Now can we move on?

Wolfe, Carlson, Sullivan, Ebert and Horowitz react to the latest chapter to Election 2000.


Salon Staff
April 4, 2001 9:45PM (UTC)

Alan Wolfe is the author of Moral Freedom: The Search for Virtue in a World of Choice.

The Miami Herald's recount of Florida's undervotes is welcome news. Had the newspaper found evidence of a clear victory for Al Gore, three immediate, and intractable, problems would have presented themselves.

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First, the initial days of the Bush administration make it quite clear that, mandate or not, Republicans see a golden opportunity to push for a tax cut no one wants and, with it, the most radically right domestic program of the 20th century. It would be tragic if the Democrats, faced with an administration focused on the present and indifferent to the future, were to dwell in the past. "We wuz robbed" is not a program. Democrats should learn from recovery movements and recover.

Second, any suggestion that Gore actually won Florida would give the former vice president a clear shot at the 2004 Democratic nomination. Democrats can do better. For the foreseeable future, Democrats are the only responsible political party in Washington. If the country is to avoid foreign policy brinkmanship and horrendous future deficits -- if, in short, America is ever to emerge from Republican adventurism unscathed -- it will be because politicians like Tom Daschle and Joe Lieberman mobilized enough votes to permit realism to triumph over ideology. They should be eligible for the rewards. And they will have a built-in campaign advantage over Bush, who will, with some justice, be blamed for the mess his program is sure to create.

Third, Bush is where he is because of Nader voters. Ralph Nader and all his supporters are responsible for whatever drilling takes place in Alaska, however much arsenic enters the water supply and whoever lacks OSHA protection for on-the-job injuries. Had Gore come across as the Florida winner, they could have maintained their stance as innocents. But in reality their ballots were far more than the undercounted ones. In 2000, members of the Christian right demonstrated considerable political sophistication, lining up behind Bush even as they disagreed with his political rhetoric. If the left were as smart, Gore would have won the election fair and square, not on the basis of recounted votes that, it now seems, were not his to begin with.

David Horowitz is a Salon columnist.

So now we know. Even if the Supreme Court had not stopped the Florida recount, even if there had never been a Florida recount, George W. Bush would have won.

Or do we? What we know is what I said when Al Gore ordered the first recount, back in November. It's the vote that was cast, stupid. There is no "real" vote. There is no "what the voters really intended." Given human screwups, stupidity, thwarted good intentions (butterfly ballots, etc.), there cannot be a true count.

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Therefore, absent actual fraud, there should never, ever be a recount of any ballot.

But Al Gore knew that.

Therefore, as I said in November, when Gore asked for the recounts in four Democratic-controlled counties, he did commit one of the most irresponsible and reckless acts of any national political figure. Ever.

Who knows the extent of the damage Gore and the Democrats have done to the legitimacy of our political process -- the thin line that protects us from descending into the dark pit of political anarchy and social chaos.

Democrats: An apology please.

Tucker Carlson is co-host of CNN's "The Spin Room."

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MIAMI -- The editors of the Miami Herald announced today that George W. Bush can remain president of the United States. In a move widely seen as bolstering America's position in a recent diplomatic showdown with China, the newspaper declared Bush the winner of Florida, after conducting a recount of ballots in all 67 of the state's counties. "It has taken five months," said Herald publisher Alberto Ibarguen in a written statement, "but we've reached a conclusion. Bush can stay."

The news was met with jubilation in Republican circles across the country. In Washington, members of the White House senior staff were seen hanging pictures, removing protective plastic coverings from furniture and otherwise settling in for a full four years. "Now it's for real," said one, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "The president wishes to express his most profound thanks to the entire Herald community," said press secretary Ari Fleischer at an impromptu briefing. "Thanks to the paper's magnanimity and wise judgment, Americans can finally begin the process of ..."

Andrew Sullivan, a senior editor at the New Republic, writes daily for www.andrewsullivan.com.

What does the USA Today/Miami Herald/Knight Ridder ballot review tell us? Nothing we didn't already know. We always knew that the margin of victory in Florida was smaller than the margin of error. That's why the only rational, sane, fair thing to do was to accept the result of the mandatory machine recount and let it go. That's also why Gore's attempt to upend that recount in order to finagle a way to a technical victory was so outrageous. He knew there was no possibility of finality here. But his Clintonian win-at-all-costs mentality led him to believe that if he could rig the re-re-recount and finesse the public relations, he still had a chance. When that failed, he could always sit back and preen that he was robbed, stolen, etc.

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The only good news from this is that it means that Gore will never be able to say that again with any credibility. Nor will Barbra Streisand. Nor will all the other partisans who still preposterously insist their election was "stolen." They will now, of course, rest their hopes on another media recount of "overvotes." If that fails, they'll try something else. Gore and his acolytes still cannot acknowledge that, according to the rules of the game they agreed to, they lost. Period. Their dragging of the country through weeks of turmoil and constitutional crisis was an act of extraordinary hubris and recklessness in my view, the final, lawless act of eight lawless years. The attempt to turn this power grab into some sort of civil rights crusade was about as low and as pathetic a gambit as modern liberalism has yet to stoop to. It's over now, though, and this is a deeply satisfying exclamation point. The current president is now and has been since Nov. 7 the only legitimate 43rd president of the United States. Sorry, guys, but he's your president too. Get over it.

Barbara Olson is the author of "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Truth About Hillary Rodham Clinton."

The USA Today/Miami Herald/Knight Ridder study simply confirms what each of us present during the Florida recount knows to be true. George W. Bush won the election on Nov. 7. He won the state-law-mandated machine recount on Nov. 8 and, now, he has been declared the winner in the hand recount of the votes in Florida.

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Following the Nov. 7 election, the Gore team carefully chose four counties with the highest numbers of Democratic voters to undergo hand recounts. Similarly, the precincts within these selected counties with the highest number of registered Democrats were counted first. In some counties, the hand recounts abruptly halted after the Democratic strongholds had been tabulated and before the traditionally Republican precincts were to be counted. Thus, it really is no surprise that when recounts of all the precincts in these counties were tabulated, President Bush would again be named the winner of the popular vote -- even in the counties culled out by Gore for a hand recount.

Mike McCurry was White House press secretary under President Clinton.

This is a great opportunity for Democrats to score some points by being magnanimous. There's nothing left to gain in trying to make the Florida vote come out our way; the country has clearly accepted George W. Bush as president, for better or worse. We should abide by the result and concentrate our energy on producing a solid alternative view of where America must head in the future. So the best reaction would be to say to our Republican friends, simply, congratulations.

Roger Ebert is a film critic.

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It's maddening in that the headlines continue to spin it that Bush won, but the story says that it is still up in the air. I think that Jake Tapper's story explained well that there was a range of conclusions to be drawn from the recount. And there's always -- out of play -- the famous butterfly ballot that would have given Gore a clear victory in Florida by several thousand votes.

The American people are now convinced that, one way or another, Bush muddled through in Florida, but there's no doubt that he lost the popular vote by [a wide margin]. So he doesn't really have a mandate, and he certainly doesn't have a mandate for the kind of reactionary change that he's trying to push through, or the mandate to try to distort the judicial system for the next 30 years.

Todd Gitlin is professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University and the author of "The Sixties," "The Twilight of Common Dreams" and a new novel, "Sacrifice."

Different press organizations, using different criteria, net different results. Even the Miami Herald's report admits to different interpretations. For example, far down in Wednesday's story appear these words: "Had all canvassing boards in all counties examined all undervotes, thousands of votes would have been salvaged in Broward County, Palm Beach County and elsewhere long before the election dispute landed in court -- and the outcome might have been different, The Herald found. In that scenario, under the most inclusive standard, Gore might have won Florida's election -- and the White House -- by 393 votes, The Herald found. If dimples were counted as votes only when other races were dimpled, Gore would have won by 299 votes."

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It is perhaps worthy of notice that the most inclusive standard was the one signed into law by a certain governor of Texas whose middle initial is W.

That said, there remain at least 110,000 "overvotes" (double votes) not yet counted but at this moment being counted by the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center for a large media consortium.

We'll see. In the meantime, read to the bottom of the Herald article and you'll see this:

"Herald reviewers saw numerous overvotes, and it became clear that many could have been declared valid votes -- if they had been examined in time. For instance, in some counties that use optical scanning equipment, people managed to vote for Gore and then again for his running mate, Joseph Lieberman, or for Bush and then again for his running mate, Richard Cheney. Throughout the state, many people voted for Bush or Gore -- and then did so again in the write-in category. All such votes were rejected by machines as overvotes. However, many elections supervisors agree that some of those votes could have been rehabilitated through manual recounts by canvassing boards employing nothing more than common sense. 'It's sad,' said Levy County Elections Supervisor Connie Asbell. 'These are people who really wanted to vote for president.'"

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"Clear intent of the voter" turns out not to be so "theoretical," not so much a matter of "divining," after all. This is why the Supreme Court would have done democracy a favor by letting Florida's vote-recount proceed in December. Having leaped in to abort the process, there is nothing Bush can do now to gain the legitimacy he lost when his apparatus marched into Florida with bluster, brother, cronies, intimidation and, not least, judicial fiat.

Robert George is an editorial page writer for the New York Post.

The Herald's survey of all of Florida's counties demonstrates that, yes, George W. Bush did indeed win the election on Nov. 7, 2000.

Of course, this settles nothing. At the end of April, a multiple media-consortium analysis will be unveiled. This may show that Gore won. The final election of the 20th century is now a "Rashomon" of presidential contests. Each analysis produces multiple interpretations. This is entirely appropriate. Remember, the election year produced multiple poll after multiple poll. Conservatives, furious over many media polling organizations that they felt undercounted Bush's strength, began championing other survey groups. Of course, nearly all -- media and "alternative" -- ended up getting their predictions wrong. The networks then compounded the error by bad calls on Election Night.

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Wednesday's report, of course, just adds more irony to the tale. Following a Supreme Court case where Gore argued for states' rights and Bush asked the high court to shut down a state, we now learn that the former vice president might have won a Florida recount had he used the stringent "chad" standard favored by the GOP. Conversely, Bush wins under the "no-standard" standard Gore wanted all along.

It's a sort of rough justice, but perhaps fitting, considering Gore lost the political argument when he tried to have a selective county recount, under lax rules.

At the end of the day, however, in the "Rashomon" world, everybody "wins": Bush is still president. The Democrats have talking points that they may use to rally in '02 and '04. And, of course, the media gets to continue replaying the election -- which may be a story in itself.

Ann Coulter is a syndicated columnist.

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After Bush won the election in Florida on the first three recounts, the Gore camp demanded additional recounts in four heavily Democratic counties. Democratic Party officials in those counties strategically changed the standard for counting ballots a dozen times. Then the 100 percent Democrat-appointed state Supreme Court said that wasn't good enough, that we needed to count only the "undervotes" in a manual recount of the entire state.

Now it turns out, after a statewide recount performed by the media and completed five months after the election, Gore still would have lost if he had gotten absolutely every recount he wanted, as well as every recount the Florida Supreme Court wanted.

There is, however, one conceivable standard -- as opposed to the 17 standards Gore requested or the Florida Supreme Court ordered at one point or another -- under which Gore allegedly would have won. By three votes. On the basis of this one possible scenario, which never came up because no one asked for it and no one thought of it, Doug Hattaway, Gore's campaign spokesman, proclaimed: "What this shows is that if you count the voters' intent, Gore wins."

What this shows is that in the absence of a Republican landslide, Democrats will claim to have won no matter how many recounts prove they lost.

James Traub is a New York writer and contributor to the New York Times Magazine.

The Miami Herald/USA Today recount provides President Bush with a slight boost in the apparently unending struggle over the legitimacy of the election, but this is not its principal significance. Thanks to the recount, it is now plain, if it was not before, that the election was a colossal instance of the problem to which there is no indisputably just solution. Different counting criteria would have provided different outcomes; the new tally, in fact, shows that each candidate would have lost by his own preferred set of criteria. Everyone bemoaned the bitter partisanship of the struggle, but even a hypothetical supremely wise and impartial observer could not have decided the outcome.

The fairness question, if there is one, hinges not on electoral technology or counting criteria but on political process. It's clear, in retrospect, that the Bush camp manipulated that process more effectively, more aggressively and more cynically than did the Gore camp. Should we devise some process more immune to political pressure? I wonder if the cure wouldn't be worse than the disease. Our faith in the judiciary as a neutral zone has proved to be naive, at least as regards the Supreme Court, supposedly the ultimate guarantor of the neutral principle. Indeed, had that supremely wise and impartial observer been sitting on the Supreme Court -- I'm not thinking of Clarence Thomas here -- I think he would have let the process go forward in Florida. There is no alternative to politics, with all its ugliness and mess, as much as we might wish it so.

Sean Wilentz is the Dayton-Stockton Professor of History at Princeton University.

Wednesday's Miami Herald/USA Today report shows that on the basis that Bush argued his case and on which the Supreme Court made its decision, he might have won. It also shows, paradoxically, that had the Florida Supreme Court rulings stood -- rulings that the Bush camp fiercely resisted -- Bush also might have won. But the issue doesn't rest there. Additional media counting of the tens of thousands of Florida overvotes, which should be completed shortly, will probably (based on earlier Palm Beach Post and Miami Herald reports) show a large Gore plurality. And so the debate will continue over who won Florida.

Historians, who deal in facts and not simply conjectures, will, I believe, have a different take on the matter. For the fact remains that the Bush camp was far more interested in winning by restricting the vote count than it was in trusting the outcome. To achieve that end, it appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a narrow partisan manner -- and with possibly the worst-argued ruling since the Dred Scott decision -- fulfilled the Bush camp's wishes. Beyond that, Gore won the national popular tally by more than half a million votes -- a fact that, during his early weeks in office, President Bush has seemed intent on ignoring.

Ultimately, hardcore Bush supporters will read the media recount figures their way, and hardcore Gore supporters will read the figures their way. What really matters historically, though, is that the U.S. Supreme Court acted in a preemptory partisan manner, that Bush did not trust the voters and that Gore won the national popular vote by a considerable margin. These facts will, in turn, be important factors in the 2004 election.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, is a professor at Brandeis University.

The headlines make all the difference. If the national press chooses to headline this as it has -- that the recount wouldn't have mattered -- then that's what the public will take from it. It will reassure those voters in the middle who still have lingering questions that Bush actually did win.

True-believing Democrats probably won't budge. They have every right to assume that if the proper standards had been used, Al Gore would have emerged as the winner. They also understand that Gore won the popular vote. But Bush has been behaving as if this were just a normal election, and he's trying to push through his agenda as if he had a real mandate.

The person who was in the White House was not chosen by the majority of the people, and the agenda that he is pursuing with a vengeance is really out of step with what most Americans believe. No amount of recounting will take away from that fundamental fact.


Salon Staff

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