NEW YORK — There’s plenty of room for reasonable disagreement in this post-election netherworld. The Bushies are right that we need a president-elect and we needed one weeks ago; despite lackadaisical opinion polls and surprising public apathy, the legal maneuvering over recounts can’t go on forever. Yet Gore’s peeps are right too. As everybody now knows, our votes don’t all count, and while it doesn’t matter in most elections, there’s no better time to remedy that situation than a contest with a 500-something vote spread. The tension between the need for speed and the desire for accuracy has people of all political stripes spewing contradictions, lies and faulty syllogisms. But it’s not because they’re ill-intentioned; they’re just angry that their guy came so damned close.
Then, far beyond the ideological confines where most of us dwell, is Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
Democrats talk darkly about confusing ballots and cops patting down blacks en route to the polls. Republicans call the flurry of litigation clogging Florida courts — that they started, but never mind that — nothing short of an attempted judicial coup d’etat. But no member of either party has sunk as low as Jeb Bush, who actually says that he’ll sign a law to make his brother president.
No one can blame the public for suffering from post-election fatigue. During the past few weeks, The New York Times has run a separate “Counting the Vote” section every single day. It contains such highlights as a county-by-county statistical-regression analysis of the Buchanan vote, and a chart indicating which hearings will occur in what court during the coming week, but nothing about the stuff we really care about: Why does Gore’s daughter look hot from far away but not from up close? Can a man who names his dog Spot be trusted with commands that launch tactical nuclear devices?
“Counting the Vote” offers none of the drama of the great media feeding frenzies of the recent past. Falling chads have replaced thong underwear. Katherine Harris has filled in for Kathleen Willey. And try as CNN might, the Board of Elections’ yellow Ryder truck will never fill the wheel treads of O.J.’s white Bronco. So it isn’t surprising that people have moved past the election back to the normal staples of American life: bad TV, bad food and bad parenting.
Still: Jeb Bush says that he would sign a bill that assigns Florida’s 25 electoral votes to his brother.
It shouldn’t matter which of these guys you’d rather see win. If you’re a devoted Republican, surely it’s readily apparent that a president who takes office thanks to his brother’s signature on a piece of paper may not only be doomed as a leader, but also may take the whole damned republic out the door with him.
Of course, Gore can only win if he wins some tortured court battles, and that sucks for him, and even more for Bush — in that scenario at least Gore would be prevailing after manipulating the system. It’d be barely legit, but legit is legit. But if Jeb signs that bill, it will violate a basic ethical and legal premise of conflict of interest and reduce the United States to a global pariah. It’s unbelievable that he’d even consider such a vile act, that he’d talk about it in public, and that George W. hasn’t already issued a statement refusing to take office under his brother’s signature.
There are, of course, several honorable options for the Bush camp. They can fight it out in the courts and hope that they win the key cases before the Dec. 12 deadline for selecting Florida’s electors. Even if they miss the deadline and Gore wins the Electoral College vote, there’s no constitutional prohibition against continuing to litigate. If Bush keeps his Florida popular vote lead after all the votes are ultimately counted, no one will question his legitimacy — even if it takes until next December to do so.
Alternatively, Florida can forfeit its electoral votes, making Al Gore the next president, 267 to 245. Bush would lose, but he’d lose legally (even if it’s too late for either man to lose gracefully). But losing a presidential race is a tiny indignity compared to the political abomination currently being contemplated by The Brother: If Jeb signs that bill, he will be committing the greatest crime against democracy in American history.
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