In "Man of La Mancha," there's a wonderful fugue in which several of the "knight's" relatives give their self-interested but prettified reasons for wanting their uncle, brother, cousin committed to an insane asylum. The title of the song is, "I'm Only Thinking of Him."
It ought to be Al Gore's theme song. "The campaign is over," the vice president intoned Wednesday night, "but a test of our democracy is now underway. ... All we need is a common agreement that what is at stake here is not who wins and who loses in a contest for the presidency, but how we honor our Constitution and make sure our democracy works as our founders intended it to work."
Ah, there's nothing like sincerity! This is a man who has donned combat fatigues, deployed an army of lawyers and tried the locks on every ballot box in the state of Florida attempting to loosen a few more chads to tip the balance his way. This is "the fastest growing law firm in the United States," crowed David Boies from Tallahassee. Democrats attract trial lawyers the way carrion attracts vultures. Within minutes of the election, reports The Wall Street Journal, an e-mail circulated to members of the American Trial Lawyers Association asking for 500 volunteers to help with the legal battle Gore was planning. Gore apparently phoned the big guns personally.
Gore also took the high road about rhetoric in his Wednesday evening statement. That's reassuring, since as Rush Limbaugh has pointed out, his people have been calling Secretary of State Katherine Harris "biased," "a crook," "a partisan political hack," "a dilettante debutante hack." Perhaps they don't know that their leader wants "to improve the tone of our dialogue in America."
Together with "concerned citizens" of Florida, the Gore law corps has already filed more than a dozen lawsuits challenging a myriad of election laws and practices. When Broward County decided that a hand count was unnecessary based upon a review of several precincts, the Gore campaign got ready to sue. When the secretary of state used her lawful discretion to put an end to the hand count, Gore sued. In Florida this week, if you so much as wear a Bush for President button you may expect a summons and complaint.
When the Gore corps first got rolling, there was gratifying alarm expressed on the editorial pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Both warned that dragging an election into the courts was a dangerous precedent. But their initial good instincts have faded with time. After a few days, they settled back comfortably into the mode of criticizing the Republican for seeming not to want an accurate count.
But perfect accuracy is a chimera. In every race, thousands of ballots are lost, stolen and disqualified for various reasons. Florida's paper ballots (can we all at least agree that the whole country should invest in reliable voting machines?) have already been machine counted twice -- once on election night and again the following day. Paper being what it is, they are particularly unsuited to repeated handling. How many chads do you suppose were shaken loose by the hand counts? And the notion that canvassing boards are going to divine the intentions of voters in doubtful cases is an invitation to fraud plain and simple. If you weren't competent enough to vote correctly, your vote does not deserve to be counted. (Joe Lieberman, in a real howler, offered that perhaps we need international observers. Sure, bring in the United Nations. First Bosnia, now Broward!)
But in case you were moved by the vice president's noble promise that he is concerned only about fulfilling the hopes of our founders, consider this: Bob Beckel, a Democratic operative and Walter Mondale's campaign manager, has been working another angle for the vice president. According to The Wall Street Journal, he's been looking into the backgrounds of Florida's electors, hoping to find three or four who might be tempted to switch sides and cast their votes for Gore even if the state is eventually certified for Bush. If Bush won Florida, he would have 271 electoral votes. A switch by two would tip the election. Beckel says he's working independently. Right.
It's so good to know that Gore's faith is "in the people's will, in our Constitution and in our system of self-government."
He's only thinking of you.