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Jewish World Review Dec. 7, 2000 / 11 Kislev, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

Col. Sauls-ders
roasts some ducks -- IF IT IS TRUE that Big Al has now been reduced to the status of a recently decapitated chicken still running, still squawking, but only a few steps from the stewpot of history it is fitting that the fellow who swung the fatal blade was N. Sanders Sauls, now known as Col. Sanders by his many admirers. To some, the evidence suggests that Judge Sauls's presence in this drama reveals nothing less than the hand of a greatly amused Providence that was intent on showing America and the world, once and for all, that Big Al is a big phony.

There may be something to that interpretation of events.

As is well known, the Gore forces hoped to handpick friendly judges at every level to ensure than no one slipped up during the historic mission to place Big Al in the White House. Yet a manual judge selection was denied. Instead, Judge Sauls was chosen at random by a computer. Among the more prescient of Al's team, this could only be taken as a sign that machines had been preordained to determine this election. There was no doubt a further tightening in highly placed nether regions when the New York Times introduced the judge to its readers: "A former small-town boy who still hunts and fishes, Judge Sauls brings a folksy manner to his work, telling lawyers today that they reminded him of 'the fellow who jumped on his horse and rode off madly in all directions.'"

Uh-oh. The fact that he "still" hunts and fishes suggested that Judge Sauls had not been brought around regarding blood sports, or the proper reading of the Second Amendment ("there are one-quarter of a billion guns in private hands due to a massive misreading of the Constitution").

Worse yet, this passage clearly signaled that Sauls was too parochial to be impressed by high-priced, preening lawyers. He even makes fun of them. Putting down their papers that day, the Times's faithful were no doubt gripped by a mounting fear: This man is a dangerous yokel, and he has our boy by the short ones.

These first gloomy impressions deepened as it became clear that the judge is everything Big Al and his cronies are not. He is reserved in his political and personal manner to the point of never discussing his views (Sauls is a Democrat). He is deferential to others, polite to friends and adversaries, and altogether untainted by the slightest hint of megalomania. All of this was bad enough. Then came the horrible retelling of the judge's predilection for sticking close to the letter of the law. On top of all that, he's a product of Florida's public universities, and a bourbon quaffer to boot.

In other words, Sauls is a regular guy, and as even Times readers know, regular guys who hunt, fish, and go to public schools are weary of people who play touch football, jog, and have an Ivy League leaf on their walls, all the while presenting themselves as men of the people.

This is exactly what Big Al didn't need. He spent his entire campaign trying to pass himself off as the vice president next door, whether by licking Tipper's tonsils at the convention or attacking the various "special interests" between fundraising calls. When it came time to count the chads he asserted it was all on behalf of "the people." The glory of a win would not be his, but the entire nation's.

It wasn't an easy sell. His condescending tone of voice marked him as a son of privilege a fellow who learned to address the common man by placing calls to room service. He was similarly betrayed by his obvious belief that he was entitled to the election, and his team reflected the elitism his tongue disavowed. There was Daley, son of the American Pharaoh of the same name, who was dispatched to save democracy in South Florida which is much like dispatching Kevorkian to save an ailing grandparent. Most spectacularly, however, was the deployment of David Boies, a $750-an-hour lawyer who proclaimed himself the agent of the populist will. This was the face Big Al showed to Colonel Sanders.

One cannot blame the vice president for sending his big gun to wrangle with the slow-talking jurist. Boies had jack-slapped Bill Gates during the Microsoft trial, and as a result is widely admired in his profession. There is, to be sure, the view that Microsoft was merely another case in which government-funded lawyers pursued a winner for the supposed purpose of protecting the public from a predator in this case a predator the public had made into the richest man in the world. But Boies has his gravitas, and he also dresses like the deputy assistant dog catcher, gets his hair cut down at the barber college, and can talk populist jive with the best of the Ivy Leaguers.

While the innermost thought of Judge Sauls cannot be known, one senses he enjoyed watching Boies float his arguments like so many ducks in a barrel. At one time, he even mused that the proceedings were reminiscent of being pecked to death by a bunch of ducks. Yet if Boies is half as smart as they say he is, he knew early on that the feathers were going to fly. The judge made it clear he was not impressed by anyone's reputation, and that he would apply a strict standard of the law. And perhaps, deep down inside, he mused to himself: I'm 59, Boies is 59; he's a big dog, I'm not; he's making $750 an hour, but when I finish with this case he's going to be back down in the public-defender range. I'll make a populist of him yet.

The latter is speculation, but there is no doubt that Judgement Day was high drama at low decibels. Into the court came Judge Sauls, son of a court clerk and insurance adjuster, a graduate of Florida State University, a man tied dogmatically to laws written by the people's representatives. Before him stood the agent of a privilege and elitism, a man who makes more an hour than many people make in a week, arguing his phony populism on behalf of a phony populist.

The judge's ruling can be summed up this way: Yep, boys, I still hunt so bend over and take your medicine. When the smoke cleared, there weren't enough feathers left on Big Al's legal rump to tie a dry fly with.

All of which was very much worth waiting for.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett is a sometime voter from Midlothian, Va. Comment by clicking here.


11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett