Why Gore lost

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Dec 08, 2000 12:00 AM
It's over. The court-ordered body blows have left Al Gore's post-election litigation strategy a bad joke. Butterfly ballots? Legal. Yet another recount? Illegal. Evidence of "illegality, dishonesty, gross negligence, improper influence, coercion or fraud" in this election count? Zilch, ruled Judge Sauls. Recounts in only two Democrat counties? Absurd. In a "statewide election for president," reprimanded Judge Sauls, "the plaintiff would necessarily have to ... seek as a remedy ... a review and recount of all ballots in all the counties in this state."

That's not even counting the Supreme Court's slapdown of the Florida Supreme Court. Don't think you are the boss around here, the Florida Supremes told Secretary of State Katherine Harris, only to be reminded by the Big Nine that they aren't the supreme dogs either.

"There are expressions in the opinion of the Supreme Court of Florida that may be read to indicate that it construed the Florida Election Code without regard to the extent to which the Florida Constitution could, consistent with Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 (of the Constitution) 'circumscribe the legislative power,'" the federal court said.

Translation: We can't make hide nor tail of your hasty decision, which if read on its merits seems to absurdly suggest the Florida Constitution, of which you are the supreme arbiters, trumps the U.S. Constitution, of which (may we remind you) you are not the supreme arbiters.

"The Florida Supreme Court cited 3 U.S.C. Section 1-10 in a footnote of its opinion, but did not discuss Section 5 ... (which) would counsel against any construction of the Election Code that Congress might deem to be a change in law. ... The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida is therefore vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion."

Translation: Try again. Take your time. The whole thing is moot anyway because Congress can count the Electoral College slate that reflects the will of the state legislature, not the state supreme court. You might want to consider that the next time you rewrite election laws after the election.

From the night of the election, when Al Gore's campaign manager Bill Daley strode to the podium to announce "The campaign continues," Al Gore has taken his plays right from Bill Clinton's impeachment playbook. Fuggedabout the rules of decorum. Lie if you have to, and you will have to. Trash your opponents. The public needs a villain to rally around your cause. Focus attention on large, mindlessly repeated slogans and away from grubby little facts. Do not worry about making your actions fit your words, and don't worry about the letter of the law, either. Most Americans are not watching all that closely.

Why didn't it work? Gore must be scratching his head, You won the national vote, he told himself in the middle of the dark night; Americans will rally to your side.

Except they didn't. The big mistake Gore made is not recognizing that Americans are deeply committed to neither him nor President-elect Bush. We are committed to the fundamental decency of this country's way of life and resentful of those who call the respectability of basic institutions (like the office of the presidency in the impeachment case, or the legitimacy of our established election procedures in Gore's case) into needless, hostile, partisan question.

Conversely, Republicans, smarting from the failure of the American people to repudiate what they (and I) saw as serious violations of law in the Clinton impeachment trial, are almost surprised to find their darkest fears about the meltdown of the rule of law have not come true: The Florida courts are not a cabal paid for by the Democrat Party. America still is what we always imagined it to be: the world's finest democracy, whose fundamental strength and core decency shine through the mud flung as a result of one man's frustrated personal ambition.