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December 4, 2000
The Will of the People

Certain facts are much clearer today than they were on Nov. 7 when Americans went to the polls to elect a new president – and it is time for Texas Gov. George W. Bush to face up to these facts.

To the surprise of many, a clear plurality of the American voters cast their ballots for Vice President Al Gore. He won the national popular vote by a third of a million votes, a narrow but significant margin. It is a larger victory margin than John F. Kennedy’s in 1960 or Richard Nixon’s in 1968.

Gore also was only the second candidate for president to break the 50 million-vote mark, after Ronald Reagan in 1984. Gore was the first to do so as a non-incumbent president.

It’s increasingly obvious, too, that Gore was the choice of the voters in Florida. The Miami Herald examined the voting in all 5,885 precincts of Florida and concluded that Gore should have won by about 23,000 votes, if not for various voting snafus. [Miami Herald, Dec. 2, 2000]

The will of the people of the United States and of the voters in Florida was for Al Gore to be the president of the United States.

Nevertheless, since Election Day, Gov. Bush has sought to create an aura of inevitability about his election. In some of the ugliest language ever read in major American newspapers, conservative columnists have heaped abuse on Gore for not accepting that inevitability.

Bush’s supporters have sought to portray the vice president as crazy for seeking a full and fair vote count in Florida. They have paraded with signs picturing Gore in a strait jacket.

Bush also has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent a full count of Florida’s ballots. When the Florida Supreme Court permitted hand recounts in three counties, the Bush campaign did all it could to obstruct that vote counting.

On the inside, Republican observers dragged out the process as deadlines loomed. On the outside, paid demonstrators were dispatched to Florida to pressure local canvassing boards working to complete the time-consuming task.

Bush-paid demonstrators stormed one key meeting in Dade County on Nov. 22, pounding on the walls as the canvassing board reversed an earlier decision and agreed not to count 10,750 disputed ballots.

The next night, Bush personally called and thanked the demonstrators at a celebration they were holding at a Fort Lauderdale hotel, according to the Wall Street Journal. [Nov. 27, 2000]

When Palm Beach finished its recount two hours after a deadline, Katherine Harris, the Republican secretary of state, refused to include that gain for Gore in her certified tally.

Of the three counties, only the recount in Broward was included. But Bush sent lawyers to the U.S. Supreme Court to have those votes thrown out on a technicality centering on whether the Florida Supreme Court had the authority to extend one certification deadline.

After Harris’s certification of a Bush victory, Gore sought legal redress through the state courts, again trying to count the disputed votes in Dade and include the votes in Palm Beach. Again, Bush sent in lawyers to delay and block the counting of ballots.

In dramatic testimony on Sunday, one of Bush's own expert witnesses, John Ahmann, conceded that the voting machines used in South Florida had flaws that could have prevented votes from being counted.

Nearly a month after the election, the odds still favor Bush as the likely “winner” of this process. Though rejected by the voters nationally and apparently by the voters of Florida, Bush seems to have the simpler route to the legal certifications that he needs.

But isn’t it time for the Texas governor to step back and take a look at what he’s doing?

At minimum, isn’t it time for Bush to permit – rather than obstruct – as full a vote tally in Florida as is possible? Isn’t it time for Bush to take some note of the popular will?

There are many problems with George W. Bush’s past that he sought, with fair success, to conceal in the days before the election.

A son of privilege, he managed to avoid service in the Vietnam War, a conflict he says he supported. After getting a plum assignment in the National Guard, he appears to have ducked out on his duty even there.

By his own admission, he drank heavily and lived the wild life until he was 40, accomplishing little other than losing other people’s investment money. He took minimal steps to prepare himself for a responsibility as awesome as the U.S. presidency.

Bush knows little of the world, either through study or foreign travel. His campaign listed only three overseas trips in Bush’s life, with no indication that the presumed next president has even visited major cities, such as London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Moscow and many others.

In the weeks since Nov. 7, Bush has unnerved many political observers with a shakiness in his public appearances. He seems to rely inordinately on his father’s old advisers and is counting on his vice president, Dick Cheney, to do much of the heavy lifting.

Given all these facts, George W. Bush should think long and hard about whether he should force himself on the American people as the first popular-vote loser to enter the White House since the 1880s – and as a politician who claimed Florida’s crucial electoral votes while knowing that the voters wanted someone else.

There comes a time when even an ambitious politician must do what’s right for the country.

By Editors

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