Press ponders the details

The focus shifts from the Florida recount to sideshows and questions of character; a new poll shows Gore building patience.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published November 29, 2000 4:00PM (EST)

Perhaps the nation's editorial boards have already said most of what they have to say about the election drama. On Wednesday, several major newspapers stepped back from "big picture" editorials about the battle between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, opting instead for explorations of several side issues.

The Wall Street Journal, however, still had a few shots to get in at Gore, whose continuing crusade the paper derides as a triumph of ego over decency. It dismisses the vice president's arguments that his election challenge is really about enfranchising every Florida voter, and says that it is just another ploy by a chronically disingenuous political brawler. "Mr. Gore's professed high-mindedness would be easier to credit," the editorial asserts, "if it were not washed in the casual attitude toward the truth that we have come to expect from the author of no controlling legal authority, the Buddhist Temple fund-raiser and the iced tea defense."

The New York Times, which was generally supportive of Gore's campaign before and after Election Day, did not weigh in with an editorial Wednesday. The editorial board offered nothing on the race, leaving election comment to columnist Maureen Dowd. She implies that Bush has become the incredible shrinking candidate during the latest chapter of this crisis. "During the campaign, W. had a swagger, a John Wayne gunslinger pose," she writes. "But now when he comes out to face the cameras he blinks and shrinks, looking tremulous and frightened, dwarfed by American flags."

A Washington Post editorial spared both candidates, aiming criticism at Republicans in the Florida Legislature who seem poised to intervene on Bush's behalf should the election challenge drag on in the courts. The editorial suggests that if Florida's legislators really want to help Bush, they shouldn't take action to seat Bush-friendly electors. The "effect would be to weaken, not strengthen, his claim to be legitimately president," the piece asserts. "Even the threat does him harm."

The Chicago Tribune offers the same advice to the U.S. Supreme Court, suggesting that the justices' decision to consider Bush's challenge to the manual recounts is unnecessary and perhaps unwise. The best option that remains, the editorial posits, is for the justices to do as little as possible. "The Supreme Court justices agreed to take the case," the editorial notes. "They did not, however, agree to decide the case by any specific date. They may simply listen but not rule any time soon. If and when the case no longer matters, the court could dismiss it." Such a do-nothing strategy "would probably disappoint both candidates" but would force Gore to finish his uphill climb without a boost from the high court, preserving what's left of public faith in the integrity of the electoral process.

Poll position
According to an NBC survey, Gore's public relations efforts may be working. A poll taken after his Monday night speech showed that those surveyed were split 49 percent to 49 percent over whether he should end his election challenge.

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Alicia Montgomery

Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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