For single and unmarried voters, the final presidential debate
must have been a great disappointment. Bush and Gore were given a golden opportunity
to speak directly to millions of single voters and to solicit their support. Both
candidates missed the mark by a long shot.
During the debate,
undecided voters in the audience were selected to ask a question. First came
questions on education, then prescription drugs, then health care, and then on tax
cuts. And then a young woman stepped forward and asked each candidate to explain
what he, as president, would do for her as a 34-year-old single person.
Gore responded first, focusing solely on potential income tax
relief. He said that if she were a middle income person, her taxes would be reduced
by about $1,000 per year, if poor by some $1,500, and if higher income -- well . . . not
too much. The rest of his response seemed to be designed to fill space.
Gore did not acknowledge that she was one of millions of single
voters. He did not specifically invite single people to vote for him. Nor did
he attempt to discuss a variety of other issues which could benefit single voters.
Gore could have explained that if she were a minimum-wage worker
that she would benefit from his proposal to increase the minimum wage. Statistics
show that single people are the ones who benefit most from increases in the minimum wage.
Gore could have explained that he would vigorously defend her right
to choose, would appoint Supreme Court justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade, and
would make sure that the morning-after pill (RU486) remains available to those who need
it. After all, single women are the ones who benefit the most from Roe v. Wade
and the freedom to use abortion services.
In his response to her question, Gore never once used the term
"single people" as a chance to give some balance to his campaign message which
uses the phrase "working families" ad nauseam.
When Bush had his turn to respond, he missed an opportunity to
persuade single voters that they would benefit more from his proposals than from Gore's.
Bush, like Gore, could not bring himself to say the words
"single people." Bush failed to acknowledge that the questioner was
single, instead turning her into a generic American voter.
Bush argued that all Americans would get tax relief under his plan.
He then strayed into a general discourse about how all Americans would benefit from
this proposal or that plan and that she, as a generic person, would be better off with him
Bush could have explained that a newspaper in Alabama compared his
tax plan with Gore's plan and found that for a single woman making $39,000 a year, the
Bush plan allows her to keep $466 more of her own money. The Gore plan? Zero. And if the
Bush plan were enacted, the single woman making $78,000 would keep $1,277 more. Under Mr.
Gore, she would get no break. And so on and so forth at every income level.
He could have told her that younger single workers would do better
under his personal retirement incentive plan than under Gore's government-subsidized plan.
With Bush's proposal she could invest one-sixth of her retirement funds in a
personal plan that might grow by six percent per year rather than the two percent growth
of a traditional social security fund. And under the Bush plan, the remaining assets
in the personal fund could be transferred to her heirs when she dies -- unlike remaining
social security funds which are forfeited by a single person when she dies.
Surviving spouses, however, can dip into those remaining funds.
Bush could have said that marital status discrimination inherent in
the current "death tax" laws would be eliminated if he were president because he
would eliminate the estate tax completely -- for everyone -- not just for
"family" farmers and small "family" businesses. Under current
federal law, a person who dies can leave an unlimited amount of wealth to a surviving
spouse without any tax being imposed whatsoever, but when a single person dies, the feds
can take up to 60 percent of his or her estate.
Both Bush and Gore blew their chance to reach out to single and
unmarried voters. With 34 percent of Republicans and 44 percent of Democrats being
single, one wonders why these candidates did not seize this moment by speaking directly to
this constituency in no uncertain terms.
Apparently the candidates have chosen to follow the script written
by their respective parties -- a script that single people have not been written into.
None of the political parties mentions single people in their
platforms, although families, parents, children, seniors, and others are mentioned
prominently in these guiding documents. You won't find a word about single people or
about marital status discrimination on the websites of the parties either.
Millions of single voters were watching this final presidential
debate. They probably held their breath for a moment when they saw someone from the
audience standing up and essentially saying "I'm one of you." For a
moment, one undecided voter in Missouri made this invisible minority very visible.
But whatever hopes she engendered in single people, even if only for
a moment, were dashed when Al Gore and George Bush failed to acknowledge that she was
speaking on behalf of millions of "single people" throughout the nation.
This undecided single voter -- and millions like her -- are probably
still undecided. The biggest question they probably face at this point is whether
they should even bother casting a vote in the presidential race since apparently none of
the candidates seems to care that much about their vote.