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Jewish World Review Dec. 21, 2000 / 24 Kislev, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Alice in Florida -- EVEN THOSE of us who have been complaining for years about the bias and shallowness of the media should admit that we never expected the media to be quite so grossly biased or so unbelievably shallow as they have been about the outcome of the recent presidential election.

Their arguments have been like something out of Alice in Wonderland.

The big post-election spin in the media has been that the Supreme Court of the United States gave George W. Bush the election, thereby undermining his legitimacy and perhaps its own.

Reality check: The U.S. Supreme Court did not put one vote in Bush's column, while the Florida Supreme Court ordered hundreds of votes added to Gore's column.

Does anyone have any idea where we are headed if judges can order votes added to a candidate's total? The fact that the Florida Supreme Court got away with it is a constitutional time bomb.

Only the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States stepped in prevented them from doing more of the same until the real votes cast for Bush were outweighed by the guesswork "votes" created in heavily Democratic counties by local Democratic officials "interpreting" dented ballots.

Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that there is something wrong with freezing the vote totals in the vast majority of Florida counties, while allowing new methods of adding votes to be used only in a few heavily Democratic counties? Yet who in the media called that an attempt to "steal the election" for Gore?

Who in the media talked about stealing the election when Gore supporters tried to disqualify 25,000 absentee ballots on the flimsiest of technicalities, rejected completely by two Florida courts? Who in the media talked about stealing the election when Gore supporter Bob Beckel, after "quiet intelligence-gathering" on members of the electoral college (reported in the Wall Street Journal of November 16th), tried to "persuade" Bush electors to betray the voters they represented by switching their vote to Gore in the electoral college?

Where are we headed constitutionally if this kind of betrayal -- with or without the implied blackmail -- reduces the whole electoral process to a question of what kind of cheap tricks you can get away with? Bob Beckel seemed shocked that some people were outraged by his attempt to subvert the election and the constitution. He could not understand why there were death threats against him and his family. How can you practice amorality and then be shocked at other people's amoral behavior?

As for George W. Bush's legitimacy, there have been four men in this century who became president without getting a single vote for that office -- Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford -- and nobody questioned their legitimacy. They became president because of procedures prescribed by the Constitution of the United States -- and so did George W. Bush. The only difference is that Bush also had more than 49 million popular votes and 271 votes in the electoral college.

Hitler and Goebbels said that the people will believe any lie, if it is big enough and repeated often enough, loud enough. Now we are seeing that principle being applied in this country, with repeated assertions that Gore "really" won the popular vote in Florida but his votes just were not all counted. Yet those who are saying that have never demanded that votes be counted in Republican counties the same way that they were counted -- under the Florida Supreme Court's orders -- in selected Democratic counties. Early on, Gore rejected a statewide manual recount, for fear of losing.

Seven of the nine justices of the U. S. Supreme Court voted that the Florida Supreme Court's actions were unconstitutional. The only disagreement among these seven was whether it was already too late to try to hold a statewide manual recount, in view of approaching deadlines. Five said it was and two thought it wasn't. That is how the 5 to 4 vote emerged on the remedy.

But it was 7 to 2 that the Florida Supreme Court was wrong.

Yet most media people have raised no question about the Florida Supreme Court's legitimacy. No one except the U.S. Supreme Court asked where the Florida justices got the authority to take over the job of the election officials designated by the state law to make decisions on election procedures. Few in the media said anything about the dangerous precedent of a state court intervening in a federal election to create a one-sided way of selecting a President of the United States. It is Alice in Wonderland.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, A Personal Odyssey.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate