Former Secretary of State James Baker, Gov. George W. Bush's man in Florida, enters the state Senate hearing room. Baker then rhetorically urinates in the ear of Vice President Al Gore while announcing to the world that it's raining.
Offering "a proposal that we think is very fair," Baker says that the Bush campaign will change its position on manual recounts, accepting them as valid, as long as the counties engaging in the manual recounts finish their task by Tuesday at 5 p.m.
"We are offering to accept the manual recount up to the time of the statutory deadline," Baker says.
But this is a clear physical impossibility, as declared by the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, which has said it would need six days for the operation. Additionally, whatever hand counting the board could have accomplished Tuesday was shanked when Bush's state campaign co-chairwoman, Secretary of State Katherine Harris, issued an opinion questioning the legality of the hand recount, thus suspending it. Just two blocks away, meanwhile, a circuit court judge is about to uphold Harris' 5 p.m. deadline.
Nonetheless, Baker pushes this forward as a "compromise that both campaigns [could] enter into in good faith," knowing full well that the Gore team will reject it on its face. (Which happens a few minutes later, when Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley, in Washington, issues a big fat No Way.)
It is imperative, Baker argues, that the Gore team accept his offer. "More and more we see uncertainty in financial markets and we see uncertainty abroad," Baker says, insinuating that Gore may be responsible for an impending apocalypse.
Baker slammed the Gore campaign for suing Broward County for refusing to continue with its hand recount. "The Gore campaign, which placed great weight on Florida law when it thought the provisions served its tactics, does not like this Florida law.
"In sum, the Gore campaign has been unwilling to accept any finality," Baker says, "after the vote, after the recount, after the manual recount tests in selective favorable counties or even after the larger selective manual recounts within the time established by Florida statute. Indeed, the manual recount in Palm Beach County is at least the fourth count of these votes, because the county also undertook a third machine count."
Baker neglects to mention that the third machine count came at the request of the Republicans. Since the first one was just the regular election count, and the second was the law-mandated recount because the margin of victory was so slim, that would mean that the Democrats and the Republicans have one recount apiece done at their respective requests. The one done at the Democrats' request being manual, and uncompleted, the one done at the Republicans' request being that third machine recount.
But Baker's counting on you not knowing that.
Baker is asked how this is in any way a compromise. The Palm Beach hand recount has no chance of being concluded by close of business Tuesday, and Bush leads in the vote by an estimated 388 votes. And -- according to the Bush team -- Bush will be the anticipated winner of the absentee ballots due by midnight Friday. How does this not give Bush a distinct advantage?
"How can you say that?" Baker asks, seemingly almost wounded. "There's no assurance he will win those [absentee ballot] votes. Traditionally, they have favored the Republican candidate, and we should say that; I've already said that. But there's absolutely no assurance. So if you're suggesting that we take no risk by this proposal, I would argue with that rather strongly.
"I think for them to reject it just on the grounds that it locks in a victory for us is simply not right," Baker says.
In the midst of this nonsense, Baker does make some of the legitimate, cogent arguments on his side. It is true -- and somewhat disturbing -- that the Democrats have yet to offer any sort of timeline for when the recount process might be over to their satisfaction.
On Thursday morning on NBC's "Today" show, for instance, Gore's running mate, Sen. Joe Lieberman, was asked if his ticket would cease gumming up any finality to the Florida recount process if it got its manual recounts, and he hedged.
"We have a wait-and-see attitude about that," Lieberman said, playing right into the Bush campaign's argument that the Gore team is going to keep challenging the Florida results until it finds an outcome it likes.
It remains unclear, for instance, whether the Gore team will take up the extremely unlikely cause of the possible 7 percent of the voters of Palm Beach County who apparently were confused by the "butterfly ballot" and now want a revote. It has dispatched a team of attorneys to Florida and Washingtom to study various ways it can challenge any election result here, which is hardly reassuring to those who support a reasonable vetting of the election results, though not one necessarily supported by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
That said, when it comes to stretching the truth, it has been hard to compete with Team Bush.
First, trying to explain away the 3,407 votes for Pat Buchanan -- in a county peopled by elderly Jewish Floridians, some Holocaust survivors, who find Buchanan repugnant -- Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer told the world that Palm Beach was "a Buchanan stronghold" -- despite the fact that Buchanan himself disagreed with that assessment.
Then Bush strategist Karl Rove lumped in the increased voter registration of other third-party groups in Florida -- ones that endorsed Ralph Nader and John Hagelin -- and cited them as evidence of Buchanan support.
Then there's the Bush team's mantra all this while: "Governor Bush was the winner of the vote," Baker says Tuesday morning. "He was the winner of the recount."
The first vote result is yet uncertified, since Bush's margin of victory was less than one-half of 1 percent, triggering an automatic recount -- the second count, which won't be official until later today.
Baker is asked: If the Bush team objects to the "subjectivity" of the largely Democratic counties from which the Gore team wants recounts, would he therefore agree to a statewide hand recount?
"I reject that categorically, and let me explain why," Baker says. "It took 15 hours to count four precincts in Palm Beach County. There are 6,000 precincts in the state of Florida. It would take an inordinate amount of time to count 6,000 precincts manually. Furthermore, we have made very clear since we've been here our problem with the fundamentally flawed process of manual counting. How it could lead to human error or even mischief, those concerns are well known."
These concerns are perhaps the most brazen Bush lie, what Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz referred to Monday in Miami as "hypocrisy squared." Baker and his team might have a case on the questionable reliability of manual recounts if they hadn't been so eager to accept the manual recounts from other counties -- Seminole County, for instance, where Bush gained 98 votes in a partial hand recount on Nov. 10 and 11.
There's also Bush's renewed sign of life in New Mexico after it was called for Gore -- a result of hand recounting. And then there's the 1997 law Bush signed allowing hand recounts -- even allowing vote counters to use subjectivity in assessing "any clearly ascertainable intent of the voter."
Baker, however, dismisses the confusion of almost 30,000 voters in Palm Beach County whose ballots weren't counted as "just confusion of some individuals."
"Many people around the country have urged both candidates to reach out to one another with a fair proposal to resolve this divisive and unfortunate process," Baker concludes. "We are doing just that."