Bush/Gore: There is a Difference

BOSTON/ROME: Any reader of non-US newspapers could draw two conclusions about America’s electoral campaign: 1. that there is little difference between the two candidates; 2. that a mere detail – a slip of the tongue, a false step, a piece of gossip – could decide the election.

Both conclusions are wrong. Start with the first. Differences between Bush and Gore on economic policy are as deep as those between the right and left in France or Italy. The cleavage lies in a very different visions about the state and it goes beyond questions about how to divide America’s budget surplus between increased spending or cutting taxes.

Bush’s Republicans favor increasing disposable family income (by reducing taxes) and more often leaving to the market, the production of goods and services now publicly provided and paid for by the taxpayer, rather than the user. Gore’s Democrats prefer more traditional public management and control.

In public education, Bush favors a system of vouchers administered by individual states. Through such vouchers, citizens are given a subsidy with which they “purchase” education either from a public or private school. The idea is that market competition among different educational institutions will increase the quality of education. Democrats oppose vouchers and prefer major federal investments in order to improve the quality of public schools.