How are we Outraged by the Presidential election debacle? Let us count the ways:
1. The Polls - At Labor Day, Gore had a seemingly insurmountable lead - at least in some polls. On Election Day the polls had changed course, saying that the election would be close, but Bush would win the popular vote. Were they ever right? Probably not, except the part about "too close to call".
2. The Media - How could so many be so wrong so often? Like so many others, we assumed the election was over around 8PM EST when CNN and the networks "called" Florida for Al Gore. This was a bungle of epic magnitude, as many voters where the polls were still open, including parts of Florida and all of the West Coast, thought the contest had been decided and decided not to vote. And, incidentally, the way that network anchors like Dan Rather announced that certain states had been "awarded" to Gore or Bush made it sound like the networks, rather than the voters, were making the decisions.
3. The Popular Vote - Would Bush have won the national popular vote if the networks had waited for all the polls to close before making their inaccurate predictions? We'll never know. Did the states ever finish counting all the absentee votes across the country? Apparently not. Who really won the popular vote? Gore? Perhaps.
4. The Media - Again! - But wait, the fools that run the networks and their poll reporting service aren't done yet. They've now reversed their earlier call and they're saying that Florida is "too close to call". But wait, again, we now, at 2:15AM EST, have a winner! George Bush is, according to the networks on the morning of November 8, the winner!
You might think that, having made the earlier incredible, and important, blunder of calling Florida for Al Gore, the networks would be gun shy, and wait until they had absolutely undeniable evidence as to the winner. But no - they call the election for Bush. The Gore camp is in despair. Gore, watching the networks declares his defeat, calls Bush to concede and prepares his concession speech. Everyone goes to bed.
5. The Fatal Mistake - Even we couldn't write a novel with a plot this bad. Two blocks from the location of the concession speech, Gore's advisors tempt him with the poison apple - telling him not to give his concession speech, that the Florida race is still too close to call. He calls Bush to retract his concession, thus beginning the Recount from Hell.
Two hours after calling the election for Bush, and posting huge "BUSH 43RD PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES" graphics, the networks retract their prediction and return to "too close to call".
6. Jeb Bush - Merely being Governor of Florida, with a population larger than most countries in the world, makes Jeb the family underachiever. After all, his father is a former President of the United States, and his brother is running for the same office. But he hopes to redeem himself by doing the family duty and helping brother George W. win Florida. In fact, he has "guaranteed" that he will deliver Florida to his brother.
Fans of Oliver Stone movies and other conspiracy theorists assume that the guarantee means that Jeb will do whatever it takes, including hiring Ninja to steal ballots, to deliver on his guarantee. But the real story is much less dramatic and more, well, pathetic. When the networks incorrectly report that Florida has gone to Gore, Jeb reportedly sheds tears, while the other family members gloomily look on.
Jeb recuses himself from his role on the Florida Elections Board and then, to appease the conspiracy theorists, seems to disappear from the scene. We have reports that he was hiding in the men's room of a Shoneys off Route 19, and only emerged after the Gore concession speech. At family insistence, his vocal cords have been surgically altered to remove the ability to utter the word "guarantee".
7. The Weird State of Florida - In order to understand the recount from Hell, you need to have some background on the state best known as the host for Disney World. Many people posit that, like California, overdoses of sun have eliminated the reasoning ability of humans living in this area. We concur with this opinion, and hope that, in the future, residents of both Disney Land and Disney World will cease voting entirely - what with such a great climate and so many beautiful women, don't you people really have better things to do?
Only Florida could have a Republican Governor and an overwhelmingly Democratic Supreme Court. A Republican Secretary of State, and a Democratic Attorney General. Heavily Republican House of Representatives and Senate, but a lower court system seemingly dominated by Democrats. This isn't a divided government; it's a schizophrenic government.
8. Ralph and the Greens - Before we go any further, we'd like to thank Ralph Nader and the Green Party for making all of this possible. Without Saint Ralph and the Green Party, Mr. Gore, the most environmentally focused presidential candidate in America's history, would now be the president elect. Perhaps you wonder why the "Green" party would wish to hinder, rather than help, the author of "Earth in the Balance"? Because, according to Mr. Nader, there is really no difference between the two major parties. And, if you disregard differences regarding economic policy, defense policy, the legal system, affirmative action, the death penalty, about a million other issues and the role of government in general, he's absolutely right.
9. The Media - yet again! - As the recount drama begins we're all held captive by CNN, awaiting the latest judge's ruling or spin statement. Which means of course that the same companies who so terribly botched election night coverage are now profiting, in a very big way, from the debacle they helped create! What a great gig - you perform so badly on election night that your coverage is extended by 37 days. We thought only the government grew in proportion to its incompetence, but the media has the same fail-proof business model.
And isn't it entertaining that the media is the producer of so many investigations and reports about products that don't work, or companies doing business in a sleazy way. Which network will broadcast an in-depth look at their own election night incompetence?
10. The fixers - Both sides did an admirable job bringing in statesmanlike figures to fling the dirt and spin the media. But somehow Richard Daley still snuck into the show. We don't mind nepotism or hereditary offices. After all, don't call me "Alan" Gore was the son of a prominent senator, and George and Jeb would both be struggling with the local Mickey D franchises if it weren't for Pop. We don't mind that running the United States of America is now a family business. But do we really need to make election fixing a family thing? Daley Sr. made the JFK fix look like a papal coronation compared to this mess. And if you're going to bring in the fixers, don't make them look like fixers - Daley Jr.'s bald head and sinister looks could have been scripted by central casting.
11. The lawyers - A dead heat election calls for which of the following:
- Reform of the electoral system
- Admission by all sides that there was no clear winner
- Hordes of lawyers and litigation
12. Heart attack or indigestion? - As the lawyers go at it, and the action heats up, Dick Cheney has a heart attack. Much like Boris Yeltsin, he pretends it's no big deal; after all, he's already had a few. Cut to Bush jogging and Gore playing touch football, just to show that they can handle the pressure, even if a few weak links start to cave.
13. Bush is calm - As the recount drama unfolds. Is it because he's found a source of inner peace? Because he believes in God or destiny? Or is he just too stupid to understand what's at stake? Perhaps his wife uses Nancy Reagan's astrologer, and they've already seen his victory in the stars.
14. Count Every Vote! - Count Every Vote! Count Every Vote! Well, maybe not EVERY vote - who the Hell is casting all those absentee votes? The democrats have a mantra - seems like a good one - except they ignore it when it comes to those votes which appear to have the audacity to be for someone other than Al Gore.
15. Annoying Integrity - Occasionally (but not often) someone would ruin the wonderful consistency of the drama by acting with integrity. Along these lines we were disgusted to see the chairman of the Palm Beach Canvassing Board, a Democratic judge, stop the recount just because the law, at the time, did not allow him to proceed. He mumbled something about the rule of law, and ends not justifying means. Spoil Sport.
16. Jail Bait - On the more positive side, one of his colleagues, also a democratic member of the Palm Beach Canvassing Board, kept offering to go to jail if necessary to enable the recount to proceed. While this line was a real crowd pleaser, it had a somewhat hollow ring, as no one had threatened to put her in jail. Nice idea though.
17. Katherine Harris - Sure, she's blatantly partisan. Did she have obvious conflicts of interest as the Secretary of State, chairman of the Elections Board, and co-chair of George Bush's election campaign in Florida? You bet. So why do we love Harris? Certainly not the Godzilla make-up. Is it because her speeches were short, to the point, and she never answered questions afterwards? Perhaps. Or maybe it's just because her straightforward style cut through the endless amount of posturing like a knife through butter, or a harder substance, like Al Gore's heart.
18. More good guys screwing up the system - As the Gore legal team sleazed into action, they hit some unexpected tough sledding. The courts of original jurisdiction, all of who had Democratic judges, kept reading the law and finding answers the Gore team didn't want to hear. One lower court judge ruled against the first round of recounts on the theory that the law gave broad discretion to Florida Secretary of State Harris to allow or disallow recounts. Another Democratic judge, Sauls, denied the recounts again, in the contest phase. Democratic Judge Terry Lewis and his much maligned (and black) fellow democratic judge threw out the bogus absentee ballot cases. (Count every vote?)
19. Florida Supreme Court - The Florida Supremes had a very impartial attitude - kinda like Al Gore was Diana Ross. The Gore Court arrived at its conclusions very independently - independent of both the Democratic lower courts and the US Supreme Court. In both recount cases they overturned lower court rulings, and then were overturned by the real Supremes. Like a true modern judge, all the Florida Supreme Court justices held to the idea that the best solution to legal problems was to wrap the legislative, executive, and judicial authority into their own sweet selves.
20. The real Supremes - They don't wanta get involved, they don't wanta get involved, they don't wanta get involved - Well, okay, they'll get involved. But they'll still insist they don't want to get involved. Solution - hide the verdicts so no one can really understand them for a few hours - or a few years. The first case was vacated and returned to the Florida Supreme Court for "clarification"; the cowards way out.
The second, and final, case was also returned to Florida. It said, in essence, that Florida could do a recount, but only if it was done in an orderly manner and finished within 15 minutes of the US Supremes' 10PM ruling. The heart of the case was the equal protection clause of the US Constitution, guaranteeing, supposedly, that all votes would be counted equally. The final verdict nullified the Florida recounts on the grounds, in part, that there were no consistent counting standards. Very interesting, given that standards of voting and counting vary wildly across the United States, and always have.
21. David Boies, the losing litigator - Boies is somewhat at a loss. As a prominent litigator, his normal tactic is simply to sue everything that moves until someone pays him a lot of money. Why didn't that strategy work this time? Did he miss someone - someone they forgot to sue? When is Bush going to settle - every one settles, sooner or later. Maybe he can sue a few of the electors and make them switch to Gore.
If there is a clearly evil figure in the whole recount drama, it would have to be Boies. This is the man who leads the government's antitrust case against Microsoft, attacking one of the most productive companies in the United States, while defending the likes of Napster, a web site that brings new meaning to the term intellectual property theft. Boies is the kind of lawyer who would simultaneously defend a child molester while suing the Boy Scouts.
22. The Media Recount - Having screwed up the story from start to finish, and being very unhappy with Bush as the apparent victor, the media is taking matters into its own hands. If the court won't recount ballots, the Miami Herald can do it. Look for an announcement from a group of newspapers telling the world that the winner was really Gore. What standard will they use to count the ballots? As all journalists know, intelligent people only vote Democratic. Thus, all votes that appear to be for Bush are obviously the result of voter error or misleading ballots.
23. Just call me "Joe" Lieberman - in a contest marked by naked displays of self-interest, nobody seemed to bat an eye at the fact that Senator Joe Lieberman seemed to be doing the impossible, even if it meant gouging his own party. In the ultimate vote of no confidence in his own ticket, he ran to be reelected to his senate seat while running for the vice-presidency. In this way Lieberman guaranteed his own employment, either as Vice-President or as one of the Senators from Connecticut. He also guaranteed that, if Gore had won, the balance of power would have gone to the Republican Party. As VP, Lieberman would have had to resign his Senate seat, giving the Republican Governor of Connecticut the opportunity to replace him with a Republican. But hey, it's all about me, right Joe?
24. The Electoral System - Do you still ride your horse to work? Use an outhouse rather than indoor plumbing? Employ slaves on your farm? Probably not, but we do still use an electoral system designed over 200 years ago to protect states rights. Of course, at this point in the game, the system of electing a president with the Electoral College is completely pointless, adding endless complexity to what should be a simple calculation.
Going to a simple system whereby the national popular vote determines the winner makes far more sense, but will probably never be adopted, as it might deprive some of the smaller states of the media attention they derive from the current system. And the same system that guarantees that states like Rhode Island, North Dakota, and Maine, have the same number of senators as New York and California will probably guarantee that the Electoral College system doesn't change.
25. Jesse "Blood in the Streets" Jackson - Tell me again, Reverend, what is Christianity about? Is it about a spirit of reconciliation, about peace, about togetherness? Or is the true spirit of Christ manifested in hating anything and anyone that may stand in the way of your candidate?
26. To vote for a butterfly, push here - If you are born in America, are not a convicted felon, and are 18 years of age, you may vote in a federal election. You do not need to be able to read or write, you do not have to memorize The Outrage or know that Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. You are not disqualified if you watch the WWF. And, obviously, you don't need to be smart enough to figure out a ballot.
27. Bill Schneider and TV coverage - One thing this process has taught us for sure - the standards for getting a lot of air time on TV, and giving your opinion about events of historic importance, aren't too high. You certainly don't have to be good-looking. You don't really have to have any idea as to what is going on. And, if you're Bill Schneider of CNN, you can just keep repeating that a Bush victory does not mean that the Republicans have a "mandate". And saying it again and again. But, Bill, did anyone ever say it did mean he has a mandate?
28. Let's kill the foreigners first, then the lawyers - The Washington Post recently surveyed international diplomats and journalists who were apparently somewhat relieved that Bush was declared the winner. They said their biggest objection to Bush was that he was a supporter of the death penalty. We can't imagine what the death penalty has to do with American foreign policy, unless they're afraid that Bush is going to take our suggestion and try to off clueless international journalists and Euro trash before they can do any damage.
29. No place like home - Of course, ultimately Al Gore can only blame himself for his loss. Despite having the hugely favorable backdrop of economic prosperity and peace, he managed to lose both his home state of Tennessee as well as Clinton's home state of Arkansas. Even Walter Mondale, who lost all 49 other states to Ronald Reagan, won his home state of Minnesota in the landslide of 1984. The ultimate irony may be that if Gore had simply won his home state, where they know him best, Florida would have been irrelevant. But if your own Momma doesn't love you, why should you have fun in the sun?
This is the final Outrage of 2000. Is it the final Outrage? Stay tuned.