WASHINGTON -- "Neither of the candidates has behaved well during this shabby November" -- thus spoke that courtly gentleman of the English-speaking media, The Economist. It was editorializing on Nov. 7's painfully expanded election that now staggers into December. It could last for years with Al Gore -- now bearded and grizzled in tattered garb, crisscrossing the nation, declaiming, "I am the president."(Joe Lieberman rides next to him on his donkey.) But to return to the week's Economist, its editorial appeared even before the Supreme Court and Judge Sauls kicked the studs from beneath Gore's case. Nonetheless, the editorial concludes: "Gore should concede."
By now the theme "neither candidate/party has behaved well" has a familiar ring to it. Where have we heard it before? We heard it during Monica Lewinsky's unexpected coming-out party, when Our President was insisting she was a mere White House pizza deliverer. We heard it during Independent Counsel Ken Starr's inquiry into the president's veracity. And we heard it during the Republican led-Congress's move to impeach a president now found to have lied and obstructed justice, hence his contempt of court citation. "There are no heroes here," solemnized the sages of our political culture. Alas, they perceived no Woodwards, no Bernsteins, no John Deans or Deep Throats.
So once again, Clinton-Gore shakes the Republic with controversy and "neither has behaved well." The Economist said it, and you can be sure that throughout the media the exhaust pipes of our Kultursmog are spreading it.
Have both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party gone into such steep decline that neither side in the scandals of the past eight years has been able to turn out a hero or at least someone who "behaved well"? Philosophers often consider first causes before making moral judgments. Consider the cause of Bill Clinton's impeachment. Clinton lied in a sexual harassment suit. He, being a friend of feminism, approved of such suits; but when asked about Lewinsky he lied after obstructing justice. No other agent caused him to telephone her, coach her, and then lie under oath about it. He caused his impeachment.
Consider the cause of Campaign 2000's Endless Election. Gore lost in Florida and called for a recount. He lost the recount and called for a hand count. He lost that and now has legal challenges all over the state and the federal judiciary, which he continues to lose. Still, he slogs on and The Economist speaks for the Kultursmog: "neither side has behaved well."
As with impeachment, Clinton-Gore have gotten the country into this predicament. Previous presidential contenders have conceded. Even in this election, despite having grounds for recounts, Senator John Ashcroft displayed gentlemanly restraint and a public man's regard for the commonweal and conceded. Gore, however, displayed his mentor's narcissism and piggishness and defied precedent. Now he blames the controversy on his opponents.
One of the several stark facts casting a pall over the Clinton-Gore years is that no prior presidential administration has found itself in so many conflicts with the law and with settled political custom. Always Clinton, Gore, or their servitors denigrate the law and those entrusted to enforce it. Their historically unprecedented practice is to defame both. The consequence apparently is that even so judicious an institution as The Economist has been duped.
What should George W. Bush, concede though all counts have him ahead? Would the media consider that proper behavior? As with every previous Clinton-Gore scandal and controversy opponents are smeared and allies are duped.
As with impeachment Clinton and Gore are rousing their Democratic supporters across the country as though some high principle were at stake. In impeachment it was the very integrity of the Constitution, according to Clinton. In the Florida controversy it is the principle "every vote counts" no matter how it was cast, according to Gore. Consequently, those opposing them, Bush, his brilliant legal team led by Ted Olson, elected officials in Florida, are scoundrels. Actually in all these controversies only one principle was at stake, the principle of Clinton-Gore's self-preservation. It is the principle of barbarians.