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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.