Now that the adventure is over, it might be instructive to consider some
of the ideas
that seeped into the general consciousness. How and why, for example, did it
become established in so many minds that Bush was the presumptive winner and
Gore the apparent loser?
What the Republicans did, cleverly, was to establish effective "memes"
in the minds of the
public and the pundits. A meme, so named by the British evolutionist Richard Dawkins, is like
a gene, except that instead of advancing through organisms, it moves through minds.
Memes are simply ideas that demonstrate a high rate of survival and transmission.
Bush became the "winner" of a dead heat, in the midst of an incomplete
recount, when a
premature victory was declared on her own unnecessary deadline by his Florida campaign
co-chairwoman, who also held the crucial post of secretary of state. Once this bogus
"certification" was final (Ms. Harris signing several copies on TV, including a valuable
souvenir for herself), the Republicans referred to it endlessly as a valid event, even though
it was clearly a shameless ploy to slam the door before the election escaped.
A meme was born.
The other effective GOP meme was the mantra, "we counted, and counted again,
and then a
third time." These words were chanted by Baker and the other Bush spokesmen until
many Americans accepted them as a form of truth, even though it is clear that thousands of
ballots were never counted at all.
Another successful meme was the assault on the honesty of election judges
and the courts in
general. They were often characterized by the GOP as partisan crooks, unless their findings
agreed with the Bush cause, in which case they were patriots.
This led finally to the spectacle of the "states rights" party applauding
the Supremes' federal
coup halting the recount because, in words that will haunt Scalia forever, a recount might cast
"a cloud upon what [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election." Think about that. In
other words, if Gore ended up with more votes, a cloud would be cast on Bush's claims.
Three days later the Supreme Court majority overruled the Florida court's
to interpret Florida law. John Paul Stevens' dissent lamented this "lack of confidence
in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical
decisions if the vote count were to proceed," and added, in words that will long be
quoted, "...the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation's confidence in
the judge as an impartial guardian of the law." The Republicans were not only more
effective creators of memes but were also better at raising their voices. The
Democrats were on the whole more civil in their public statements.
The GOP had no hesitation in making the dangerous charge that Democrats
"stealing" the election. This in the face of plausible evidence that Gore got more votes
in Florida, as he did nationally. Right-wing pundits were stirred to a frenzy. Ann Coulter
accused the Democrats of being "delusional nutcases," called the Florida Supreme Court
"power-mad lunatics," and found that the Democrats had crossed the "fine line" between
"typical Democrat lies and demonstrably psychotic behavior."
More Americans voted for liars and psychotics than for her candidate? Really?
Comments like these are an example not of opinion but of behavior. Have you ever
seen Ms. Coulter on television? Even her conservative stablemates look queasy as
her ideological flywheel spins.
The Democrats were just plain outshouted. And Lady Luck rolled the dice
them the butterfly ballot, the Jews for Buchanan, the election boards that took days
off, the hired mob to stop the Dade recount, the disenfranchised black voters, the
illegally franchised military and absentee voters, the Bush cousin to call the election
on TV, the Bush co-chairwoman to rush it through certification, and the Bush brother
to mastermind operation fail-safe by the Florida legislature to certify Bush electors no
matter who won. Even in Vegas they'd be amazed by luck this rotten; the Miami Herald's
statisticians estimated that Gore probably outpolled Bush by about 23,000 votes.
That's why it was so important for the Republicans to stop the count.
It is important, then, to keep in mind that Bush was not obviously the
Gore obviously the loser. The GOP has captured the election but may have done
itself damage in the process, leaving doubts about the fairness of its tactics and the
recklessness of its rhetoric.
At the end the Democrats were left with one meme that showed promise: That
were the ones who wanted to count the votes, while the Republicans did not. If
memes work like genes in the evolution of political opinion in America, this one may
be the fittest, and may survive