"God Made Bush President"

As Palm Beach County prepares to hand count its ballots, the Bush faithful take to the streets.

By Jake Tapper

Published November 13, 2000 12:42AM (EST)

"THEY!HAVE!NOCLASS!" cheers a Floridian woman with a face like Karl Malden whose rather generous dimensions have been impressively wedged into a tight floral pantsuit.

She's offended by a backer of Vice President Al Gore who's carrying around an effigy of "King George II." It consists of a George W. Bush Halloween mask covered in Band-Aids wrapped around the head of an inflatable doll and dressed in an ensemble of K-Mart's finest polyester. The whole rig hangs from a 6-foot-long two-by-four.

"THEY! HAVE! NOCLASS!" the woman continues.

It's one of the few chants that doesn't catch on here, on the corner of North Olive and Fourth streets, right outside the Palm Beach County courthouse on a lovely Sunday afternoon. In the morning's wee hours, county election commissioners had voted 2-1 to proceed with the countywide manual recount hoped for by the Gore campaign.

The crowd that's gathered isn't one whose members, Bush backers or Gore backers, care much about class. This is a good guys/bad guys deal. There aren't many thoughtful debates about the nature of democracy, or the hair-trigger media projections that called the state first for Gore, then for no one, then for Bush, then for no one. No one's discussing why Bush signed a 1997 law allowing hand recounts in Texas but filed for a federal injunction the day before to stop the same from happening here. No one's quoting historian David McCullough.

"No hand jobs," says one Bush backer's T-shirt, hastily scrawled in pen on a Fruit of the Loom undershirt.

"No More Lynching in America!" reads the sign of Jennifer Lowery-Bell, 53, who drove down from Washington to join the call for a revote. She's drawn an African-American hanging from a noose.

How is this lynching? I ask.

"Anytime you have a violation and the people cannot do anything to help themselves, they go to extremes," she says.

She cites the Palm Beachers who were confused about the now-infamous "butterfly ballots," about the African-American voters who were supposedly intimidated from voting in Broward County.

"What is that except lynching? It's just a different phrase for doing it," she says.

But Lowery-Bell is in the distinct minority today; the Bush forces are out and energetic. When they cheer "Bush won twice!" -- as they do, quite often -- she is relegated to standing on the curb and yelling "No!" after each line. She soon changes this to a long "Oooohhhh nooooo!" during the Bushies' cheer, which is at least competitive in its annoyance factor.

Clearly there were more from the other side here earlier. A local merchant hawking "Re-Vote" T-shirts says he's sold 400 since Friday, at $10 a pop.

Between the Bush backers and bashers, cops, journalists and bystanders, there are only 200 or so of us here today. But on TV it must look like many more, since anytime MSNBC's Suzanne Malveaux goes live she immediately becomes the most popular kid in the playground. The crowd mobs her. As soon as the camera light goes off, the protesters quickly dissipate.

Otherwise, they don't seem to know what to do. A few times, the Bush crowd marches halfway up the one block of Fourth Street that has been cordoned off. Then they march back.

You get the feeling that they're all kind of new at this. One guy is so eager to join the fun that he marches while still in the midst of making his sign. He holds his posterboard awkwardly in front of him while he colors the block letters in the words "NO CONTROLLING LEGAL AUTHORITY/BUSH WINS" with a thick green magic marker.

"GORE=MILOSEVIC" reads a completed sign by Wade Whitaker, 22, of Las Vegas.

"It's the same parallels," Whitaker says when I ask him about his sign. "When Milosevic was voted out of power, he wouldn't leave, either." Whitaker was so hepped up about the presidential controversy, he hopped on a red-eye that arrived in Orlando at 5:00 Saturday morning. He doesn't know anyone in town, and isn't even sure where he's staying tonight.

Make no mistake: These protests are not to be confused with those seen at recent anti-globalization protests in Seattle or, to a lesser extent, in Washington. The local cops here in Palm Beach look bemused more than anything else. One tells me they aren't worried at all.

"I don't think we're going to have any trouble," says a member of the Sheriff's Department. "Look at the ages of the people here. Two 50-year-olds tend not to get in fistfights."

A local in an SUV keeps speeding by and riling up the crowd, yelling, "Bush is an alcoholic! No junkies in the White House!"

"Wexler's people cannot read directions," reads another sign belonging to Carole Parsons, a 55-year-old Palm Beach housewife, whose sign refers to Rep. Bob Wexler, D-Fla.

Who are "Wexler's people"? I ask.

"The people who elected him, who voted him into office," she says.

And who would those people be?

She pauses for a moment.

"Liberal Democrats," she finally says.

She later holds up a sign that says "Wexler needs his Beano."

Both groups are pretty entrenched -- both the side decrying "Jeb Crow," a reference to Gov. Jeb Bush, as well as the others who are constantly cheering, "Jesse Go Home," a reference to the presence of Rev. Jesse Jackson.

The Gore crowd is rather pathetic, small in energy and numbers. Conversely, it doesn't take much to get the Bush crowd going. If you yell something -- almost anything -- twice, it will get picked up and become a chant.

As in: "Al Gore stands for the Ku Klux Klan! Al Gore stands for the Ku Klux Klan!"

Then: "Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof! Who let the dogs out? Woof! Woof!"

A dozen or so religious leaders walk in, dressed in their Sunday best. "We're here to pray for peace," says Marc Murray, a local youth minister with Trinity Church International. They stand in a circle and are only noticed for the space they take up.

Heated arguments pop up here and there. Four older pro-Bush Cuban-Americans pretend to cry, mocking a young pro-Gore white girl.

"Ayayay!" says an older woman.

"You are not compassionate!" the young girl lectures. "Compassionate conservatives don't make fun of people!"

"Go home and cry!" responds an older man.

Another sign: "If arrows confuse you, you shouldn't be driving. Re-voke Palm Beach Dems driver's licenses."

Yet another: "Incompetents can't vote."

A few signs mention Elian Gonzalez. Others mention Rush Limbaugh.

Soon the crowd decides that its new mission is to score supportive honks from passing cars. They stand at the police barricade and screech wildly every time a Grand Am toots.

Malveaux powders her nose while a local idiot tries to hit on her. A guy with a sign saying "God Made Bush President" appears. Another, hyping the Web site "Newsmax.com," starts shouting out that "Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw have bald spots."

Two middle-aged white men start challenging the bona fides of an effeminate, 40ish Gore supporter.

"Let's see some I.D.!" yells one of the Bushies. "You're not from around here!"

His chum joins in: "He's an out-of-town rabble-rouser! Just like Jesse Jackson!"

The Gore guy says he isn't about to show the two his driver's license.

"Are you a cop?" he asks. "No? Then fuck you!" He crosses his arms defiantly. As the crowd converges on itself, a local teenager -- Alex Baker, 14 -- jumps into the circle. "Who wants water?" he asks at the top of his lungs. "We're selling water here! Who wants some?" The crowd laughs and dissolves.

Baker and his buddy, Tyler Virgadamo, 13, are selling water for $1.50 and soda for $1.

"All the yelling that they do, their throats are going to start hurting," says Virgadamo of the crazy grownups all around them.

They've made $150 today, Baker says.

Jake Tapper

Jake Tapper is the senior White House correspondent for ABC News.

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2000 Elections Al Gore George W. Bush