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Jewish World Review Nov. 17, 2000 / 19 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Eric Fettmann

Eric Fettman
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Back from the brink?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- PERHAPS the only honest statement of this entire post-election fiasco came Tuesday night from former Senate Democratic leader George Mitchell.

If the situation were reversed and it was Al Gore clinging to a narrow lead, CNN's Larry King asked, would we still be hearing the same arguments? "Oh, sure," replied Mitchell. "I have no doubt that each side would be making the other's legal points."

Of course - and it's about time someone said it. And while the vice president now says he'll stand by the results of a statewide recount in Florida - and offered to meet with George W. Bush to lower the harsh rhetoric of the past week - his campaign was singing quite a different tune in the hours before Gore's statement last night.

How to explain Gore's abrupt shift? Perhaps the Democrats realized how silly they'd looked earlier in the day, when former Secretary of State Warren Christopher sent an entirely different message: that Team Gore was prepared to keep this fight going until they win, no matter how long it takes and what harm it does to the country.

Until Gore spoke, the Democrats were making it clear that - beneath all the rhetorical posturing about "the rule of law" and "fulfilling the will of the people" and "a just and honest ballot count" - they understood that this was a power grab, pure and simple.

Over and over again, Christopher stressed that the Democrats are looking for a "speedy, rapid resolution" of this mess. But his answers to reporters' questions showed that speed is the last thing the Democrats are interested in.

Christopher said the Gore camp wants the Florida Supreme Court to "step in and take charge" of matters, deciding whether manual recounts are warranted and, if so, by what standard. But when asked if the campaign is willing to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court, even if it doesn't go their way, he dodged: "There are so many difficult questions."

But perhaps the most telling embarrassment for Christopher - and the one that may finally have prompted Gore to speak out personally - came when he was asked why he refused to sit down with his GOP counterpart, James Baker, and try to hash out an agreement, one former secretary of state to another?

"Well," said Christopher, "if you've seen Secretary Baker's proposal, it's a non-starter. There's no basis to hold negotiations on something like that."

No basis to hold negotiations? This from the same secretary of state who went crawling on his knees over a dozen times to Damascus in order to beg Syria's late dictator, Hafez Assad, to come to the negotiating table and stop sponsoring terrorism?

Assad, a murdering butcher, he can negotiate with, but not Jim Baker. What more evidence do we need?

Until then, Democrats clearly believed they were winning the PR war - which, frankly, is half the battle. Which is why other Democrats, like Senate leader Tom Daschle, felt emboldened enough to demand joint control of the next Senate, if it winds up in a 50-50 tie - with a direct threat of endless gridlock and filibuster until they get the result they want.

But the Republicans simply don't get it. They're not prepared to fight - which explains why, for example, Jon Corzine is the new senator from New Jersey. From the start, the GOP declared him and his mega-millions unbeatable - and refused to fund and support their own candidate, Bob Franks, until it was too late. In the end, Corzine won by just 3 percent - and would have lost had Franks been given the resources he needed.

Has the Gore camp turned tail from its early aggressiveness, complete with playing the race card and political smears against GOP officials in Florida? By all accounts, Gore himself has been intimately involved in the post-election strategy, signing off on all the legal tactics.

It's too soon to tell. Let's hope Gore is serious; let's hope that this debacle can be resolved on a bipartisan basis, and that the next president - whoever he is - will be able to govern.

We still don't know how gracious a loser Al Gore is prepared to be - because the Democrats have made it clear they plan to poison a Bush administration and stymie his legislative agenda. Don't be surprised if - despite Gore's pacifying tone - the Democrats still haven't abandoned their post-election cry: Let's get ready to r-u-u-u-mble!


JWR contributor Eric Fettmann is a columnist for the New York Post. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2000, Eric Fettman