Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2000 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- IN THE END, the historical precedent for Campaign 2000 was not the anomaly of 1888, when Benjamin Harrison won the electoral vote but lost the popular vote - although that now seems the most likely result, with George W. Bush the ultimate victor.
Instead, it's the quandary of 1876 - and the lack of a real national mechanism for resolving disputed election returns.
Make no mistake - no matter what the final results of the Florida recount, the next president enters office under a cloud of suspicion. And there can be no worse time for that to happen: The real story of Election 2000 is just how deeply divided this nation is.
For the first time in nearly a century, the presidential race will be decided by razor-thin margins in both the popular and the electoral vote. And Congress will also be divided right down the line: The GOP will enjoy, at best, a one-seat margin in the Senate and will have just two seats over a majority in the House.
Never before has the American political landscape been so evenly divided. This would create a tremendous difficulty for any incoming president under the best of circumstances. In the present case - where neither candidate has a strong base of fiercely loyal partisans - it's a prescription for a national nightmare.
You can already hear the conspiracy theories and cries of "fraud" and "coverup" - as you could, for good reason, 124 years ago.
Back then, Democrat Samuel Tilden, governor of New York, looked to have beaten Republican Gov. Rutherford Hayes. He won the popular vote, and was one vote shy of an Electoral College majority, with 20 votes in dispute.
But the Republicans saw a chance to steal the election. Charging rampant voter fraud in four states - including Florida - GOP officials filed a separate set of popular vote totals to counter those submitted by state Democrats. Since the Constitution makes no provision for deciding between competing results, that meant deadlock.
So Congress established a unique commission to figure out what to do. It was comprised of five members of the Democratic-controlled House, five from the GOP-dominated Senate and four associate Supreme Court justices, two from each party. They, in turn, were to select another associate justice who would be the swing vote.
Their first choice was David Davis, a political independent who would have ensured an honest commission. But then Illinois' (Republican) Legislature abruptly elected him to the U.S. Senate. The only remaining justices were all Republicans, so that ended up tilting the commission to the GOP by an 8-7 vote.
Despite ample evidence that Tilden had won them, the commission voted along party lines to award all of the disputed votes to Hayes - giving him a 185-184 victory just two days before the inauguration. As part of the deal, Hayes agreed to remove the federal troops stationed in the South since the Civil War's close and put an end to Reconstruction.
Democrats mobbed the streets, chanting "Tilden Or Blood!" - but their candidate declined to challenge the results, fearing a national revolution. Since then, Congress has established an elaborate procedure to solve the question of disputed results: Ultimately, the governor in each state is the deciding authority.
But what if the governor is the brother of one of the presidential candidates?
Democrats were quick to complain about Gov. Jeb Bush's "conflict of interest" - some even talked about having Janet Reno's Justice Department intervene.
But what about the fact that Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the state's chief law-enforcement officer, was Al Gore's state campaign chairman?
Yesterday, Jeb Bush wisely recused himself from the Florida recount commission; Butterworth also pledged to be strictly non-partisan. But with former Secretaries of State Warren Christopher and James Baker representing their respective candidates, lengthy court challenges may be inevitable.
Even if the loser pulls a Tilden and chooses not to fight - not very likely - it will hardly remove the taint from the loser. Hayes, after all, was known throughout his term as "his fraudulency."
After eight years of self-centered and partisan divisiveness,
the nation can ill-afford another "tarnished" president. It's
time to learn the lesson of 1876 and figure out how to
resolve situations like Tuesday night's so that we can avoid