Republicans are torpid folk, especially when it comes to politics: uncomfortable with elections, expecting the people to naturally trust solid-businessman types like ourselves. But-precisely because of our blinkered, bottom-line nature-we hate stealing. So when it finally sunk in that Team Gore was intent on stealing the election, by whatever chads necessary, the white-bread and the nearly dead came roaring out of the box like some combination of George Wallace, Al Sharpton and Maria Callas.
So George Pataki, whom no one ever mistook for Patrick Henry, carried on, in effect, about the impending fraud in Florida. So James Baker-who, when he worked for the Reagan White House, never met a Reagan policy he didn’t undermine-took such a stern line with the Florida Supreme Court. So, finally, Republicans engaged in a little street theater in Florida, causing Joseph Lieberman to wring his hands over the horror, the horror, as if Team Gore had not dispatched Jesse Jackson and Rent-a-Protest to the same streets two weeks earlier. The Senator could have quoted La Fontaine: “You nasty beast! When I attack / You have the chutzpah to fight back.” First order of business for President George W. Bush should be the in pectore appointment of Elián González as first governor of the Territory of Cuba, whenever such a post comes into existence. For it was Elián who galvanized the Cubans of Miami-Dade, and it was they who encouraged the chad massagers, locked in their secret chamber, to cease and desist.
Who will have problems with a Bush victory? Al Gore faces a terminal seize-up of the engine of his personality. We knew he admired the writings of Merleau-Ponty, but he did not expect to have so much time to devote to studying them. After Bonnie Prince Charlie lost the ’45, he took to drink and exile, and could be heard, bellowing from his box in the Florence opera house, about his dead gallant Highlanders. Will Mr. Gore, by 2004, be chewing Zoloft like peanuts and moaning at the Kennedy School of Government about brave Bill Daley? The Clintonistas will finally have to leave the White House, like field mice whose nest has been plowed, and take refuge in the office of Madame, our junior Senator. Most important perhaps, the 2000 census and the apportionment of Congressional seats based on it will be determined by actual enumeration, not sampling as Team Clinton and Team Gore hoped, so that perhaps 20 G.O.P. seats will not vanish through statistical card tricks. If you liked the re-count, you would have loved the pre-count.
Mr. Bush himself will have the most problems. The first son of a President to win the White House since John Quincy Adams, he would hold office by an equally contentious election (Adams finished second in a four-man race and was picked by the House). W. is a better politician than Q. was, and he certainly has a more attractive personality. None of it was on view in his speech to the nation Sunday night after Florida certified his victory; his talk was dry and stiff, like a lecture from Prof. Gore. Could the bitter struggle have caused a transmigration of affect?
Mandates or the lack of them vanish like dew. President Bush will have to deal with a closely divided House, and (possibly) an exactly divided Senate. These narrow divisions, like his own election, reflect an evenly divided country. Everyone was impressed by the blue and red map of counties carried by the two Presidential candidates which ran in The New York Times , showing the urbs of East and West Goreland, separated by a large tract of bush. What do these two land-and mind-masses mean? Paul Begala said the bush was where James Byrd and Matthew Shepard were killed. To which my National Review colleague John Derbyshire responded that Goreland was where Yankel Rosenbaum and Nicole Simpson were stabbed like pigs in an abattoir, by killers whom racist juries freed. Shall we stipulate, with Jeremiah, that the heart is desperately wicked everywhere? My rule of thumb for distinguishing the two nations is that the bush is anywhere that deer are killed. A dozen other differences, involving sex, money, religion and race, align with the national split on Bambi. George W. Bush boasts of his capacity to deal across partisan lines in Texas. It will be tested to the limit as President.
And then there is the world, which envies our wealth, fears our power and watches our little commotions with amusement and spite. What packages, like Russian Orthodox Christmas presents delivered according to the Julian calendar, will the new President unwrap in January? The Middle East already has popped out of its stocking. The Lieberman nomination stifled all discussion, but the Clinton-Gore administration has been pushing Israel to recklessness for years, and those efforts have borne fruit. Does China know that it may not cross the Taiwan Straits? Could we stop it if it tried? Who will Saddam fear least-the protégé of the man who let him rebuild, or the son of the man who let him live?
The extra-inning election we are still passing through is bad and shameful-a crisis, if you like. It will go down in history books with 1800, 1824, 1876 and 1960. But even leaving aside wars and panics, it is hardly a varsity-level crisis. The Rosenberg spy ring; Klan and police violence in the South during the 50’s and 60’s; the riots and murders of 1968; Watergate; the hostage crisis; Iran-contra; the Rodney King riots; Waco; Oklahoma City-all involved crimes or deaths; all were worse. Bill Clinton’s comportment in office was worse. All this is recent history. If we go back to our greatest days, we find Benedict Arnold and Aaron Burr; Maria Reynolds and Sally Hemings; blackmail and blackguards. The Founders knew they would be there; some of the greatest Founders employed the shadiest blackguards. That is why they built to last. We will survive this problem; there will be others soon enough.