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Jewish World Review Nov. 13, 2000 / 15 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby
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Unleashing the lawyers -- THE BRAZENNESS of the Gore people is a wonder to behold. Before the election they were spending millions of dollars to confuse Florida's voters. Bush wants to gut Social Security! Gore will cover your prescription drugs! Now they are demanding that tens of thousands of ballots in four heavily Democratic counties be recounted by hand because some Florida voters may have been -- confused.

Far be it from me to doubt those nice Palm Beach retirees who say their ballots were misleading. But it's hard not to notice that the only voters claiming to have been misled are Gore supporters. It's also hard not to notice that these complaints didn't mushroom until after the election was underway. If the "butterfly" ballot were truly as baffling as the Gore partisans now insist, surely someone would have mentioned it before the election, when sample ballots were mailed to every voter. Mailed, one might add, by Theresa LePore, who is Palm Beach County's election supervisor -- and a Democrat. Yet nobody voiced an objection ... until Gore was losing Florida.

Query: Did Gore also lose Wisconsin and Iowa? The official tallies say he won there, but by tiny vote margins -- 4,954 out of more than 1.26 million in Iowa and 6,099 out of nearly 2.6 million in Wisconsin. Now what would happen if Bush and the Republicans decided to take a page from the Democratic playbook and contest the outcome in those states? What if they started howling about "irregularities," claimed that blacks had been prevented from voting, demanded statewide recounts, and deployed flocks of lawyers to challenge the results? What would happen if they managed to accomplish in Iowa and Wisconsin what Gore's people hope to accomplish in Florida?

Replicating the Florida confusion elsewhere might make tactical sense for Bush, but it would be disastrous for the nation. Yet late last week, ominously, Republicans began to speculate out loud about about forcing recounts in other states. "This is not a unilateral process," said Jan Baran, a leading GOP expert on election law. "This has the potential for ... mutual assured destruction." Which is exactly why Bush must resist the temptation to unleash his lawyers and trigger all-out combat.

And resist it he will. For it is not the Texas governor who has tended to behave as if every ploy and tactic, however outrageous or disruptive, is justified by the quest for power. That is a characteristic of the Clinton-Gore administration, which for eight years has scrupled at nothing when it comes to political warfare: not lies under oath, not character assassination, not even real warfare -- this is the White House, recall, that sent bombers screaming to Iraq the night before the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on impeachment. It was the Gore camp that was so quick to threaten litigation last week, a step perfectly in keeping with everything we have learned since 1993 to expect from this crowd. Sure, a protracted ordeal of post-election lawsuits and rancor might rip the stitches out of the nation's social fabric and do who knows what kind of damage to Americans' faith in their democratic traditions. But what was that to Gore, who was warning voters late in the campaign that Election Day represented nothing less than a choice between "good" and "evil"?

Fortunately, Gore's spokesmen are now backpedaling. Speaking on "Meet the Press'' yesterday, Warren Christopher reassured viewers that it should be "a matter of days -- not weeks, not months, but days -- before we reach a result." That was encouraging. It would be even more encouraging if the Gore team now followed up on that pledge by withdrawing its insistence on hand recounts in the Democratic strongholds of Volusia, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Such recounts involve scrutinizing each ballot in order to divine the voter's intent and are an open invitation to fraud. Perfect objectivity is elusive in the best of circumstances; with so much hanging in the balance, it will be impossible to ensure the integrity of the recount. Unless every Florida county is going to be recounted by hand -- even the Republican ones -- none should be.

It matters who won the election, but it doesn't matter as much as allowing the election to be won. That can only happen if both candidates make clear that they love their country more than they love themselves. Right now feelings are hard across the partisan divide. Half the electorate is repelled by the thought of a third Clinton term; the other half recoils at the prospect of those Texas yahoos taking over the White House. There is not a lot of goodwill out there. Pursuing this fight to the bitter end can only lead to calamity.

Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment on this column by clicking here.

40 reasons to say NO to Gore

© 2000, Jeff Jacoby