In an ideal world, here is how things would have unfolded after the election deadlock of Nov. 7:
George W. Bush would have made a statement to the effect that he was hopeful about being the eventual winner, but that the law must be respected and patience the order of the day as the nation awaited Florida's count of absentee ballots. It was presumptuous, perhaps even arrogant (the Gore people have a point here) ostentatiously to begin the transition process.
But that is pretty much all Gov. Bush did wrong last week (substantively -- tactics are another matter).
Sadly, Vice President Gore did far, far worse, fulfilling the worst suspicions some harbor about what he learned at Clinton's knee. The hallmark of the Clinton administration was contempt for law and morality. Subpoena, what subpoena? The Senate would not confirm Bill Lann Lee? Just do a recess appointment -- it isn't legal, but let them challenge it (we'll cry anti-Asian bias!). The relatives of Elian Gonzalez broke no law? Never mind, with a faulty warrant (ask Alan Dershowitz) and enough war gear to take a small Caribbean island, we'll break down their door, trash the house and grab the traumatized 6-year-old at gunpoint -- all the while claiming falsely to be "just following the law."
Gore has demonstrated before how well he has learned the lessons of political "total war." He lied easily and casually about Bill Bradley, about his role in illegal fund raising, and promiscuously about George W. Bush. His history of lying about himself cannot be laid at Clinton's door -- it merely shows how well-matched they were.
But in the aftermath of this election, Gore has taken the tactics of spin and win to new lows -- because now what's at stake is the very legitimacy of our electoral process.
The Gore people swooped down on Florida Wednesday morning with one agenda: to change the outcome by whatever means necessary. In the smoke and dust of battle, that insight has been lost. So it worth recalling that Gore's campaign manager, William Daley, arrived in Florida saying, "If the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be declared our next president." This was before any hand count had begun.
For admirers of tactics, it was a brilliant display. The Democratic Party swung into action, throwing up claims of "disenfranchisement" of 19,000 Palm Beach County voters, rallying the usual activists to take to the streets, beating the bushes for a few black voters to claim harassment and suggesting that the only legitimate outcome would be for Gore to take the presidency since he had narrowly won the popular vote nationwide.
For two days, shell-shocked Republicans were kept busy attempting to shoot down accusations of illegality regarding Palm Beach's "butterfly ballot," only to awaken on Saturday morning to find that it had been a feint. In fact, Daley's gambit was to demand (within the 72-hour period required by law) a hand count in four heavily Democratic counties.
The Bush people, who had been hoping to let matters rest with the machine recount of the entire state plus the absentee ballots, were caught flat-footed. Having said that no one should resort to the courts, they themselves then did so, looking hypocritical. This wasn't fair, as the Gore forces had openly "supported" eight lawsuits challenging the results in various jurisdictions, but it was a spin victory. Meanwhile the deadline had passed for Bush to demand hand counts (if he were to risk the ridicule) in 80 percent of Florida's counties.
No one believes that the Gore campaign is acting in good faith. When Warren Christopher was asked if Gore would accept a hand count that favored Bush, he declined to answer, saying rather that they were pursuing "various options."
So thanks to the skillful if ruthless maneuvering of the Gore forces, we are faced with the monumentally unjust outcome of four Democratic counties being hand counted while the rest are not.
What Americans seem to desire above all is that the outcome be fair and honest. For the sake of our democratic future, matters cannot be left here.