The recent campaign – including the Florida recount machinations, legal shenanigans, and Supreme Court suspense – did more than simply produce our 43rd president. It changed the way many view the nation, including exploding several long-standing myths about American life, such as:
1. Every vote counts
Every vote counted counts, that is. But an astonishing number of votes don’t count – and that was news to many. Our notion of democracy raises images of John Q. Citizen strolling dutifully to the nearest polling place, casting a ballot counted by dedicated, trustworthy public servants, and then going home to follow the election results from his favorite news outlet.
Well, the reality turns out to be a little different. First, John Q.’s ballot might not get counted for a number of reasons: voter registration problems, machine or human error, his own confusion over which and how many candidates he’s voting for, or – if he’s in the military – legal challenges filed by partisan lawyers. All told, thousands of Floridian ballots weren’t counted, unbeknownst to the voters who cast them. Multiply that by 50 states, and you’ve probably got millions of uncounted votes nationwide maybe even yours!
Second, votes often aren’t counted by impartial guardians of the public trust, but by party hacks owing allegiance not to voters, but to ward bosses. Finally, the media now seems less interested in reporting the news than in making it. Mistakenly calling Florida early for Democratic candidate Al Gore – leading many to the erroneous conclusion that a Gore rout was on dampened Republican turnout in areas where polls hadn’t yet closed, including western portions of Florida located in the central time zone.
Our beautiful vision of democracy was heavily tarnished, all right. It’s as if we had turned over our home’s cornerstone, only to see rats, worms, spiders and other creepy things crawling underneath. On the whole, many would prefer watching sausage being made.
2. Republicans won’t fight
One of the most interesting occurrences in the Florida fiasco was the “riot” by Miami-Dade County Republicans when locked out of the vote count. Whether or not the fracas caused canvassing officials to throw in the recount towel, the Left was petrified by the specter of “a bunch of white guys” taking to the streets.
“The whiff of fascism is in the air,” squealed panicked Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). Funny, but Jesse Jackson or Patricia Ireland parading their troops down Main Street never evokes images of Nazism to progressive elites. Nor was an effort to look for the “root causes” of the Republican disturbance advocated by the “No Justice, No Peace” crowd.
3. The news media is unbiased
Coverage of election night was bad enough – a CNN/Time poll showed that only 17% believed that the press acted responsibly – but during the Florida recount episode, the press flung off any pretense of objective reporting and virtually rooted for Al Gore to win. When asked how the media would have treated George Bush if he had been the one seeking a recount, Newsweek reporter Howard Fineman responded, “They’d be saying that George Bush was a crybaby, that he was the spoiled son of a failed President. You know, you could just hear, the personal attacks on Bush would be just absolutely vicious.” Not exactly the environment faced by Al Gore.
Instead, the networks became “All Gore, All the Time.” The media’s inclinations were quite clear judging by the long, morose faces on TV that greeted the U. S. Supreme Court’s December 12 decision to scotch the recounts, effectively ending Gore’s hopes of becoming president. CBS’s Lesley Stahl looked like her dog had just been run over while ABC’s Sam Donaldson lamented that the decision “will not be accepted with any sort of feeling that the court has rendered a just and fair verdict.”
All three major networks made frequent reference to the conclusion of Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent, when he wrote, “One thing however is certain. Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.” This was asserted by the media as Stevens’ criticism of the impartiality of the U.S. Supreme Court justices in deciding the case.
But Stevens was actually referring to the fact that the Supreme Court majority was accepting, in his words, “an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed.” In other words, Stevens was talking about the nation losing confidence in the impartiality of state judges, not of the Supreme Court.
You never would have known that, though, by listening to the mainstream media. But quoted out of context, the Stevens statement appeared to be aimed at his colleagues. To the press, any stick is good enough when beating on their opponents.
4. Democrats are the party of the little guy
Despite their calculated image as the party of the common ol’ working chap, when Democrats need fast bucks, they know where to turn – and it ain’t to the small frys. For instance, both parties required loads of cash for election recount legal fees. To support Gore’s efforts, 38 donors gave more than $20,000, including nine giving more than $100,000 each. Internet entrepreneur Steven Kirsch gave $500,000, while film producer Stephen Bing donated $200,000 and Jane Fonda wrote a check for $100,000.
Conversely, Bush limited contributions to $5,000, no matter how fat the cat. Three Hundred sixty-eight people gave the maximum of $5,000 to his recount fund, and more than 500 people wrote checks above $1,000. Yet during the campaign, Gore successfully painted Bush as a captive of big business.
5. GOP favors state’s rights, Democrats like federal intervention
Conventional wisdom holds that Republicans prefer limited, decentralized government, while Democrats fancy big bureaucracies and an activist, centralized state. When the U. S. Supreme Court overruled the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to restart the recount, though, the airwaves were bombarded with “strict constructionist” Republicans defending the Supreme Court’s power grab, and “big government” Democrats decrying this “usurpation of state power,” despite usually lauding the federal court when it robs localities of their autonomy. In fact, I didn’t see a single instance of an elected official holding to their party’s usual principles when faced with the expediency of winning the presidency.