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Jewish World Review Nov.13, 2000 /15 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Cal Thomas

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Consumer Reports

A political matrix --
IT READS like a novel. It looks like a scene from the film "The Matrix,'' in which all action is frozen.

No one predicted this. Nothing like it has ever been seen before. Talk about not having a mandate! What does this election mean? What message, if any, were voters trying to send? What agenda will the new president feel he can pursue?

Based on experience, if George Bush squeezes out a slim majority, Democrats will claim he has to work with them, meaning only Democrat ideas and programs can be advanced. Bush has had a history in Texas of working with Democrats to advance legislation, but Washington isn't Austin and the stakes become much bigger at the national level. If Al Gore manages to win, he will encounter hostile Republicans, still bitter over the Clinton-Gore years.

The idea of "doing the people's business'' sounds noble, but most politicians look out for No. 1. If they appear high-minded, so much the better, but in a contest between looking noble and doing what is best for the individual politician, guess who's most likely to win that struggle?

Will the country put up with four years of deadlock between the White House and Congress when serious issues demand resolution? These would include fixing Social Security, deciding how to improve a troubled education system, sorting out how to deal with the surplus, including the question of tax cuts. Defense and foreign policy issues, especially the Middle East, need a president-elect who can prepare to address them.

The politics of division seems to have worked well for Democrats. More than 90 percent of the African-American vote went for Gore. The race card was on the table nationwide. African-American churches were used by Al Gore and Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York's Senator-elect, to pander to black voters. This is as shameful as when politicians use and abuse God in conservative churches, but the government's response is a double-standard. Liberal black churches get to keep their tax-exemption even when the preacher endorses a Democrat from the pulpit. Conservative churches risk losing theirs for doing little more than passing out "voter guides.''

However the presidential race turns out, a lot of people will not be satisfied. If you think gridlock was a problem before, look for it to get even worse with this new Congress. But in many ways, that's good. A "do-nothing Congress'' means they will do nothing about raising our taxes, or spending more of our money. This expiring Congress still has work to do on the current budget, which it has already larded with huge amounts of pork.

The biggest intrigue of all may come with the Electoral College. When the electors meet next month to officially elect the president, suppose some feel pressured to change their votes from the one to whom they are pledged (by virtue of who got the majority of the popular vote in their state) to the other guy? Perhaps some will be offered favors, even an ambassadorship, if they switch from Bush to Gore, or the reverse. There is nothing to stop them from switching, other than a loss of honor. And what happens if the Congress refuses to accept the results of the electoral vote, producing another election, this one in the House of Representatives? And what happens if the popular vote is overturned by Congress? Suppose a single vote or two would decide the race? Would a few members of Congress consider "incentives'' to vote in a certain way?

No matter how close election outcomes, Americans have always accepted the results, making our country unique in the world. But the ability of a new president to command allegiance and support remain in doubt in a race like this. What then?

For a time, television anchors and pundits were left without much to say except repeat the obvious. Historians will study this election for generations to come. Who says one vote can't make a difference?

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