IT WAS ONLY a few words among the millions that have been spewed out through the media about the presidential election, but they were among the weightiest -- and most chilling -- of these words. A front-page story in the Wall Street Journal mentioned in passing "a quiet intelligence-gathering operation" begun by the Gore camp, "checking into the backgrounds of Republican electors, with an eye toward persuading them to vote for Mr. Gore."
Those who vote in the electoral college are not legally bound to vote for those whom the voters in their states voted for. But if the Gore operatives are merely trying to "persuade" Bush electors to defect, then why this hush-hush digging into the past of these electors?
All this is going on while the Gore spokesmen are saying on TV at every opportunity that "every vote should count." But a Bush voter's vote will not count if his elector who actually votes in the electoral college decides to vote for Gore, rather than have some scandal from his past made public.
This is only the latest in the desperate and ugly tactics used by the Gore camp, in order to take the presidency by all means necessary. Nor is this a new tactic for the Clinton/Gore administration.
It was used against Congressman Bob Livingston and Chairman Henry Hyde, whose old extra-marital affairs were dug up and made public on the eve of the impeachment hearings. It was used against Linda Tripp, whose confidential personnel files were made public, with an assurance from Attorney General Janet Reno that the person who made them public would not be prosecuted.
This is the same administration that kept Wen Ho Lee in solitary confinement for nine months without a trial, on grounds that he was so dangerous to national security that he could not be allowed at large -- and then dropped the vast majority of the charges against him when time came to put up or shut up in court. This supposedly dangerous man had been free as a bird for months after the security breach that he was accused of had taken place, before he was suddenly locked up -- and he is now free as a bird yet again after all but one of the 58 charges were dropped.
This extraordinary punishment without conviction caused something equally extraordinary -- a public apology in open court to Mr. Lee by the federal judge who had sent him to prison. The judge had done so on the basis of dire national security claims made by the Clinton administration, claims which the judge now said turned out to be completely misleading.
The "politics of personal destruction," which Bill Clinton has publicly deplored, has been his method of operation for years, going all the way back to his days as governor of Arkansas. Al Gore has now taken over the techniques of his mentor, with his operatives' innuendoes about Ralph Nader's sex life on the eve of the election and their digging up George W. Bush's minor brush with the law 24 years ago.
More is involved here than "dirty tricks" or the character flaws of those who engage in them.
These corrupt ways of operating are a danger to the very nature of American government. If you can steal an election by blackmailing members of the electoral college, then democracy becomes a farce.
Constitutional checks and balances mean nothing if you can blackmail anyone who would expose your illegal actions and ruin a few of them just to show that you mean business. Bob Livingston was scheduled to become Speaker of the House, but now he is not even a member of Congress. Who would ever want to prosecute any president for anything and be subjected to months of character assassination like Kenneth Starr, including reckless and inflammatory charges that Starr had violated the law? These charges all turned out to be wholly unsubstantiated when examined in a court of law, but that did not stop them from being repeated anyway on nationwide television during the impeachment hearings.
If the government of the United States is going to be run like the mafia or a Third World despotism, what does our freedom amount to? Any of us could be thrown into prison and kept in solitary confinement for months like Wen Ho Lee, until we "confessed" to something -- however minor -- just so we could get out, and so that the administration gets off the hook legally and Janet Reno can discount our statements as those of a "criminal."
Is this America? Do we want another administration like