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Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2000 / 16 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Gore's us-vs.-them campaign -- IT'S QUITE POSSIBLE that our long national nightmare has only just begun. The decision of the Gore campaign to fight it out tooth and nail raises the prospect that the presidency will not be decided for weeks or maybe months.

In what must be the front-runner for political chutzpah of the millennium award, Gore campaign chairman William Daley called the Florida election, "an injustice unparalleled in our history." This from the man whose father, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, had a famously Soviet attitude toward election returns. Even if all the accusations about the Florida vote are true, they pale in comparison to the Democratic chicanery in 1960.

Nonetheless, William Daley's rhetorical flourish is clearly intended toward another end: to pave the way for a protracted Clintonian legal and political ground war. While there appear to be some legitimate technical legal issues in Florida, the reality - as everyone knows - is that there are legitimate legal and technical issues in every state in the country, in every election.

In America, defendants are not guaranteed a perfect trial, they are promised a fair one. The same holds true for elections. No election can be perfect (for some strange reason), but they can be fair.

Democrats bemoan the unfairness of the fact that some 19,000 ballots were discarded in Palm Beach County, Fla., because they were "double punched." This sounds like an outrage, until you realize that this happens routinely. In 1996, an election with lower turnout, some 14,000 ballots were discarded in the county for the exact same reason.

Meanwhile, Florida Representative Joe Scarborough contends that up to 10,000 predominantly Republican voters walked away from the polls in the Florida panhandle (a GOP stronghold) after the news networks prematurely called the state for Gore. That isn't fair either.

Such Monday-morning quarterbacking could be applied to Gore touchdowns in a half-dozen states with close results. (Gore's margin of victory in Iowa was less than 5,000 votes; in Wisconsin, where the Democrats distributed cigarettes to homeless people in return for votes, it was less than 6,000.) In a sense, it is entirely artificial to say that the national election hangs on Florida. It should hang on every state that would or could tip the balance in the Electoral College.

In his press conference, Daley remarked that he "hadn't heard" of voting irregularities as egregious as Florida's in other states. His ignorance could possibly be explained by the fact that Florida has been dissected by an army of reporters and lawyers - or because his campaign benefited from such shenanigans. Were an equally potent army of snoops to be dropped into his home state of Illinois, does anyone doubt that "disturbing" irregularities might surface? Indeed, his own base of operations, Cook County, Ill., uses a similar "butterfly ballot," which he contends is at the heart of "an injustice unparalleled in our history."

It is an underdiscussed embarrassment of this great democracy that every state regularly throws out ballots, confuses voters and the rest. Indeed, one wonders how comfortable the Democrats are in their belief that the next president of the United States should be decided almost entirely by Democratic voters too stupid or enfeebled to decipher a ballot selected by a Democratic supervisor that more than 100,000 other Democrats had no trouble using this year.

Gore's political strategy is to exploit the fact that he maintains a lead in the popular vote so he can wage an extended legal fight. But that popular-vote lead may prove illusory. It has already dropped to around 100,000, as of this writing. Nationally, there are more than a total of 2 million popular votes yet to be tallied, including quite possibly over a million absentee and overseas ballots and tens of thousands of regular ballots from counties (in Washington State, New Mexico and elsewhere) that historically lean Republican.

Moreover, many states, like New York, do not count some absentee ballots if there is no chance of them affecting the electoral vote results. Now, as a Constitutionalist and therefore an Electoral-College loyalist, I don't care all that much about the popular vote. But it does provide a legitimate political argument for dragging out the fight for Florida in the courts and on TV.

Which is exactly what Gore is doing. Indeed, it seems his campaign has borrowed a page from the Clinton-Lewinsky playbook. While Al Gore postures amid the clouds, his surrogates run a door-to-door ground war marked by bad faith, demagoguery and passive-aggressive legal maneuvering designed to run out the clock in their favor. How else to explain Jesse Jackson's relentlessly shameful mau-mauing over the "disproportionate disenfranchisement" of blacks? This may be a winning political strategy, for now.

But one thing is abundantly clear: Throughout Gore's us-vs.-them campaign, he promised to fight for those who saw their interests aligned with his campaign - and only them. In this sense, Gore has managed to fulfil his first presidential campaign promise. Let us hope it is the last, as well.

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