Census Sensibility

An Iraqi police officer inspects the scene of a car bombing that targeted a police patrol, killing three people including a policeman and two civilians and wounding four others, in Baghdad, April 12, 2006. A series of car bombs in three different Iraqi cities left at least seven people dead and dozens wounded, police said.
AP Photo/Hadi Mizban
Vice President Al Gore continued his offensive against Governor George W. Bush Tuesday, under the guise of a talking about the 2000 census. A discussion of the mechanics of counting people for the census provided an opportunity to woo away Hispanic voters from the Texas governor.

Gore was campaigning in New York City, at a neighborhood house in Manhattan. On the wall behind him were signs reading "Viva Gore." The event was an inherently political one, for Democrats and Republicans split last year over how best to conduct the census.

Democrats urged a new counting system, a "statistical sampling" that they argued would give better representation of minorities. Instead of relying on a hard count of every person, estimates of population would be used in areas like inner cities, where people are believed to be less likely to fill out and return census forms.

But Republicans bitterly opposed the plan, saying the only fair way to run a census was the old-fashioned way of counting each and every individual. They won; this year's census is being done in the usual manner.

There are unquestionably political implications to the census, which, among other things, determines how congressional districts are drawn and how representatives are apportioned. And if the sampling method really uncovered more minorities - traditionally Democratic voters - that could hurt Republicans.

The GOP position on the census "has nothing to do with what's right and what's wrong," said Gore. "It has to do with partisanship. It has to do with politics. It has to do with political power."

But wait, it gets worse. Seeking to fend off Bush's appeal to Hispanic voters (a thought that makes Democrats queasy), Gore said that Hispanics are the ones getting hurt by the old counting method. In the 1990 census, half-a-million Texans were never counted, charges Gore, and "the majority of them were Hispanic." The vice president, more then a little ingenuously, said he was "a little surprised" at Bush's attitude, which hurt his own state.

The frosting on the cake was Gore delivering a brief homily in Spanish to Bush, saying, "If you believe that the Latin community counts ... then support a census that counts everybody."

Gore also spoke about a Florida court's ruling in the case of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy whose future lies at the crux of a protracted, emotional battle between families and governments in the U.S. and Cuba. The court declined to settle the matter and sent it back to Attorney General Janet Reno, who has supported returning Gonzalez to his father in Cuba. Gore said the problem should be resolved in "the best interests of the child, under due process of law." And he faulted Fidel Castro for putting the boy in a position of having to choose "between his freedom and his father."