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Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2000/ 22 Mar-Cheshvan 5761


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Bush nears the finish line? -- A NOTE from the MUGGER Library: Because the lunacy in Florida is whipping through this country at a Hurricane Hillary pace, this column will be abbreviated.

I had one prepared, but legal events compelled me to hit the delete button. Because Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis upheld on Friday morning Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris' decision to disallow hand-count votes that didn't meet the Nov. 14 deadline, Al Gore's combat team is in a pickle. Although the Democrats will appeal the decision, if (and this is a HUGE if, given what's transpired in Florida over the past nine days) George Bush maintains his slim lead after the absentee ballots are counted, he'll be certified as the winner of the state's 25 electoral votes tomorrow.

That will be a huge blow to the Bill Daley/Gore public relations war.

Assuming a certified Bush victory, the Vice President will be under enormous pressure to concede the election. He won't, but I think you'll see Democratic defectors on the Sunday talk shows, polls turning against him and more tv footage of the chaos in Palm Beach County, where hourly workers are trying to figure out voters' intentions on Election Day.

What will happen then? Maybe Gore lackey Chris Lehane, who's called Harris a "Soviet commissar," will send the woman off to Siberia. Or that task could be left to Paul Begala, the Gore weasel who doubles as an MSNBC political commentator. He's impartial. On Nov. 15, he described Harris in this charming way: "She [hasn't recused herself], which suggests to me she's impervious to public opinion. I mean, everybody who appears in public like she did yesterday, looking like Cruella DeVil coming to steal the puppies, is not very interested in what other people think of her."

Chances are Clinton's dining companion Alan Dershowitz, who's insinuated himself into the controversy, trying to one-up Jesse Jackson, would forfeit a year's salary to haul Harris off to jail. The celebrity lawyer, remember, has said on television that Harris is a "crook."

I'd be remiss in not slighting Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile, who moaned to Cindy Adams, of all people, about her frustration. In Adams' Nov. 16 New York Post column, Brazile said: "Al Gore won the popular vote. I did my job. I did get that vote out. Unfortunately, I didn't get to count it... In disproportionately black areas, people faced dogs, guns and were required to show three forms of ID. I called the NAACP. They'd already heard this, and they're now on the case investigating. I mean, one day before we were ahead in Florida by three points and we lost?"

Is this the same NAACP we've heard so much about? The allegedly nonpartisan organization that during the official campaign aired commercials implying Bush was responsible for the death of James Byrd?

Somehow, I think that if black voters were intimidated by guns and dogs, that would've been bigger news than the bogus "butterfly" ballot. Some Florida photographer would've won a Pulitzer for a photo depicting such violations. None have appeared, not even in The New York Times.

And Gore wants his staff to tone down the rhetoric of this second campaign? I don't think so. On Thursday, the Veep was on a radio show in Washington, DC, and came close to matching Lehane's childish hyperbole. According to the New York Post: "Asked [by host Travis Smiley] if a GOP conspiracy was behind the Florida fiasco-the way the Clintons blamed their scandals on a right-wing cabal-Gore cracked: 'Well, you're tempting me, but I'm not going to say anything.'"

In a Nov. 17 Wall Street Journal editorial, the manipulation and deviousness of the Gore postelection campaign is summed up succinctly: "At the moment, Mr. Gore's Democratic operatives are trying to smear and ruin Ms. Harris's standing as a public official. Mr. Gore learned this technique from President Clinton, whose associates deployed it against RTC investigator Jean Lewis, Kathleen Willey, Linda Tripp and Billy Dale, to name only a few."

There's a lot of blather about the patience of Americans, but I don't think it'll extend into the holiday season, which starts this week with Thanksgiving.

Ultimately, the election might wind up in the U.S. Supreme Court, which would be hard-pressed not to decide the matter once and for all. There are still hurdles for Bush to overcome: a rash of lawsuits, the efforts of Gore officials to "flip" Bush electors to the Vice President's column, and any combination of ruses that Daley can conjure.

So, that's it for now. On Tuesday, I'll have a long column that ought to be based on some concrete decisions made this weekend. In the meantime, I must say that the notion that either Bush or Gore is fated for a "diminished" presidency is premature. Perhaps that's so, but I doubt it. There will likely be a recession for the new president to manage. And suppose an overseas conflict, maybe China invading Taiwan, occurs-how the president acts in a grave situation like that will dwarf this current mess. Say there's another act of terrorism in the U.S., like the Oklahoma City bombing. Or the Mideast erupts into full-scale war. If either Bush or Gore, in any of these not-so-hypothetical instances, demonstrates real leadership, poll numbers will soar.

In the meantime, I invite readers to e-mail me with any of their own scenarios about this curious time in American history. I'd especially like to hear from my Democratic friends about media bias and which duo-Bush/Baker or Gore/Daley-has been more vitriolic, mean-spirited and prone to willfully distort the facts.

Naturally, I go with Gore/Daley. On Thursday night, after it was announced Bush won't contest Iowa's results, Daley cracked that the Gore campaign would return the favor by not demanding a recount in Texas. Now, that's a diplomat.

It's also why Daley might still persevere in this brawl.

If that's the case, cheerio, Sir William, you're off to the Court of St. James!

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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