Florida 2000: was it just plain luck?

Posted: Nov 13, 2001 12:00 AM
What blunt instrument are they going to use now for bashing George W. Bush? The recount of the recount of -- oh, nevermind -- shows that the U.S. Supreme Court last year didn't after all steal the election for him: "contrary to what many partisans of former Vice President Al Gore have charged," as the New York Times expressed it. Bush, according to the media consortium that spent months reviewing the Florida vote, would have won by 493 votes had the high court, as requested by Gore, kept the recount going. Nothing in political life, it seems, is ever totally straightforward. Thus, Gore partisans may take home with them the conviction that if all disqualifed Florida ballots had been looked at -- a course for which the Gore campaign wasn't even asking -- Gore (under three different counting scenarios) would have triumphed by, oh, between 107 and 171 votes. That's if you accept the consortium's method of ballot examination, which you don't have to. Indeed, you don't have to accept anything the consortium puts before us. You don't, for that matter, have to think about the election. In former President Clinton's phrase, you may cheerfully elect to "move on." Many already have -- Al Gore among them, commendably enough. Gore's campaign chairman, William Daley, of the Chicago Daleys, asks, "Do people care anymore? I don't think they do." And if an old pol like Bill Daley doesn't think they care, well ... Is there point, therefore, in this whole exercise -- weighing the consortium report, balancing, cogitating? Not all that much point, perhaps, save when it comes to noting the imponderables of political fortune. How Al Gore would have handled the crisis that engulfed us Sept. 11 is objectively unknowable. The "chattering classes," as we're coming to call them -- the entertainment industry and the media and the academics -- were predisposed to approve of him more highly than of Bush, with all that regular-guy conservative stuff. The election dispute, and its outcome, just stoked prominent resentments. Dumb -- Bush already was that, so far as many of the chatterboxes were concerned. Crooked -- the Florida contest further blackened his escutcheon. Thus, the awful events of Sept. 11 left the United States reliant on a dumb crook. Want to bet? Takers should be ample, given that almost nine of 10 Americans say they approve Bush's current job performance. Nor ought we forget the story last month in the New York Times -- whose editors, by the way, endorsed Gore. The story said Gore partisans were relieved their man wasn't handling this one. Further, they commended Bush and his advisers for their response to an unforeseen, unprecedented challenge. Gore partisans, mind you -- that's where this was coming from. The past 12 months, and especially the last two, cannot have been fun for Bush, who looks discernibly older -- or is it graver? Or both? But even the chattering classes are to some extent silenced. The guy is demonstrably good: tough and at the same time calm and dignified, and also empathetic and encouraging. Whether the chads in Florida hung or wore dimples, America's president is upholding the sense that Americans like to have about their presidents: that, in getting the job done, they make their country look good. We couldn't have suspected all this last year. How could we? This brings to mind, in light of Florida, the commodity Las Vegans and others call chance, or blind luck: another description of it is the intervention of a higher power in the affairs of clueless mankind. We've all likely heard at some time or other the stale, snide European-ism: "The Lord looks after fools, drunks, and the United States." Sometimes you have to wonder: Does He really?