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Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2000 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Roger Simon

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We've switched over to mob rule -- THIS WAS the week things really got scary. This was the week that intimidation and fear started affecting who the next president will be.

On Wednesday morning in Miami-Dade County in Florida, the election canvassing board decided that recounting every ballot would take too much time. So they decided to recount only questionable ballots.

A questionable ballot is one that a machine cannot count. It is a ballot that must be examined by hand. There are about 10,000 such ballots in Miami-Dade County.

On Tuesday night, the Florida Supreme Court had ordered Miami-Dade and the other counties where recounts are underway to finish recounting by Sunday and to submit the results to the Florida secretary of state.

So Wednesday, the Miami-Dade board decided to run the 10,000 ballots through the counting machines again, just to make sure they could not be counted in that manner.

But before they could do so, a shouting, screaming mob tried to break into the counting room. The mob was made up of Republicans who believe the election is being stolen by the Democrats. They believe the ruling by the Supreme Court is illegitimate and should be ignored.

Who gave the mob this idea?

Well, there was James Baker for one. James Baker is a very dignified man, a former secretary of state who is in charge of the Bush legal effort in Florida.

And after the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday night, Baker went on TV and gave one of the most extraordinary public performances I have ever seen by a supposedly responsible statesman.

Baker, almost vibrating with anger, denounced the Supreme Court of Florida for delivering a verdict he did not like.

He summarized the 43-page court opinion of the court the way he saw it and then said: "All of this is unfair and unacceptable. It is not fair to change the election laws of Florida by judicial fiat after the election has been held. It is not fair to change the rules and standards governing the counting or recounting of votes after it appears that one side has concluded that is the only way to get the votes it needs. And it is also not fair to refuse to count, even once, the ballots of many of our servicemen and women overseas. It is simply not fair, ladies and gentlemen, to change the rules, either in the middle of the game, or after the game has been played."

Why is that extraordinary? It is extraordinary because the George Bush legal team had gone before that court and made its arguments the same way the Gore legal team had.

And if you go before a court and make an argument, it implies you accept the authority of the court. You don't have to agree with the court's verdict. And you can appeal it through the legal system.

But that's not what Baker was saying. Baker was attacking the court itself, its authority and legitimacy.

Ironically, the Bush people had been saying for a week that even though the court was made up of seven justices appointed by Democratic governors (with one co-appointed by the current Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush), its decisions had been fair ones and they were not worried.

But once that the court had ruled against them, the Bush people decided the court was no good. It was "unfair." It was "unacceptable."

So what does it mean when the chief Bush aide in Florida goes on TV and tells people that a court decision is "unacceptable"?

In Miami-Dade County, it apparently meant to some that they could charge the counting room and stop the counting by force.

A phalanx of police drove them back, but the board members, who are just volunteers, were clearly rattled. And they quickly decided that they didn't want any part of a possible riot.

They were just ordinary citizens, and they were not about to make themselves targets.

So they announced that they were calling off the recount and going home.

Bill Daley, Al Gore's campaign chairman, announced that the Gore campaign would sue to get the recount going again. But even if a court goes along, it may be too late for Miami-Dade to meet the Sunday deadline. And George Bush may attain the presidency because of that.

Up until this week, everyone in this conflict was talking about the rule of law.

This week, we switched over to mob rule.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate