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Jewish World Review Nov. 19, 2001 /4 Kislev 5762

Philip Terzian

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All over but the shouting


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com -- PROVING that it's never too late to get a good story in print, a consortium of high-powered media outlets, after exhaustive research, has just revealed that George W. Bush of Texas won the 2000 presidential election.

This will come as no great surprise to the vast majority of Americans, who saw Mr. Bush sworn in on the Capitol steps last January, and have watched him, with approval, conduct the war on terrorism since Sept. 11. But it does seem to shock those who, dismayed by the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, were persuaded that if Albert Gore's selected recounts had continued, George W. Bush would have lost the Florida race, and the election.

Thanks to the exhaustive, and costly, efforts of The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and other news organizations, we now know that is not the case.

The journalists examined some 175,000 disputed votes, including the 61,000 "undervotes" (ballots that registered no presidential preference) and 114,000 "overvotes" (ballots that registered two votes for one candidate, or votes for multiple candidates) and discovered an interesting fact. If the ballots had been re-re-recounted under the guidelines crafted by the Gore legal team -- that is, counting only the ballots in four heavily Democratic counties -- George W. Bush would still have carried Florida. And if the re-re-recount had been conducted in accordance with the instructions of the Florida Supreme Court, Albert Gore would still have lost to George W. Bush.

The margins are breathtakingly narrow, of course, but the facts remain.

It is true, as some have noted, that if a statewide recount to determine the "intent" of voters had been conducted -- a notably subjective enterprise -- Gore would have carried the state. But it is difficult to see, as the Supreme Court suggested, how such judgments can be made without violating the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law. Such an expansive accounting would have ruled, for example, that a ballot with votes for other Democratic voters, but not Albert Gore, should be counted as a vote for Gore anyway. Or that voters supposedly confused by the butterfly ballot intended to vote for Gore and not Patrick Buchanan. And if Florida, why not other states (New Mexico, Oregon, etc.) closely carried by Albert Gore?

The truth of the matter is that George W. Bush won the initial vote count, he won the machine recount, he won the hand recount mandated by the Florida Supreme Court, he won the late absentee ballot vote count, and he won the overseas ballot count. And the U.S. Supreme Court was correct to halt the second-try, haphazard, inconsistent recount standards demanded by the Florida Supreme Court as a violation of equal protection.

What the media consortium discovered, as well, is that a certain number of Floridians failed to vote because of registration problems, inadequate records, defective machinery, and poor instructions from poll watchers. Many such votes went uncounted in certain black precincts. But it should be remembered that those (predominantly) Democratic black voters were ill-served by (exclusively) black Democratic voting officials. And the media consortium discovered another interesting fact: The black voters in Florida most likely to suffer discarded ballots were Republican, not Democratic, black voters -- roughly 10 percent of the total.

Does any of this matter? Not really. The American people are satisfied with George W. Bush in the White House, and even Albert Gore has carefully explained that "the election is over." But for those still unreconciled to the results, the revelation that George W. Bush won by every legal standard shall remain an open wound. He will still be the "President-select" to the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe, and the Alan Dershowitzes of the world will continue to rage, like King Lear on the heath, about the big case they lost.

'Twas ever thus. When Ronald Reagan was president, the progressive view was that if you divided the number of Reagan votes into the percentage of eligible citizens who cast ballots, Reagan had actually been "elected" by just one-fourth of American voters. And because George Bush the Elder had been the beneficiary of an unauthorized TV commercial about the parole of a black rapist name Willie Horton, his tenure in the White House was morally illegitimate.

This is all reminiscent of James Thurber's famous story, "If Grant Had Been Drinking at Appomattox." In Thurber's speculative fantasy, the Union commander was so groggy and hung over after a night of booze and "wrassling [with] some general with a beard" that, when Robert E. Lee and his colleagues appeared, Grant, in his confusion, handed his sword to an astonished Lee. "We dam' near licked you," he said to the Confederate general. "If I'd been feeling better we would of licked you."



JWR contributor Philip Terzian is associate editor of The Providence Journal. Comment by clicking here.

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