Just after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the vote count and effectively delivered the presidency to Gov. George W. Bush, an African-American Democrat from Baltimore named Elijah Cummings summed things up for the losing side. "I just find it incredible. It shocks the conscience. Scores of African-Americans and Jews and so many other people have been deprived of their vote being counted. You want to believe that the courts are not politicized, but I think the American people have got to begin to wonder what's going on here."
The fragile bond that makes America's fractured parts into a communal whole is the belief that the system ultimately works -- that elections go to the candidate with the most votes, and that the courts decide issues of great moment on an impartial basis.
From the moment Vice President Al Gore broke the most hallowed unwritten rule of American politics -- that the loser concedes on Election Day -- incalculable damage to the body politic and to the civic order of American life was inevitable. It will take generations to register the full negative ramifications of this one greedy and reckless deed.
To sum up for the winning side: In one campaign, Gore has done more damage to American government than our most lawless chief executive, President Clinton, has managed in two administrations.
But Cummings is also correct. Paranoia -- already an ingrained political style in this country -- is now going to be the rule of the land. "Scores of African-Americans and Jews ... have been deprived of their vote being counted," Cummings put it. This was an election of 100 million. But Gore chose to open a Pandora's box in just a handful of Democrat-controlled Florida counties, where African-Americans and Jews are prevalent. He did this not to get a fair result, not to see that "every vote is counted," as he and his minions so hypocritically claimed, but to get the vote he wanted.
This is what losing candidates do in banana republics: They refuse to concede; they claim they were robbed. This is what Gore did to our election.
Black turnout nationwide broke all records, and in Florida blacks made up a greater percentage of the voter pool than of the population itself, a fact at odds with the claims of the NAACP and others that there was disenfranchisement of blacks in the state. It raises the question -- now that paranoia has become the national rule -- of whether those record numbers of black voters aren't themselves an indication of irregularities in the process.
In Philadelphia, there were reports that black precincts experienced 70 percent and even 100 percent voter turnout. In Florida, more than 400 felons, many of them black, voted illegally. On the Sunday before Election Day, in GOP Rep. Jay Dickey's Arkansas district, black preachers told their congregations that there would be no sermon that day -- instead they were all going to the polls, which had been specially (and illegally) opened for the purpose of their casting their votes. Is anyone confused about whom the votes might have been for?
Do we really want to proceed with this? Gore and the Democrats apparently think so.
During Clinton's impeachment process, I went the extra mile and wrote a column in which I attempted to understand the other side. With a little effort, I was able to see how a Democrat could misunderstand the issue that had ensnared the president as just about sex or, at least, could feel that it fell below the bar of impeachable offenses. If you were a Democrat, I concluded, that might seem plausible.
But this? Tearing the veil from a national election and attempting a Chicago-style ballot heist in front of a watching world?
Here is what one Democrat with a conscience had to say about Gore's post-election gambit: "I'm a liberal Democrat. I started in Florida politics. I worked for George McGovern. I worked for Jimmy Carter. I've worked for Ted Kennedy, Mario Cuomo. Nobody can question, I think, my credentials and my convictions. But I have to tell you, at this point it's hard to believe, but my party, the party that [my family has] belonged to since my great-great-grandfather, ... has become no longer a party of principles, but has been hijacked by a confederacy of gangsters who need to take power by whatever means and whatever canards they can."
These words were spoken by Patrick Caddell on Chris Matthews' "Hardball" show on Nov. 27. Caddell voted for Ralph Nader, even though he recognizes that Nader and his Green Party are political nuts. (Here is one typical plank from their platform: "The U.S. should finance universal access to primary education, adequate food, clean water and sanitation, preventive health care, and family planning services for every human being on earth.")
Caddell's vote for Nader was really a protest vote against the Democratic leader, Gore -- a man who had stolen and debased the party Caddell loved. Caddell is a Democrat with a conscience. Is there another?