Al Gore should hang it up. And then he should hang his head in shame. In a great irony of which he may someday become aware, Gore proved at the end of his presidential campaign what he had spent most of that campaign trying to disprove. In words and deeds, in photo ops and tactical decisions, he kept trying to demonstrate that he was not Bill Clinton. And now at the end, by putting the country through a terrible trauma to serve his own needs and retain personal power, he shows that if he is not a complete Clinton clone, he is at the very least a man who has absorbed and accepted the central ethos of Clintonism: “We’ll just have to win, then.” No matter what.
To briskly review: there was a presidential election, and it was close. It came down to the state of Florida. They counted the votes. Mr. Bush won. But it was very close, so they had a recount. They counted the votes again—from the top of Florida to the bottom, from the east, where former Queens Democratic precinct captains paper the condos with Gore flyers, to the west, to the Panhandle, where Republicans stayed home after being told by the networks that it was over, Gore had won. (If Jesse Jackson liked these people, he’d call them “those who were cruelly disenfranchised by the media.”) And even the recount showed Mr. Bush the winner.
You know what followed. Democratic operatives file suits claiming badly designed ballots; the Republicans go to court to stop the suits; three counties begin hand counts; the Florida secretary of state certifies the election based on the recount, pending the overseas absentee ballots. Those ballots are counted: again Bush wins.
A Democratic state supreme court misreads the law to declare the election can’t be certified until the hand counts are in. The horrifying stories come out about what is happening in the hand-counting rooms: the changing standards, the interpretations of dimples and dents, the cheating; the ballots misplaced, used as fans, taped up, dropped; the throwing out of military absentee ballots. Newly assertive Republicans begin to protest, to march on Palm Beach in suits and ties. It goes to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And that is where we are. And we are here because Mr. Gore couldn’t do what Richard Nixon did: announce, the morning after the election, that he would accept the official outcome. Great harm has been done by Gore’s decision, and more is no doubt coming. If he manages to finagle his way to the presidency, his Administration is likely to prove true a dark saying: When you want it bad, you get it bad.
I know a number of people who are sitting back in fat chairs saying they find all of this quite comic. “It’s a farce, and I don’t care who wins.” Really? We have reason to believe a presidential election is being stolen and we don’t care? It must be hard to achieve that level of equanimity; maybe it’s God’s way of telling you that you have too much and have grown soft, and the softness has made you cynical. They’ve caught some of this Above-It-All virus on TV, on the news. On cable they obsess on the story, but shallowly. Television has both inflamed demonstrators and ignored what is behind their demonstrations. They inflame by showing hot pictures in constant rotation; they ignore by not letting the demonstrators speak their views at length. It’s as if TV reporters have cameras but no microphones.
And who are those people with the placards? “Partisans.” That’s how the people who care about what is happening in Florida are labeled on TV: they are partisans, which is to say narrow little people who desire not what is best for the country but what is best for their party. The media derision for the protesters, most of whom are Republicans, reached comic heights when a generic CNN anchorman became testy on the air because protesters were making too much noise. Who are these people to be getting in the way of my narration?
Well, they’re Americans. And they don’t think this is all a joke. And they don’t think they are being irresponsible in taking part in this story. They think they are being responsible. And in spite of their anger, and in spite of their real fear at what is happening in our country, they are protesting in the only right and helpful way, peacefully and lawfully. They not only care, but they’re caring in a responsible and constructive manner.
Mr. Gore is showing history who he is, and what he is showing is really, truly sad. The comfortable Americans who look down on the activists from a great height are showing history who they are, and that’s sad too. But there’s one group that seems to me to have distinguished itself with its protests, and that is the old silent majority that in its latest incarnation has refound its voice. And they’re not partisans. They’re patriots. They’re acting out their protectiveness toward a great Republic. Too bad Gore couldn’t.