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In Fact...

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THE BUCHANAN FACTOR

John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies posits that Pat Buchanan undermined Bush's election hopes more than Ralph Nader did Gore's. Although Buchanan collected around 450,000 votes to Nader's 2.6 million, in the four states that Bush lost by razor-thin margins Pat may have played the spoiler. In New Mexico, which Bush lost by 377, Buchanan got 1,185. In Wisconsin, where Bush was down by 5,816, Buchanan garnered 11,077. In Iowa, where Pat chalked up 6,776 votes, Bush lagged by 4,047. In Oregon Buchanan took 5,029, Bush lost by 4,186. That adds up to thirty electoral votes that Buchanan might have cost Bush. The only two states where Nader's vote surpassed Bush's margin of victory were New Hampshire and (maybe) Florida, a total of twenty-nine electoral votes. Thus, it's possible that Buchanan hurt Bush more than Nader hurt Gore. Yet Republicans aren't blaming Buchanan for Bush's current predicament.

HOW TO CHOOSE A PRESIDENT

Speaking of the electoral impasse, the Ratzan family sent us a list of possible ways to award the presidency. Among them: * Proportional Term Method. Give each candidate a term in office proportional to the percentage of the vote he won. Two years for Bush, two for Gore, one day for Nader, five minutes for Buchanan. All other candidates' presidencies depend on whether their term leaves them sufficient time to take the oath of office. * Disgruntled Roommates Method. Part 1: Use tape to make line across middle of the Oval Office: This side is mine, that side is yours. Part 2: Divide government 50-50 between Bush and Gore--by department, budget or individual government worker. * Jeopardy Quiz Method. Categories would include Name That Foreign Leader, What Legislation Have I Signed? and English Vocabulary. * Quaker Meeting Method. No President elected until everyone agrees. (For more ways to award the presidency, see ratzan@scils.rutgers.edu.)

PRO BONO--AND CON

Sam Nelson reports: According to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the noble tradition of private pro bono legal counsel, long an answer to the government's inadequate legal aid to the poor, is fast eroding as law firms choose profits over charity. In a speech delivered at Brooklyn Law School recently, Ginsburg said that only 20 percent of the need for legal services to the poor is currently being met in the United States. She noted furthermore that countries in Western Europe spend several times what the United States spends per capita on civil legal aid. The role the private bar plays in providing free legal services has therefore been a critical one. But Ginsburg highlights a disturbing trend: One hundred of the wealthiest law firms now devote one-third less time to pro bono work than they did eight years ago, while the average lawyer spends less than a half-hour a week on unbilled legal work. This is due in part to familiar job-market trends in the new economy, as large law firms increase starting salaries by an average of $25,000 to compete for talent with other lucrative corners of the private sector, like Internet start-ups. Pro bono work, says Ginsburg, "has suffered accordingly." The tradition of pro bono work began in the philanthropic movements of the late nineteenth century and reached its peak in the civil rights climate of the sixties and seventies. Thirty years ago law school graduates frequently sought out firms based on the type of pro bono work they did, said Ginsburg. "Today they don't ask anymore."

TURNING THE ELECTORS

Two politically enterprising seniors at Claremont-McKenna College in California are behind a cybermovement called Citizens for True Democracy, which is mobilizing Internet folk to persuade at least two Bush electors (assuming W. takes Florida, giving him a two-vote majority in the Electoral College) to switch their votes, throwing the election into the House of Representatives or to Gore. To this end they've put on their website--www.truedemocracy.org--contact information for 189 Bush electors in the nineteen states that have no laws requiring electors to follow the popular vote, so that people can urge them not to vote for Bush. CTD cofounder David Enrich, a former Nation intern, says that "thousands of people have visited the page with electors' contact information." Enrich emphasizes he's no fan of Al Gore. "We're focusing on Bush's electors at the moment because Gore is ahead in the popular vote, and we think the popular vote should determine the next President." Actually, he and his partner, Matt Grossmann, founded CTD in 1998 to agitate for direct presidential elections and instant-runoff voting.

LARS-ERIK NELSON

There aren't many gracious fighters--especially in the shouting-head world of Washington journalism. But Lars-Erik Nelson, who reported from the capital for the past three decades, was such a person. He recently died at age 59 as he was watching television at home. Nelson, a columnist for the New York Daily News, combined political passion--that is, a thirst for justice--with a hard-edged reporter's desire to unearth facts ignored, overlooked or neglected by others. Throughout the Monica Lewinsky scandal he was one of the few reporters who kept his head while all around him were losing theirs and distinguished between spin and substance. We were fortunate to count him as a contributor (see "Reno: Getting It From All Sides," June 26). The scoundrels, secret-keepers and hypocrites of Washington and the political class are slightly safer with Nelson gone. Our condolences to his family, friends and readers.

NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW

We have long suspected that the two major parties have become like brand names competing for market share. Now it turns out that a study by a marketing research company called FCB Worldwide actually rated the Democrat and GOP names along with sixty other product brands in terms of the intensity of consumers' relationship with them. FCB used fourteen criteria, which it says were developed with marriage counselors and psychologists and included "chemistry, affection, trust and reciprocity." Judged by these standards, the two parties ranked at the bottom, below well-known names like Nike, Oreos and Clorox. FCB's director, Janet Pines, told the New York Times, "It's scary, yes, but I think it's also easy to see that a bottle of bleach is less likely to betray you than a politician."

ADDENDUM

Patricia Williams's column does not appear in this issue. She will return in two weeks.

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