Poisonous Rhetoric Shows Bush Is Dividing the Nation
          by Joe Conason

          For a politician who promised to unite rather than divide the nation,
          George W. Bush seems peculiarly contented to watch his cause advanced
          by some of the ugliest rhetoric since the impeachment crisis. His lawyers
          freely dispense dubious accusations of criminality, mostly anonymous,
          against the citizens counting ballots in southern Florida. His surrogates,
          such as the governor of Montana, brazenly charge the Vice President
          of the United States with waging "war" on American military
          personnel. His press secretary presumes to question the
          fitness of Al Gore to serve as Commander in Chief.

          Mr. Bush’s advocates around Capitol Hill and in the mass
          media are even more irresponsible in their eagerness to
          inflame. Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole
          announces that if the Democratic candidate is declared the
          victor in Florida, Republicans will boycott his inauguration. That sour sentiment is
          more or less endorsed by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, while his
          confederate, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, schemes to undo any
          unsatisfactory result through a semi-Constitutionalsubterfuge.

          The Bush camp in the press, from the Wall Street Journal editorial page to the
          Washington Times, rantsincessantly about "fraud," "theft" and "vote-rigging." In
          the New York Post, editorialsandcolumns warn about a "Gore coup d’état."
          They are echoed by somewhatmorerespectable figures like syndicated columnist
          George Will, who doesn’t bother to acquaint himself with basic facts before
          discharging a dose of poisonous ink about an election that "probably will soon be
          stolen" by Mr. Gore, a man of "moral turpitude." Cable television, talk radio and the
          Internet have been, not surprisingly, much worse.

          The unwholesome effects of all this exaggeration and agitation were made plain to
          me the other night, after a TV appearance on which I ventured the radical
          suggestion that every valid vote ought to be counted. I regularly receive my fair
          share of nasty mail and messages, of course, but this one went further. An excitable
          man—who admittedly hadn’t seen the broadcast in question—left a long, quavering,
          profanity-laced voice mail threatening that blood will be spilled in a looming "civil war."

          That represents an extreme expression of unbalanced rage, but a similar fury is
          reflected in recent poll numbers. Fully 40 percent of Bush voters have declared that
          they would not accept Mr. Gore’s election as "legitimate" (in contrast to roughly 25
          percent of Gore voters who say they would regard a Bush Presidency with equal
          suspicion). Set against the undisputed facts of this election, the wretched rhetorical
          excess of the Republican side seems even more inexcusable. The supporters of Mr.
          Bush simply have no justification for their seething anger and self-righteousness.

          There has been no proof of fraud on either side, in Florida or any other state. There
          has been no attempt to deprive the Republican candidate of his legal rights, which
          he is exercising just as vigorously as his Democratic opponent. The manual re-count
          of discarded ballots is proceeding according to the same standards signed into law
          by the Texas governor three years ago in his home state. His totals, if they vault him
          to victory, will include hand-counted ballots in at least six Florida counties.

          More importantly, there is no question, according to current numbers, that Mr. Gore
          received more votes nationally than Mr. Bush—and by a considerably wider margin
          than the present difference between their Florida totals. In the national popular vote,
          Mr. Gore leads by just under 250,000, or nearly one-quarter of one percent. That is
          a tiny amount indeed, except when compared to the fluctuating difference between
          the two major candidates in Florida. Depending on exactly when the calculation is
          performed, Mr. Bush leads there by between 600 and 900 votes, or scarcely more
          than one-hundredth of one percent.

          Those statistics may matter little in the Electoral College, but they destroy the
          Republican canard that the Democrats are plotting to thwart the people’s choice.
          For Mr. Bush and his supporters to pretend they know the true outcome of this
          bizarrely close contest is not only ridiculous but obnoxious. The exposure of terrible
          flaws in the Florida balloting have created permanent doubt regarding who really
          won those 25 electoral votes. Someone will eventually prevail, but he will assume
          office without any mantle of moral certainty.

          Meanwhile, the candidate who vowed a new spirit of bipartisanship in Washington
          and a more elevated tone in American politics remains silent and secluded as those
          values are trashed by his allies, a crowd more worrisome in some ways than the
          governor himself. As his promises of healing vanish in acrid smoke, it seems more
          and more to be Mr. Bush who will do anything to win.

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