Desperate and ugly in Florida

Posted: Nov 16, 2000 12:00 AM

THE SAME ugly tactics that worked for the Clinton administration during impeachment are now being used by Al Gore in a last desperate effort to capture Florida and the presidency. These tactics include creating as much noise and chaos as possible in the media, with reckless and inflammatory charges made by professional loudmouths, led by demagogue laureate Jesse Jackson.

But when you look past the rhetoric and the mob scenes, what are the plain facts? Governor George W. Bush won the vote in Florida when it was first counted. He won again when the close vote was automatically recounted, in accordance with Florida law. Now the Democrats have come up with a third counting, using their own methods, which allow them to "interpret" ballots that were not cast in such a way as to be counted by the legally prescribed methods. The media keep referring to this re-recount in precincts controlled by Democrats as "hand-counting." But the real issue is interpreting ballots, not counting them.

Much has been made of nearly 20,000 ballots in Democrats' districts that were not counted by the official methods prescribed by law because these ballots involved voting twice or other irregularities. But even more than 20,000 ballots in Republican districts were disqualified for the very same reason. Out of all the people who voted in Florida, there were some Democrats and some Republicans who were sloppy or careless in the way they handled their ballots.

What does that prove? That human beings make mistakes and that millions of human beings will make lots of mistakes.

After all the complaints made about the kind of ballot used in some precincts, it turned out that this ballot was designed by a Democrat. It was then approved by officials of both the Democratic and Republican parties. Now some people want to change the rules after the game is over. The changes being sought include having some counties' votes counted by different methods than those used in other counties.

If the only kinds of elections that we accept are those that are lacking in human imperfections, then we are going to have a lot of vacant offices, including the Oval Office.

Voter fraud is a very serious crime and a very serious charge to make without hard evidence that will stand up in a court of law. If we are going to litigate every unsubstantiated speculation up through all the layers of the courts, then by the time it is all sorted out to everyone's satisfaction, the winner's term in office will have expired anyway.

The rule of law can survive only if we accept rules, whether or not we like the results they produce. We cannot just keep recounting and then re-recounting in new ways until we get the result we want.

What is the point of all the frenzied activity in the courts and in the media? First and foremost is the hope that somehow some way will be found to have Al Gore declared president.

The stakes are huge, not just for Gore himself but for the whole liberal-left agenda, so dear to the hearts of all sorts of movements, interest groups and ideologues. As a distinguished scholar once said: "The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie."

The Supreme Court alone is enough of a prize to cause a political holy war -- or unholy war, given the orchestrated character assassinations launched to try to stop some nominees from being confirmed. Now many of the same shrill voices raised in these past jihads are raised once again in a desperate attempt to prevent the power to appoint Supreme Court justices from slipping from liberal hands.

If those who seek to overturn the election results through hysteria and political spin cannot succeed in that effort, then they can at least undermine the new administration that will take office next January by smearing it in advance as illegitimate. To the extent that the public buys this charge, the new president will be unable to mobilize the kind of public opinion that any president needs to get his policies and programs approved by Congress.

There was a time when people understood that the interest of the country is ultimately far more important than all these individual political interests. Even a man who was as much of a political operator as Richard Nixon understood that in 1960, when he refused to ask for a recount of a very close presidential election in which there were widespread reports of fraud against him. Are we no longer capable of coming up to this level?