In his speech conceding the presidential race to George W. Bush, Al Gore spoke of the need to put aside "partisan rancor." Saying, "While I strongly disagree with the Court's decision, I accept it," Gore urged the country to "unite behind our next President." But such an outcome to the Florida debacle is neither likely nor desirable. Bush takes office with the taint of an election wrested from the popular will and bereft of honest accounting. The Supreme Court administered the coup de grâce by shutting down the Florida recount, but that only confirmed what has been evident for weeks: Between the intertwined interests of the Brothers Bush, the Florida legislature, the GOP Congressional majority and the Rehnquist Court faction, never has electoral power shifted so far, so fast, from the hands of the people.
Even in this cynical atmosphere, though, the Court majority's disingenuous invocation of "equal protection" to end the counting of unrecorded Gore votes stands out: As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, the majority "effectively orders the disenfranchisement of an unknown number of voters." This after the Florida Secretary of State expunged from the lists thousands of legitimate voters wrongly identified as felons; after credible allegations of intimidation of African-American voters; and after documentation of the way poor and African-American voters in Florida are disproportionately served by unreliable voting machines. In Jeb Bush's Florida, equal protection, evidently, means only the equal right to have your vote not counted and then to have your complaint never seriously investigated by a George W. Bush Justice Department.
The Bush postelection campaign was rife with such conflicts of interest up to and including the Supreme Court itself, in which two Justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, maintain close family ties to the Bush operation. These conflicts reveal how incestuous the emerging Bushocracy's base is. The postelection also exploded the myth of Bush's moderation. Bush lawyer Ted Olson's judiciary-bashing argument to the Supreme Court and James Baker's furious rhetoric reveal how Bush may well emerge indebted to the most conservative and divisive elements of his party.
There will be much talk of reforming the country's voting technology. But mechanics are secondary. We need deep prodemocracy reforms that stop the spiraling concentration of power into an ever-smaller number of hands. These reforms include getting money out of politics as well as passing voting reforms such as instant runoff and proportional representation, and, in the longer term, abolishing the Electoral College (see the box on page 5). Are these effective politics? Gore himself roused far greater public loyalty post-campaign defending the right to vote than defending his own record in the campaign proper.
Bush called on the country "to put politics behind us." But in the absence of war or other grave threats, why should we ignore the deep political differences in this country--differences that grow out of the economic and power inequities highlighted in this postelection period? It would be a mistake if the Democrats were to continue the centrist politics of the Clinton years, thus betraying an electorate already shorn of its most basic right: the right to choose its own leader. The incoming Bush administration is gearing up to pursue its agenda; Democrats must do the same. This is no time for a honeymoon.