In the memoirs of Ben Bradlee, the former editor of The Washington Post , there is a
description of election night, 1960, at Kennedy headquarters. Someone tells the
candidate he has an important phone call, which turns out to be from Chicago
mayor Richard Daley. The message: Don’t worry about Illinois. If tradition, as
G.K. Chesterton said, is the democracy of the dead, Cook County was a very
traditional place when Dick Daley ran it. Forty years later, Mayor Daley’s son,
Bill Daley, is about to secure another election, this time for Al Gore, the man
he serves as campaign manager. In 2000, the Daley insurance policy doesn’t
involve dead Chicagoans, but confused Floridians. Call it Seven Days in November .
Daley II tipped his hand last week when he announced, at a
press conference, “If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be
awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president.” The Washington Post called his remark a “poisonous” thing to say in
the midst of a disputed recount. So it was, and Mr. Daley took care not to
repeat it. But it is an accurate description of the Gore campaign’s goals.
Their strategy in Florida, ever since embarrassed pollsters
yanked it from their column on election night, has proceeded on parallel
tracks. One, not initiated by them, is a requirement of Florida law that any
election won by a narrow percentage be automatically recounted. This is the
mechanical recount that whittled George W. Bush’s margin in the state from
1,700-some votes to a few hundred.
At the same time, the Gore camp made noises that even if Mr.
Bush won the electoral vote, Mr. Gore deserved to be President because of his
margin in the popular vote. Republicans set themselves up for this by taking
the opposite line the week before the election, when it looked as if the
candidates’ positions might be reversed. But two wrongs don’t make a right. The
Electoral College is well worth keeping: It gives weight to the geographical
diversity of a large country. It also spares us the massive fraud that a
national popular vote would encourage. Under the current system, the nation’s
Daleys must concentrate their efforts in pivotal states; but if the United
States were one giant ward, any vote stolen anywhere would be useful.
The focus of the Daley-Gore effort, however, was to wring
votes out of heavily Democratic counties by claiming that voters there had
found the ballot confusing. To make this argument, the Gore campaign brought
forward what are surely the only dumb old Jews in the world. Members of this
demographic, renowned in New York City for having voted in every school-board
election since F.D.R. and for knowing the issues better than Michael Barone,
suddenly came forward to say they had been precipitated into senior moments by
a butterfly ballot. The tally in Palm Beach County for Reform Party candidate
Pat Buchanan seemed unusually high-more than 3,000 votes; surely those were
votes meant for Al Gore. In fact, Mr.
Buchanan got 8,000 votes in Palm Beach County in the 1996 Republican primary,
and there is a community of Ukrainians there who revere him for his defense of
John Demjanjuk, so many of those Buchanan votes probably were deliberate. In
any case, no one responsible claimed that the ballot was designed to deceive
(the ballot had been approved by a Democratic county official). But Daley-Gore
argued that the perplexed deserved a second chance.
Finally, there were the fraud allegations of the
irresponsible Jesse Jackson. Mr. Jackson-it seems absurd to award a “Rev.” to a
churchless political hack-went to the Sunshine State to charge that black
voters had been intimidated, as if Bull Connor had been guarding the polls. Mr.
Jackson may even be sincere; since he believes that all blacks are, by
definition, menaced by a racist society, actual proof in any specific case is a
formality. But if he can produce one black voter who was provably deceived or
coerced, Republicans should give him a pack of cigarettes. That’s what Gore
campaign workers were giving people at a homeless shelter in Milwaukee as
inducement to go to the polls. WISN Channel 12 filmed the smokes-for-votes
exchange, and the local district attorney is investigating (favors worth more
than one dollar are bribes under Wisconsin law). Big Tobacco has its uses. But
Wisconsin won’t tip the election one way or the other-and besides, it went for
Mr. Gore. Back to Florida.
After a week of probing, Mr. Daley found an ideal window of
opportunity for Mr. Gore: a second recount, by hand, of four heavily Democratic
counties. Hand recounts of punched ballots can be intensely subjective-was this
hole partly punched? Completely punched? Beyond that, it is the tendency of
hand recounts to increase everyone’s vote. But in Democratic counties, the
increase will disproportionately favor Mr. Gore. The Bush campaign, foreseeing
that result, went to federal court to block the hand counts. Probably they will
go forward; federal courts are properly reluctant to intervene in state
elections. But that means Florida’s vote has been tallied inconsistently.
Republican voters in the Panhandle should get the benefit of the same X-ray
vision as Democrats in Palm Beach. The Florida Election Commission should
resolve the anomaly.
How did we get to the point where one state settles the
election and the popular-vote margin is less than half of one percent? I will
let Democrats and Ralph Nader voters speak to the weaknesses of Al Gore. George
W. Bush tried to fly into office in a World War I vintage plane with multiple
wings. It was a good little plane, but he had torn some of the wings off,
partly to appease undecided voters, partly out of conviction. Affirmative
action was never attacked by name, only in code. Unlimited immigration was
praised. Why does Mr. Bush think California and Florida, once pillars of
Reaganism, have become hopeless or dicey? Could it have to do with
unassimilated immigrants? For too long he ran on compassionate conservatism. In
the last months of the campaign, he picked Dick Cheney as a running mate,
showing concern for defense and foreign policy, and picked up on taxes and
Social Security as issues. If that turns out to have been too late, he will
have four years to consider where nice guys finish.
The natures of our two Solons were shown in their early
Wednesday morning conversation in which Mr. Gore informed Mr. Bush that he was
not conceding. Mr. Bush fell back on the familiar-his brother Jeb, he said, had
assured him Florida was his. Mr. Gore told him not to be “snippy.” Now what
person younger than the Greatest Generation ever uses the word “snippy?” Mr.
Gore was channeling the voice of some censorious parent-the same voice that
made Little Al the ambitious pol and weird freak he is today. No wonder the
vote was close.
Follow Richard Brookhiser via RSS.