It was a narrow decision, affecting the behavior of a single county. But that decision, denying Miami-Dade one more count of its voters, could prove critical; and now the Republican forces have to consider the prospects, not all of them gratifying, of squeezing into the White House.
John O'Sullivan, writing in National Review, has thrown much cold water on the unexamined passion for victory. He argues that the inauguration as president of George W. Bush, with a mandate so streaked by ambiguities, would actually affect his conduct as president. He would achieve presidential power but so attenuated by electoral anomaly as significantly to reduce it. A Republican mandate to rule looks pretty thin in the circumstances of November 2000.
During the week it was established that the GOP lost the Senate seat in Washington state, yielding the haunting prospect of a 50-50 Senate division which, before it could be organized on GOP lines, would have to wait for Dick Cheney to get over his heart troubles.
Imagine the scene when President Bush delivered the State of the Union address. As of Friday morning, there was some talk of Democratic ostracism of inaugural activity. This would be decidedly un-American -- hardly in the tradition of the resigned acquiescence of the party of John Quincy Adams making way for the bumptious Andrew Jackson.
But whatever formal concessions the Democrats come up with, they'd be protocolary in form. The dogged Democrat, convinced that his party was the victim of an anachronistic constitutional overhang 200 years old, would perhaps excusably deem it his sovereign responsibility to his country to get in the way of the young usurper from Austin, Texas. This could mean effective paralysis in achieving the kind of legislative progress on which the ultimate vindication of a Bush administration would depend.
Now -- here Mr. O'Sullivan weighs in heavily -- focus on general laws of economic applicability. They have been gasping for more regular exercise than they have had in the unprecedented boom of the last 18 years. A nice observation: "Gore is exactly the sort of president who is usually around when a recession starts: Like Herbert Hoover, he is serious, rigid, convinced of his rectitude, and enthusiastic for state intervention."
And we are not talking here about a perfunctory market correction. "The political consequences of a bust after people had become accustomed to the idea of endless prosperity are hard to overestimate. But it would certainly cast a gloomy backward shadow over the past eight years if the surplus were to vanish and the bills for overspending come due."
When Winston Churchill was tossed out of power in l945, Lady Churchill famously remarked that the defeat "may be a blessing in disguise." Churchill's fleeted rejoinder was that if so, the disguise was very effective indeed.
So? The British socialists did their best to make Great Britain uninhabitable for five or six years, giving Churchill time to write a glorious history and give prescient speeches (including the great Iron Curtain address), and return to power with a reanimated constituency, leading his country back, if painfully, in sane directions, domestically and in foreign affairs.
Granted, if Mr. Bush were to lose in the crowded, hectic, combustible events of the next days and weeks, a little less would be expected of him than of Winston Churchill. But it would certainly be expected that the Republican Party would remobilize, asking itself the haunting question: Why, in the great election of 2000, didn't we emerge with a clearer, crisper mandate to rechart a future for America free of the multiculturalist zombiness that accumulated in the past period, and the Washington-driven inertia of invigorating engines of social and political thought?
Well, but there is also the alternative of a Bush victory and, the Clinton-Gore king being dead, long live the king.