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Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2000/ 18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Suzanne Fields

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More than one way to win an election -- UNTIL THE DAY he died, Samuel J. Tilden believed the election of 1876, and the presidency, was stolen from him. Many historians think so, too. Rutherford B. Hayes was declared the victor, but between election day on Nov. 8, 1876 and March 2, 1877 the election was in dispute.

It was the "longest, bitterest, and most controversial presidential election in American history,'' according to Paul F. Boller Jr. in "Presidential Campaigns,'' an evaluation that may or may not compare to the shenanigans of election 2000. Mr. Boller exposes the dramatic rewards of aggressive political partisanship.

Patience, of course, was a prized virtue then as now, but those who acted aggressively rather than passively were rewarded with victory. Some of the details of that 1876 post-election wrangling provide either comfort or anxiety today, depending on whose maneuvering you admire and which candidate you like.

But no matter what is said in the name of high-mindedness, it's likely that our election, like that one 124 years ago, will be deeply affected -- if not decided -- by partisanship. It earned President Rutherford Hayes the nickname of His Fraudulency because he had approximately 300,000 fewer popular votes than his opponent and he may have won the Electoral College by a single vote through crooked means. But he did win.

He paid a price for the cloud that settled over his election. The House of Representatives, with a majority of Democrats, launched an investigation into ballot fraud. It turned up extensive corruption in both parties, including bribery, forgery, intimidation and stuffed ballot boxes. Could history repeat?

What's alarming to historians is how post-election partisanship carried the day. An Electoral Commission in 1877 of 15 members was designed to include 7 Republicans, 7 Democrats and one independent, but when the independent had to drop out, he was replaced with a Republican, giving the GOP a majority of one. Naturally this enraged Democrats and delighted Republicans, and when the commission gave all the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, he beat Tilden 185 to 184.

No doubt Jim Baker was familiar with the 1876 election and determined that his candidate shouldn't sit by while the Gore men played hardball. Nearly everyone thinks it best to keep this election out of the courts, but George W. would have been foolish to relax in Texas while the Democrats made all of the moves in Florida. Jim Baker was only wise to ask for an injunction against hand-counted ballots in selected Democratic precincts.

Since errors are inescapable in all elections, a Democratic hand-count would obviously tilt toward a Democratic candidate. The judge in Florida, a Democrat, who ruled against the Republicans nevertheless saw merit in their argument. He asked the Gore defense lawyers to explain how hand-counting in selected Democratic counties wouldn't tilt the results toward Democrats. It's a question a lot of us have.

If hand-counting is more reliable (a disputable notion at best), then hand-counting ought to be done everywhere and maybe even in close elections in other states.

The close counting that elected Rutherford Hayes came down to 20 electoral votes in South Carolina (7), Louisiana (8), Florida (4), and Oregon's 3 (where one was in dispute). Samuel Tilden needed only one remaining state to win; Hayes needed all of them. The chairman of the Republican National Committee and several other Republican officials telegraphed officials in the three Southern states: "Can you hold your state? Answer at once.'' Satisfied with the answers, the Republican chairman announced the next morning that Hayes had won the necessary 185 electoral votes.

It didn't end there. Two sets of returns from South Carolina and Louisiana and three from Florida were sent to the Electoral Commission in Washington. Though the 15th man on the commission was a Republican judge, everyone had been assured that he would act in a nonpartisan way. In his "nonpartisan'' judgment, he agreed with his Republican colleagues on every disputed point. The Southern states got their reward: Federal troops enforcing Reconstruction were withdrawn.

Hayes did not run again. His presidency is ranked as mediocre at best. When he left the White House in 1881, many Americans enjoyed a popular joke: "Mr. Hayes came in by a majority of one and goes out by unanimous consent.''

Are there lessons here?


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11/09/00: A Middle East legacy
11/06/00: Filling in the dots at campaign's end
11/02/00: His own man in full
10/30/00: The Oval Office, through a glass brightly
10/23/00: There'll always be an England. Maybe.
10/19/00: The celebrity candidate
10/16/00: 'Ladies night' at the second debate
10/12/00: Gore vs. Bush: Volvo vs. Maserati
10/10/00: We weep for Rami for he is dead
10/05/00: Looking at Lieberman from inside the 'ghetto'
10/02/00: Campaigns, candidates, and kissy-face
09/28/00: Laughing and crying over Joe Lieberman
09/21/00: Targeting teenagers for money
09/21/00: Sexual politics in New York
09/18/00: Surviving the stereotypes and debates
09/14/00: Gloria Steinem runs cheerfully into captivity
09/12/00: Sex in the eye of the partisan
09/07/00: 'Sex and death' on the college campus
09/05/00: Joe Lieberman as a 'Menorah Man'
08/31/00: Rising suns of the conventions
08/17/00: Changing icons: From Loretta Young to Hillary Clinton
08/14/00: The Creator returns to the public square
08/10/00: Bursting with pride, but caution too
08/07/00: Brains, beauty and beastly politics
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07/27/00: The party of the aging Playboys
07/24/00 Hillary drives the Jewish wagon into a ditch
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07/13/00: When a teenager doesn't need a prime minister
07/10/00: Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment
07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
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06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate