WASHINGTON -- Er, make that BEIRUT -- This city is full of intrigue ... and corruption. Yet I have been making that last point at least since the Boy President arrived firing all U.S. attorneys and hiring Webb Hubbell, et al. So let us turn our gaze to the election, the ongoing election. The military is not yet on alert. I can report that around the capital the troops remain in their barracks. The generals and admirals seem calm, and many remain on the golf course. By this point in the 1960 election, the hellish Nixon had conceded and told his tough-guy advisers that there would be no challenge. How is AlGore responding?
Last week I did prophesy that the debonair George W. Bush would win handsomely. Anyone who saw him interviewed on television on election night had to notice how handsome he was. Suavely he accepted victory one minute. With stiff upper lip, he faced defeat the next. Gore's call that evening conceding defeat brought out the gracious gentlemanly qualities in Bush. Then Gore called to retrieve his concession; Bush's gentlemanly resources must have been sorely tested. "Hi, George? Al, here. Did I leave a concession in your room somewhere? The fellows over here in Nashville want it back."
You think I made that exchange up? Well, try this: Forty-five minutes after his concession call to Bush, Gore calls to retract it. And when the incredulous Bush at 2:30 a.m. responds, "You mean to tell me, Mr. Vice President, you're retracting your concession?" the inventor of the Internet says, "You don't have to be snippy about it."
Do you think I made that up? OK, so how about this: Bush replies that his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has assured him that Florida is his. What is Gore's response? The inventor of the witticism "no controlling legal authority" says, "Your brother is not the ultimate authority on this." At that point, my guess is that it was Gore who sounded "snippy."
Last week, I also prophesied that Bush would win despite the power of incumbency, a power fortified greatly by our prosperous times. From the relatively unchanged Senate and House, it is apparent that there was no groundswell for change in the country. Only seven incumbent members of the House lost. Yet the satisfaction felt by the electorate was not extended to the Boy President's hand-picked successor. Gore should have won by a fat margin. He suffered huge defections because of what I called the Unspoken Issue, to wit, public trust. The Clinton-Gore administration's record of misbehavior caused vast numbers of otherwise contented Americans to vote for Bush and change.
Now, as the votes are recounted in Florida and the rules are tested or changed around the country by Clinton-Gore, Americans are going to see how right they were to question this crowd's integrity. Throughout this administration many Clinton critics have said that the administration's corruption was serious. It spread throughout the federal government, causing perhaps the greatest danger to the commonweal by its spread throughout the judiciary and the Justice Department. Watch how Clinton-Gore brings down the standards and repute of the American election process. The hellish Nixon would never expose the country to the kind of scandal and derision that Clinton-Gore is now contemplating.
The rancorous aftermath of Campaign 2000 will be melancholy for those Americans who took pride in the American electoral process. Aside from the machine politics of certain inner-city areas and corruption of various rural backwaters, American elections have been admirably free of fraud and Banana-Republic chicanery. Now our system is open to the kind of ridicule Good Government types of yore would have heaped on, say, Third World elections.
As the party of 1996's campaign irregularities caterwauls about the vote in Florida, the constitutional provisions for the Electoral College, vote fraud, racism and all their other canards, the Slobodan Milosevics of the world are having the last laugh. America is going the way of Yugoslavia on Election Day or Indonesia. Can street demonstrations be far behind?
Yet let us remember that Banana Republics have their amusing sides. If we have to live with the expanding corruption that Bill Clinton brought to Washington, we can at least have a few laughs. In keeping with the media's habit of booming every first (the first woman governor here, the first black lieutenant governor there), Missouri's Mel Carnahan is the first person ever to be posthumously elected to the Senate. Everywhere America's deceased are celebrating enfranchisement. Here in Washington, Sen. Strom Thurmond must be especially happy. With the arrival of Carnahan in the Senate, 98-year-old Thurmond finally has a colleague on his wavelength. After Campaign 2000 the cemeteries are fields of joy.