Bush Camp’s Pit Bulls Assert Their Entitlement

Apart from the lesson in democracy and its distempers on

display in Florida since Election Day, the American people have been afforded

an instructive glimpse of the operation that will be installed if George W.

Bush does ultimately prevail.

The Texas Dauphin himself, like his opponent Al Gore, has remained

largely absent from view. Yet the offensive mounted on his behalf, in an

unseemly effort to pretend that his ascension is inevitable, proves again what

has seemed plain from the beginning of his campaign. In the ways that matter,

this is indeed his father’s regime. And that regime, in the tradition of the

aristocracy it often seemed to mimic, has always had two faces: the genteel

countenance of the diplomat and the grim mug of the bully.

The diplomat, of course, is the aging but still smooth James

Baker. His reappearance at the podium certainly brings back the air of

arrogance that used to waft through the Bush White House. In Mr. Baker’s

nonchalant attitude toward Florida’s disenfranchised voters, there is a whiff

of that enduring sense of entitlement that always allowed the Bush

administration to assume that rules and ethics applied to others but not to

them. That may be why the Bushes and their associates appear so sincerely

appalled by the lapses, both perceived and real, of the Clintons-and so perfectly

oblivious of their own.

According to reports that date back to the disastrous Bush

re-election campaign of 1992, Mr. Baker and his old friend’s eldest son have

had a stormy relationship. But whatever the Texas governor may feel personally

about the former Secretary of State, he knows that he needs Mr. Baker’s skills

in this struggle. Few other figures in the Bush camp could attempt to promote a

political fix as blatant and outrageous as that now being staged in Tallahassee

with the same degree of aplomb.

Somehow, Mr. Baker’s “gravitas” allows him to get away with

conduct that would be deemed scandalous in almost anyone else. He can accuse

others of seeking judicial interference, and then do it first himself. He can

insist that hand-counted ballots be credited for Mr. Bush and disallowed for

Mr. Gore. He can disparage the bias of local Democratic election officials

while insisting that the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Florida co-chair, Secretary of

State Katherine Harris, is an impartial arbiter of whose votes should be

counted.

As for the bully, that may be too strong a term for Karl

Rove, strategic mastermind of the Dubya campaign and longtime Bush family

retainer. There is no question, however, that Mr. Rove embodies the same

unscrupulous approach to political intrigue that characterized his late

associate, Lee Atwater (who ran the ugly Bush-Quayle campaign of 1988 and then

took over the Republican National Committee before his untimely death). In

fact, it was Mr. Rove who first introduced Atwater to the Bush family.

Mr. Rove is the kind of political consultant who sees no

conflict in simultaneously working for the tobacco industry and the governor of

Texas. Nor did any problem arise when he controlled most of the governor’s

political appointments, and used his influence to make sure that two of his

clients were appointed to state judgeships by his boss. (“Yeah, he had input,”

replied Mr. Bush when Austin reporters questioned this cozy arrangement in

1996.)

This year’s historic snafu is not the first Florida

electoral controversy that has featured Mr. Rove. In 1988, he ran the

Senatorial campaign of Republican Connie Mack while he worked at the same time

for a political action committee known as the Auto Dealers and Drivers for Free

Trade. A front for Japanese car interests, the PAC spent more than $300,000 on

a last-minute advertising blitz praising Mr. Mack for cutting taxes and

blasting his Democratic opponent as a big spender.

It was an exceedingly tight contest-finally determined by a

re-count-in which a late, large buy of partisan advertising by a special

interest probably made an important difference. Democrats later complained to

the Federal Election Commission about the obvious connection between Mr. Rove

and the Japanese car PAC, which appeared to violate the prohibition on

supposedly “independent” political expenditures being coordinated with a

candidate’s official campaign. (This alleged violation is precisely the kind of

maneuver that was suspected during the New York primary last spring, when a mysterious

PAC run by Charles Wyly, a Bush friend and financier, bought television time to

help defeat Republican challenger John McCain.)

Although the Federal Election Commission’s general counsel

recommended opening a case against the Mack campaign, which would have meant

hard questions for Mr. Rove, that embarrassment was averted when Republican

commissioners voted to allow the Senator’s campaign committee to pay a nominal

fine instead. Which only suggests that Mr. Rove is a perfect emblem for a

remorseless Bush Restoration.