November 24, 2000
BY ROGER EBERT FILM CRITIC
Now the end game begins. By Sunday, all ballots that can be counted will be counted.
Al Gore has said he will abide by the final election results as certified by the State of Florida. Will George W. Bush? Or will his team, which attacks the Democrats for "wanting to keep counting until they win," try new legal and legislative maneuvers until they win? For Gore, there is an end in sight, one way or the other. For Bush, no end is in sight except a Bush victory.
The legality of the recount has been upheld unanimously by the Florida Supreme Court. To believe that all seven justices voted the party line in a "lawless exercise of judicial power," as the Republicans charge, is to assume that not one of them has a conscience. Unlikely. Call me an idealist, but I trust that if any of those justices believed in their hearts that their decision was wrong, they would have said so.
What is alarming is that the Bush camp is discussing taking the Florida election out of the hands of the voters, the election boards and the courts, and throwing it into the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature. Florida's legislators might throw out Gore electors and replace them with Bush electors, but a great many Americans would find that impossible to stomach, and the harm to orderly election procedures would be immense.
The Bush team floats the notion that Gore is trying to steal the election. Roll back the clock to the original situation. The election was a statistical tie. A Bush win was declared by a Bush cousin for Fox News. The other news outlets fell into line. Florida was never finally officially called for either Bush or Gore, and still has not been. Recounts were required by law. Gore reasonably asked for hand counts in counties where he stood a good chance. Bush, who supports hand counts in Texas, should have immediately called for hand counts in "his" counties. His advisers made a tactical blunder in rejecting that option.
Gore would have won Florida had it not been for the misleading ballot in Palm Beach. Even Pat Buchanan says those votes were not his. Since Gore won the national popular vote and since more people apparently intended to vote for him in Florida, it is reasonable for him to contest the election. Bush's strategy is to slam the door before the election escapes, protecting his early luck at whatever cost to the true intentions of Florida voters.
Now consider the behavior of the two men in the first crisis of one presidency or the other. Gore takes charge, stays on the case, runs his operation. Bush retreats to his ranch, lets his staff handle it, keeps a low profile.
Bush running mate Dick Cheney has a heart attack Wednesday. Bush goes on TV to say Cheney's hospitalization was just a "precautionary measure," and Cheney is doing fine. Karen P. Hughes, Bush's press secretary, knows when Bush goes on TV that Cheney has undergone a serious medical procedure, the New York Times reports, but has "not included any reference to it in the remarks she helped prepare for the governor." Was Bush not told by his staff of the true medical situation? Or did he know, and read a misleading statement anyway? What did he know, and when did he know it? And did he know he knew it?
Gore offers to meet with Bush to cool the air. Bush will not meet. Gore promises to abide by the final Florida decision. Bush will not abide. Which is more presidential?
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