Way back in March, I predicted here that--barring the cataclysmic--Al Gore would
win in a landslide. I was bad wrong. There was no landslide, and although there was a
cataclysm in this race, it came not during the campaign, but after most voters had cast
Millions sat up Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning watching spellbound as
the networks gave Florida to Gore, then took it back, then gave it to Bush, then took it
back yet again. Even now, the presidency hangs in the balance.
History can never redeem this election.
A judge with the wisdom of Solomon would have trouble awarding a presidency
worth having to either of these candidates. Somebody gets a mangled baby here.
The networks tried. They declared Bush the legitimate winner. Millions listened as
reporters chronicled how Gore phoned Bush to concede defeat in the wet murky hours of
Wednesday morning. The buzzards circled as hostile commentators picked over the
presumed loser's carcass, tearing into Gore for the awful campaign he supposedly ran.
Only when the networks, in quick succession, took it all back, did they back off. Then,
with sheepish looks, they acknowledged the race was too close to call.
A few had the decency to look and sound embarrassed when it became clear Gore
would win the nation's popular vote.
As post-election coverage dragged on, reporters and commentators began stumbling
over their own tongues, misstating numbers and percentages. At one point, part of a light
stand inexplicably burst into flame in the ABC studios. "We have a fire here," Jennings
said so calmly, I thought it was a metaphor only. Then a cameraman got a bizarre closeup
of a man with a fire extinguisher putting out the small blaze. Jennings backed away from
his lectern, still sounding suavely disconnected from reality.
The incident seemed symbolic of the train wreck the election of Nov. 7, 2000 had
How will this election ever assert legitimacy? More than any vote in a century, this
one is tainted, destined to become an oddity of presidential lore; an automatic candidate
for Ripley's Believe It Or Not and Who Wants to Be A Millionaire.
This election calls into question basic machinery of our political system. What's this
antiquated gizmo, the Electoral College, doing here in the age of computers and exit
It's an anomaly and a shameful one. Because of it, the candidate who won by several
hundred thousand votes will likely not get the presidency. Explain that to Johnny and
Susie and all their friends in civics class. And while you're at it, explain Nader.
Even if the courts and ballot counters decide Gore actually won this election, it'll
stink to high heaven for years to come. That's because early Tuesday evening the TV
networks projected that Gore had won Florida, when, in fact, Bush was leading. Who
knows how many voters from the Florida Panhandle--where polls were still open--thought, "Why bother, it's all over?" and stayed home, thus depriving Bush of a clear
majority in Florida.
If Bush's lead is upheld, however, Gore's supporters will indignantly point back to
mysteriously missing ballot boxes and all those strange "butterfly ballots." In poling
precincts such as Palm Beach, apparently hundreds or thousands of voters cast ballots for
Pat Buchanan when they thought they were voting for Gore. These included Jewish and
black voters, and Buchanan was the last person they would have wanted to win.
The end result?
If Bush wins, he serves without legitimacy.
If Gore wins, he serves with no mandate.
Put this debacle up there with Watergate and Clinton's impeachment. It's utterly
demoralizing, it didn't have to happen, and American politics may never be the same.
Even if a Solomon can be found.