The Florida Recount

I'm writing this on Sunday, November 19, 2000, the day before the Florida Supreme Court hearing on the recount. I'm telling you this so there's no question about whether what I have to say is based on the outcome of that hearing, or of the entire situation, for that matter.

Frankly, I'm becoming less concerned with how it ends and more and more interested in the process itself. However this comes out, and contrary to much commentary on the subject, what we are witnessing here is one of the best examples in recent history of democracy at its very finest. Far from being a failure of our system, it is nothing short of a triumph…at least thus far.

If there's a re-vote, Gore will win. If there isn't, Bush will win. Everything else falls out of that and is nothing more than a mad scramble to fund supporting rationalizations, which leads to an excess of self-serving spin strongly reminiscent of the impeachment situation: every Gore supporter fervently maintains the Democratic party line, and every Bush supporter the Republican.

Some of the spin make sense; some is debatable; some is patently ridiculous.

But all of that rhetoric is beside the point, and only underscores what a precious gift the First Amendment is.

People here and around the world are actively ridiculing the torturous process of resolution instead of seeing it for what it is, a crystal clear demonstration of what true freedom really means in an enlightened society. Consider the following:

- Overseas newspapers want to know why we don't just get off the dime and get it resolved, but they don't suggest how, and there's a reason for that. The reason is that nobody in America has the right to declare it resolved. If somebody did have that right, we'd have a dictatorship rather than a democracy and no need for an election in the first place.

- Much fun has been made of all the lawyers being brought into the fray. Lawyers, however, are one of our strongest defenses against anarchy. Without these shadow warriors to fight our battles under the hyper-civilized and hyper-ritualized rules of procedure, we might as well just start shouting at each other Crossfire-style until somebody decides to pick up a gun.

- People are bemoaning the fact that the process is now in the courts, as though this signals some kind of failure, but we've yet to see anybody suggest a better alternative. (Well, okay, there were two other suggestions: Gore suggested that Bush concede, and Bush suggested that Gore concede, both for the good of the country. End of alternative.) In fact, there is no better venue than the court system, the purpose of which is to peacefully resolve disputes in order that people don't have to strap on six-shooters and face each other in the streets. Ultimately a decision needs to be made. Both sides need to receive a full and fair airing of their positions. Where else but the courts?

- We've heard a lot about the "rule of law," each side claiming to be following it while damning the other for flouting it. This is either a fundamental misunderstanding of what the rule of law means or a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. Probably a little of both. Here's an example:

The Republicans claim that Bush won the election and the current count should stand, according to the rule of law. The Democrats say that the rule of law demands a recount owing to irregularities. The Republicans say that the rule of law allows a recount in a close race, but it must be by machine. The Democrats say the rule of law permits a hand recount. The Republicans say that a hand recount is unconstitutional, and that the constitution is a higher law than Florida state law.

Finally, each side criticizes the other for (get this, now) using the courts to circumvent the rule of law. Hello? Use the courts to circumvent the rule of law?

Fact is, the rule of law is often ambiguous, and who better to resolve the ambiguity than the courts? Democrats and Republicans are each dead convinced that they're right and the other side is wrong. The only purpose of all the press conferences is to instruct the already-converted in how to support what they already believe, a demonstrably useless endeavor considering that nobody is paying any attention to differing points of view anyway beyond figuring out how to argue against them.

Logic is out the window, folks, and it's equally true on both sides. The Republicans tell us that machines are not biased one way or the other. True, but they also can't read an intended hole if a piece of dangling chad is stuck in it. (Vote tabulators were not invented in order to remove bias, they were invented to increase efficiency. That the error-prone mechanical process of manually punching a card was interposed between voter and machine was a horrendous design flaw that would have gotten any first-year computer science major flunked). The Democrats tell us that only humans can decipher a voter's intent when a punch wasn't clean. True, but it's also a process open to fraud. That Kathryn Harris didn't recuse herself is blatantly unconscionable. Unsupervised Democrats hand-counting ballots is equally so.

Half-truths abound. Republicans tell us that the West Palm Beach ballot was available to voters well in advance of the election; they don't tell us that the hole punch locations were not included. Democrats tell us that several thousand voters were confused by the format; they don't mention that 400,000 weren't. Bottom line, both sides are equally full of baloney, and no amount of haranguing at press conferences is going to solve this problem.

And don't misunderstand me: it's equally true that both sides have valid points to make. The thing is, neither side is in any position to decide whose are more valid. A third party has to do that, and let's be thankful we've got one.

In other countries under other systems there would be several quick but unsavory methods of resolving the situation. Democracy, however, is not swift. Rarely is. What it is, it's as fair as possible. It's deliberate. It leaves a detailed paper trail of what it considered, what laws and procedures it used and how it came to a decision. And it does it all in the full glare of public view.

It allows for appeal, and rightly so, until all legitimate avenues of dispute have been exhausted. The filing of appeals is in accordance with the rule of law, not in contravention of it. That's the way the system was designed. The dumbest damn thing either candidate did in this situation was to criticize the other for going to court, for two reasons: One, they made themselves look like idiots when they went to court, and two, what on earth did they expect the other guy to do…quit? Tell his thousands of campaign workers and the 49 million who voted for him that, what the hell, we'll just give up?

No. You fight like hell, using the tools democracy has provided.

Relax, sit back and watch the show, folks. Believe it or not, this is not a crisis. Not even close. The Republic is safe and it's great theater. Support your own guy lustily but try not to fall too hard for his particular brand of propaganda because if you force yourself to think about it objectively, you'll realize it's really no better than the other guy's.

This is America at its very best and we should all be proud and thankful...and patient.

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