Looking back over a decade that was pretty great for China, India, much of Eastern and Central Europe, Brazil, and some parts of Africa but bad for the United States, it really is sobering to reflect on how contingent it all was.
As you know, I’m a firm believer in the idea that election results are dominated by the fundamentals. But you do have exceptions, and the United States Presidential election of 2000 was clearly one of them. Which is to say that the outcome was so close that it easily could have gone the other way without any titanic world-historical events having been different. The Palm Beach County ballot could have been designed differently. A small number of Ralph Nader voters could have flinched at the last minute and pulled the lever for Gore. And more broadly very small differences in campaign tactics very plausibly might have altered this one. And I think American politics and public policy would have taken a very different—and much better—course.
I know some progressives try to comfort themselves with the thought that had 9/11 gone down under Gore’s watch, the ensuing right-wing savaging would have killed him. But I really think that’s a big mistake. The rally ’round the flag effect would have been smaller than what you saw for Bush, but still real and substantial, and the strength of the rabid right would have preventing the GOP from ducking effectively. Democrats not only probably would have made congressional gains in the 2002 midterms, but the temporary post-9/11 spike in public confidence in government would have created a much more promising environment for progressive policies than the one you see today.