Will Al Gore become the Dimpled President? After the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday night that the hand counts should continue until Sunday and that Secretary of State Katherine Harris, a Bush campaign official, had to include the results in the final tally, the election appeared to boil down to the question, When is a dimple a vote? The decision–in which the justices tried to balance the notions of finalizing an election and deriving a thorough and fair count–kept Gore in the hunt. Barely. At the time of the decision, it appeared that the hand recounts were not producing enough new Gore votes to push the Veep past Landslide George. And Gore’s chances diminished when the erratic Miami-Dade county canvassing board, which is controlled by Democrats, decided to can its recount, citing the physical impossibility of reviewing the ballots within the timeframe established by the state Supreme Court. This was the latest in a string of flip-flopping Miami-Dade decisions, and it came hours after a riotous Republican protest, where GOPers accused the Democrats of “hijacking” the election and shouted the old 1960s chant, “The whole world is watching.” The Miami-Dade copout was good news for the Bushies. (So much for their charge that Democratic election boards were part of a conspiracy to undo the election results.) Still, the Democrats had one last chance: counting dimpled ballots in the other counties still reviewing the ballots. Here was the latest–could it be the final?–controversy of Post-Election 2000. And a Palm Beach County judge ruled that dimples could be counted there. Gore was hanging in there by a chad.
In the midst of all the pre-Thanksgiving ups-and-downs–no wonder Dick Cheney experienced chest pains–Bush made a combative statement blasting the Florida Supreme Court’s decision. Bush’s remarks were a continuation of the Republican war on recounting and legal processes designed to insure accuracy in elections. Bush accused the court of “overreaching”–in essence, of attempting to change election results. It was a not a surprising position for Bush, but his tone was damn harsh. Bush, whose lieutenants have assiduously defended Harris and her motives, was now charging the state Supreme Court with engaging in outright larceny. Bush’s criticism of the court was hardly in keeping with his pledge to end partisan bickering. He also lashed out at the Gore campaign for daring to challenge overseas absentee ballots, many of which are filed by military personnel. (The Bush position: Disregard irregularities in overseas ballots, which have been at the center of previous electoral fraud in Florida, but dismiss all concern regarding irregularities with in-person voting.)
Where was that different-kind-of-Republican? Instead, Bush was behaving like a partisan warrior, firing whatever ammunition he had at whatever stood in his way. Certainly, as Democrats had reason to be suspicious of Harris the Republican, Republicans had reason to be suspicious of the Florida Supreme Court, which is made up entirely of justices appointed by Democrats. But there was a difference. The court decision was the work of seven individuals–not one lone official–and none of them were Gore campaign officials. Arguably, this is a group less likely to be motivated by partisan aims than Harris. But that did not matter to Bush, who again showed what happens when he veers from a script. During a short Q&A session after his statement, Bush declared, “The legislature’s job is to write law. It’s the executive branch’s job to interpret law.” Civics 101: The executive branch administers, the courts interpret. And it was noteworthy that Bush got this right when he read a prepared text, but muffed it when he had to speak without a script.
Bush, Republican loyalists and conservative advocates predictably argued that the Florida Supreme Court ruling was an act of judicial activism. But right after Bush ripped into that court, his legal team announced that it would appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court. That is, Bush would be asking federal judges to intervene in a state matter–which is the sort of judicial activism the right usually decries.
Throughout the holiday week wrangling, Republican outrage grew, and the Bush gang and the GOP let it be known that should Gore prevail they would not consider him a legitimate President. (A CNN poll showed that 40 percent of Bush supporters would not accept a President Gore, while 26 percent of Gore supporters would not accept a President Bush.) Gore is not known for putting principles ahead of politics. His take-no-prisoners legal team did announce its intention to seek a court order to force Miami-Dade county to conduct a hand count. But, at least, Gore and his camp have not tried to pre-delegitimize Bush. (Bush has been able to claim he’s the victim of a theft mostly because the networks erred in projecting his victory, and the first network which did so–Fox News–relied on the predictions of an executive who is a Bush cousin.) Gore even said he would refuse to accept the support of any elector pledged to Bush. Not that he is going to be forced to make good on that promise, but, in an odd reversal of campaign persona, he has managed to show a bit more magnanimity in the post-election battle than has Bush the Spiteful, who has overseen a GOP spin machine whirling faster than its Democratic counterpart (hand-counts are not accurate, the election’s being stolen, military personnel are being disfranchised, there’s only one legitimate outcome).
After the Dimple Decision, other legal actions remained outstanding in this ever-changing hurly-burly–including a Democratic challenge to 10,000 Republican absentee ballots. And there has been a flurry of non-judicial plotting, with Republicans in both the Florida legislature and the US Congress examining means by which they could intervene in the determination of Florida’s electors. But as Thanksgiving approached, what seemed to matter most was dimples. Though who could say that would still be true once the turkey is all gone?