Republican rules of order

The Bush people say the law works this way -- except when they need it to work the other way around.

Published November 14, 2000 1:23AM (EST)

Confronting the unpleasant likelihood that they would probably lose Florida -- and the election -- if all of the votes in that sorry state were counted accurately, George W. Bush and his associates are twisting logic and consistency as violently as their candidate mangles the English language.

In their determination to snatch an elusive victory that the Bush Republicans once thought assured, those once-fervent advocates of "strict construction" and "states' rights" have found themselves searching out loopholes in the Constitution and state laws, not to mention their own consciences. As the stalemate continues, they have been beset by a worsening mental and moral confusion. And their friends among the nation's television and newspaper pundits are hardly in better condition, finding themselves once more on the wrong side of public opinion in their intemperate impatience with the untidy processes of democracy.

Indeed, making any sense of the increasingly hysterical pronouncements of Republican partisans and their commentating comrades is impossible without keeping in mind the following guidelines:

  • Agitating against the Electoral College and in favor of the popular vote in a presidential election is very, very bad -- unless you happen to be a Republican who expects to win the popular vote and lose in the Electoral College. (If events turn the other way, however, you must revert immediately to "strict constructionism.")

  • Resolving electoral disputes in court is also extremely bad -- unless you happen to be a Republican trying desperately to prevent a manual recount of election ballots in Florida. Lawyers are generally pretty bad, especially trial lawyers, and so is litigation -- unless your lawyer happens to be a staunch conservative and Federalist Society stalwart like Ted Olson, who brought the action in Federal District Court in Miami on behalf of the Bush campaign (after exerting himself for the past few years in the Arkansas Project and other anti-Clinton activities) and he happens to be litigating to preserve your diminishing lead over a Democratic competitor.

  • Seeking to overrule local and state decisions via federal authority is terribly bad, too -- unless you happen to be a Republican powerbroker named James Baker who hopes to prevent action by state and local officials that might cause you to lose an election.

  • Counting ballots by hand is invariably bad, not to mention inaccurate, inefficient and possibly corrupt -- unless you happen to be a Republican running for any public office in the state of Texas or a Republican presidential candidate seeking a recount in Bernalillo County, N.M., or a Republican presidential candidate getting a recount in Seminole County, Fla., or an incumbent Republican senator from Florida named Connie Mack being reelected in 1988. (Other exceptions may also apply soon, depending on circumstances; please consult Jim Baker, Ari Fleischer, Karen Hughes, Karl Rove or any other available representative of Bush-Cheney 2000 for details.)

  • Behaving like the late Richard Nixon is usually quite bad -- unless you happen to be a Democrat who might win a tightly contested presidential election, in which case conceding to the opposition like Nixon did in 1960 is very, very good. (Actually, since Nixon's agents covertly tried to contest the 1960 results after he made his official concession, this rule may be inoperative.)

  • Claiming that your candidate has won before all the Florida votes are counted is bad form, bad politics and bad public relations -- unless you happen to be James Baker instead of William Daley. Rabble-rousing is equally bad in all respects -- unless you happen to be Rush Limbaugh instead of Jesse Jackson.

  • Voting for Pat Buchanan instead of George W. Bush is bad and in bad taste -- unless you happen to be an elderly Jew in Palm Beach who did it by mistake.

  • Insisting on bureaucratic governmental technicalities is unspeakably bad, economically inefficient and an affront to freedom -- unless you happen to be the Florida secretary of state who can use a one-week deadline specified for certified election results to put a stop to counting votes that might defeat the candidate, George W. Bush, for whom you campaigned in New Hampshire last winter.

  • Delaying the final and irrevocable result of an American presidential election, even for a few days, is so bad for the whole world that it's really scary -- unless you happen to be a Republican who may lose Florida's 25 electoral votes and whose only hope of victory is to obtain recounts in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico and/or Oregon, in which case everything will probably work out fine. (And waiting for that final, irrevocable decision isn't quite so frightening, either, if you happen to be a Republican who needs additional time to count absentee ballots from overseas that might turn the election in your favor.)

    Analyzed in this way, the Republican position is actually pretty easy to understand. They're unalterably opposed to conniving lawyers, federal interference with local prerogatives, remote and stubborn bureaucrats, arrogant politicians, inefficient procedures and everything else that we all know is bad. The only exception, of course, is when they say so.

  • By Joe Conason

    Joe Conason is the editor in chief of To find out more about Joe Conason, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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    2000 Elections