By Alan Reynolds
An early theme of the Gore campaign attempted to suggest that George W. Bush is not qualified to be President, too inexperienced, because he merely served as a Governor — like Clinton, Carter and Reagan. To truly grasp foreign policy, said the Gore campaign, you had to have been a former Vice President — like Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon.
That pretense that Vice Presidential experience is inherently superior to Gubernatorial experience became transparently foolish after the second debate. So, the political assault shifted direction, claiming Bush must be an incompetent governor, despite his popularity in Texas, because Texas is not entirely free of problems nor entirely populated by rich folk.
During the last debate, as in the first, Gore used the percentage of children without health insurance as his favorite evidence of Mr. Bush's alleged failings as a Governor. During the first debate, Gore said, "I believe there are 1.4 million children in Texas who do not have health insurance; 600,000 of whom — and maybe some have since gotten it — but as of a year ago, 600,000 of them were actually eligible for it, but they couldn't sign up for it because of the barriers that they had to surmount." Mr. Gore's evident confusion had been greatly simplified by the last debate, but at the expense of accuracy. What Gore said at that time was, "Under Governor Bush," said the Vice President, "Texas has sunk to be 50th out of 50 in the health insurance for their citizens." The source of these statistics, the Children's Defense League, actually referred only to health insurance for children, not citizens. Many Mexican children in Texas are not citizens; some are not even legal residents.
The Children's Defense League did indeed estimate that Texas came in 50th, but since Washington DC was included that left Arizona rather than Texas in the position Gore described as "dead last." These figures are not for "a year ago" as Gore imagined, but an average for 1996-98. Note too that California was also very low on this list, in 44th place.
Lacking health insurance is not the same as lacking health care, of course, so Texas ranked a respectable 15th in infant mortality, according to the Children's Defense League and 12th according to the Children's Rights Council. Still, it should be obvious why Texas, Arizona and California all have relatively large numbers of children without health insurance. The source of this problem is not that these states have foolishly elected and reelected incompetent governors, but that they all have huge numbers of unskilled immigrants from Mexico and Central America.
The link between the uninsured and this nation's unique absence of sensible immigration standards is thoroughly documented in "Without Coverage," a recent study from the Center for Immigration Studies.
In 1998, 48.4% of immigrant Texans lacked health insurance, compared with 19.7% for natives. By coincidence, the national figure for immigrants from Mexico was also 48.4% — the highest for any nationality except El Salvador and Guatemala. By no coincidence, other states and cities with a large influx of immigrants from Mexico and Central America also have a large number of uninsured. In Los Angeles, for example, 64.7% of immigrant households are uninsured.
Since so many parents are uninsured in states with heavy Mexican and Central American immigration, it can scarcely be surprising that their children are also uninsured. But immigration is a matter of national, not state policy. If anyone is to be faulted, it should be the Clinton-Gore team, not the embattled Governors of Texas, Arizona and California.
This is certainly not the first time that Vice President Gore has drawn faulty conclusions from sloppy statistics. On the contrary, Mr. Gore has become habitually indiscriminate in his dependence on fuzzy numbers from such disreputable leftist propaganda shops as the Citizens for Tax Justice, the Economic Policy Institute and the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.
If Gore is really so easily conned by any statistic from any source, including the percentage of children without health insurance, that shows frighteningly poor judgment. If he knowingly abuses such meaningless figures just to win election, on the other hand, that shows the same sort of calculated deceit he has routinely flaunted. During just one debate, after all, Gore managed to fabricate fraudulent stories about Kailey Ellis left standing because her school couldn't afford a chair, about Winifred Skinner supposedly collecting cans at age 79 to pay for prescription drugs, and about the Vice President supposedly accompanying James Lee Witt of FEMA to investigate fires in Texas. The kindest thing that can possibly said about Mr. Gore is that he is chronically careless with statistics. That is not the best qualification for the highest office in the land.
Alan Reynolds is Director of Economic Research at the Hudson Institute. This article originally appeared in The Washington Times.
February 07, 2001