Historic Documents of 2000


Edited by: CQ Press

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    The United States, which likes to preach the virtues of democracy to authoritarian regimes around the world, in 2000 found itself in the uncomfortable position of having its democratic system become the object of derision abroad and dissension at home. For thirty-six days after the November 7 elections, the world watched as the United States engaged in its messiest and most contentious fight over the presidency since 1876. Suddenly, the magisterial process by which the world's oldest democracy routinely transferred power through the ballot box became enmeshed in bitter disputes over the failures of the electoral process in Florida. At issue were "hanging chads," dysfunctional voting machines, confusing ballots, and allegations that some black voters had been intimidated at the polls.

    Many foreign observers were inclined at first to mock the spectacle, but as it dragged on, the giggles were replaced by fears that maybe cracks were appearing in the vaunted political stability of the United States. Most Americans also were fascinated and mystified by the process—except for the partisans who were convinced that the other side was plotting to steal the election. Democrats were convinced that the Republican political establishment in Florida, led by Governor Jeb Bush, was distorting legal procedures in an effort to protect a razor-thin lead of a few hundred votes held by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, the governor's brother. By winning Florida and its twenty-five electoral votes, Bush would capture the presidency, even though he had lost the popular vote to Democrat AI Gore. For their part, Republicans believed that Democrats were determined to manufacture just enough votes for Vice President Gore to overcome Bush's slim lead in Florida.

    In the end, the vote that mattered most was that of the U.S. Supreme Court, which on December 12 halted the counting of disputed ballots—the ballots that Gore was convinced would give him the election and that Bush insisted were invalid. The Court itself was divided in its decision, one of the most controversial it had ever rendered. On the central question before the Court, five justices sided with Bush and four with Gore. The decision meant that Bush would carry Florida by 537 votes, out of 6 million cast in the state, and win the presidency. A clearly frustrated Gore conceded the following day. The outcome kept the nation's political system intact, but it did not totally calm the partisan anger that had arisen during the five-week dispute. While Democrats fumed, Bush prepared to take office in January 2001 as the first president since Rutherford B. Hayes to have come in second in the popular vote.

    Bush, who had claimed during his campaign to be a "uniter, not a divider," promised conciliation and a bipartisan approach to governing. It was clear that many of the issues on the national agenda would be resolved only through a spirit of cooperation that had been lacking in Washington during much of the eight years of Democrat Bill Clinton's presidency. The central questions facing Bush would be the health of the economy and the role of the federal government in national affairs. Within days of the Supreme Court decision awarding him the election, Bush and his vice president-elect, Richard B. Cheney, began warning of softness in the economy. The nation was in its ninth year of economic expansion, the longest in history, but Bush said he saw signs of a possible slowdown. Bush said he had a cure for that possible economic illness: the $1.6 trillion, across-the-board tax cut that had been the centerpiece of his campaign. Democrats thought they smelled a rat. Bush, they said, was "talking down" the economy in hopes of pressuring Congress to enact a tax cut that had generated little excitement among voters during the campaign.

    One campaign issue that had excited voters, at least older voters, was a call by both Bush and Gore for insurance covering prescription drugs for senior citizens. Numerous studies and anecdotal evidence showed that millions of seniors were unable to pay for the prescription drugs that had become necessary facts of life for the nation's aging population. Drug prices were rising well above the rate of overall inflation, spurring a dramatic increase in the cost of health insurance as well. Medicare, the successful but financially troubled system of health insurance for seniors, did not cover prescription drugs. Responding to the public's demands on the issue, Bush suggested providing prescription drug coverage for seniors through private insurance plans. Gore, by contrast, proposed expanding the existing Medicare program to accommodate prescription drugs.

    Hope that scientists would someday be able to cure many of the illnesses and ailments that affected people of every age took a step forward in June with the announcement that two competing teams had nearly completed sequencing the human genome—determining the order and arrangement of the roughly 3 billion bits of DNA contained in every ordinary human cell. Among the "bits" were thousands of genes—no one yet knew exactly how many—that made each individual human being unique. Scientists had long predicted that once they understood how the human genome functioned, they would be able to use that knowledge to revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease.

    The presidential election contest was the second media circus in Florida in 2000. The first involved a highly unusual custody battle that turned into an international incident. The story began in November 1999, when a five-year-old Cuban boy, Elian Gonzalez, was rescued off the coast of Florida. The boat in which he had fled from Cuba capsized, drowning his mother and several others. The boy quickly became the pawn in a battle between the federal government and Elian's Cuban American relatives in Miami, who had temporary custody of him. The government said Elian should be returned to the custody of his father; the relatives, some of whom had themselves fled communist Cuba, refused to turn him over if it meant his return to Cuba. The government eventually won the battle but only after staging a commando raid to snatch Elian away from his Miami relatives.

    On the international front, the year 2000 was remarkable for the unusual number of dramatic political transitions, even in countries with long histories of one-party rule. In fact, both of the world's longest-ruling political parties lost power during the year. Number one in that category was the Institutional Revolutionary Party (known as the PRI) in Mexico, which had controlled the presidency since 1929 and had run the country pretty much as a one-party state until the late 1980s. Vicente Fox, a businessman turned politician representing the center-right National Action Party, won the presidency in the July 2 election and took office December 1. Fox owed his election in large part to electoral reforms pushed through in 1996 by his PRI predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, who managed to portray the defeat of his own party as a victory for democracy in Mexico.

    Fox's victory followed the surprising defeat of the world's second-longest ruling party, the Nationalist Party in Taiwan. Chen Shui-bian, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party, narrowly won the presidency on March 18 in a three-man race. Chen's victory was all the more remarkable in that he became the first opposition figure elected to the top national office in the 5,000 years of Chinese history. Mainland China had never held truly free elections, and Taiwan was just a few years into its experiment with real democracy after a half century of Nationalist Party domination. Chen's rise to power upset the communist rulers in Beijing for a different reason: he had long advocated independence for Taiwan, which the mainland rulers claimed was part of China. Chen struck a conciliatory posture after he took office on May 20, but there was no reciprocal response from Beijing.

    Two other countries underwent dramatic political transformations during the year, both the result of elections that had been rigged by presidents who feared entrusting their futures to unalloyed democracy. Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori nearly got away with his heavy-handed attempt to win a third term in office despite a strong challenge by opposition leader Alejandro Toledo. Fujimori at first tried to maneuver a first-round electoral victory in April. When that attempt failed because of international pressure, Fujimori made it clear that he was determined to win the second round in May at any cost, prompting Toledo to withdraw. But Fujimori had no time to savor his victory. His intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was shown on television bribing an opposition legislator, setting off a political furor that ultimately drove Fujimori into exile in Japan, from where he faxed his resignation. An interim president took office in November and pledged honest elections in 2001.

    In international terms, an even more important turnover occurred in Yugoslavia, where President Slobodan Milosevic tried just a little too hard to hold onto power. Apparently believing that he was invulnerable politically, Milosevic called presidential elections for September 2000, even though he had a year left in office. The unofficial results showed that he lost to Voislav Kostunica, a lawyer who represented a coalition of opposition parties. But Milosevic refused to concede the election and insisted that a second round was necessary. Demonstrating an unprecedented degree of unity and power, opposition forces mounted nationwide protests, culminating in a massive demonstration in Belgrade on October 5. Discovering that he could no longer rely on the army, which had fought losing wars on his behalf in Bosnia and Kosovo, Milosevic reluctantly stepped aside, and Kostunica took office on October 7 as Yugoslavia's first freely elected president. In December his coalition swept Milosevic's allies from power in the republic of Serbia, the dominant partner in the Yugoslav federation.

    The United States and its western European allies immediately offered economic aid to Yugoslavia, hoping that the departure of Milosevic finally would bring peace to the Balkans. Even so, serious challenges remained in the two provinces that Milosevic had set ablaze during the 1990s. In Bosnia, United Nations administrators and NATO peacekeepers were still struggling to keep intact a fragile balance of Croatians, Muslims, and Serbs. The task of peacekeeping was equally difficult in Kosovo, where the Muslim majority was agitating for independence from Serbia. Albanian moderates won provincial elections in Kosovo in October, but at year's end NATO peacekeepers were concerned about attacks by Albanian guerrillas along the southern boundary between Kosovo and Serbia proper. The fear was that the fighting could spread into neighboring Macedonia, another ethnic tinderbox.

    Yugoslavia's former close ally, Russia, was still struggling with its own transition from communism to democracy and capitalism. Vladimir Putin, who in mid-I999 had been plucked from obscurity by President Boris Yeltsin to become Russia's prime minister, took over as acting president after Yeltsin's surprise resignation on the last day of 1999. Putin then easily won election in his own right in March, becoming the first person to be elected to succeed an elected president of Russia. Despite his electoral success and his promises to respect the country's fragile democratic process, many of Putin's actions during the year led critics to suggest that he was returning to the authoritarian ways of Russia's past czars and commissars. The Russian economy continued on its downward slide, as did the military, which suffered an excruciatingly painful embarrassment in August when a nuclear submarine, the Kursk, sank in the Barents Sea, killing all 118 aboard. As much as any other event in recent years, the loss of the Kursk seemed to symbolize Russia's loss of power and prestige since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    A transition of a different sort was under way on the Korean peninsula, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il appeared to be starting the process of dragging his country out of its shell. Kim held an emotional summit meeting in June with South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, and the two signed a document vaguely pledging Korean unification in the future. In October the North Korean Kim also hosted U.S. secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright for meetings in Pyongyang, but plans for a landmark visit by President Clinton fell through in December.

    The one continent where little progress was visible during the year was Africa. The AIDS pandemic continued its deadly march across sub-Saharan Africa, killing tens of thousands of people each year and slicing decades off the expected average life spans in several countries. Thousands more died in the region's bloody wars, most notably the massive conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Six nations and a host of guerrilla groups and militias were battling for control of Africa's third biggest country, frustrating the diligent peacekeeping efforts by the United Nations.

    With the lessons of such wars in mind, more than 150 world leaders gathered at UN headquarters in New York early in September for a "millennium summit." It was the biggest gathering ever of presidents, kings, prime ministers, and other leaders. They held elegant dinner parties and made many pledges, including a series of promises to try to reduce global poverty by 2015.

    These are only some of the topics of national and international interest chosen by the editors for Historic Documents of 2000. This edition marks the twenty-ninth volume of a Congressional Quarterly project that began with Historic Documents of 1972. The purpose of the series is to give students, librarians, journalists, scholars, and others convenient access to documents on a wide range of topics that set forth some of the most important issues of the year. In our judgment, the official statements, news conferences, speeches, special studies, and court decisions presented here will be of lasting interest.

    Each document is preceded by an introduction that provides context and background material and, when relevant, an account of continuing developments during the year. We believe these introductions will become increasingly useful as memories of current events fade.

    John Felton and Martha Gottron

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