
8Bureau of Justice Statistics website: Prison Inmates at Midyear 2009 – Statistical Tables
(click “spreadsheet”, then click “pim09st17.”