- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

After Vice President Al Gore overcame his apparent surprise at finding a bank of reporters imagine, reporters outside the White House Monday, he spoke of what is at stake in this election. Turns out it has nothing to do with who wins the presidency. Instead, Mr. Gore, whose smile, quite remarkably, never left his lips, says he is "focused on" what is "very special about our process" namely, that which "depends totally on the American people having a chance to express their will without any intervening interference."

This rather odd formulation is not to be confused with the American people having the chance, or, preferably, the right to vote. For the expressive process Mr. Gore envisions to work, as the world from Russia to Malaysia knows, non-intervening specialists schooled in the near-divine art of chad-reading have been enlisted to channel that "expression of will" in four overwhelmingly Democratic Florida counties in an attempt to update the hopelessly retro process of tabulating only correctly marked ballots.

The vice president concluded by looking on what he actually considers the bright side. "Schoolchildren all over the United States are learning a lot about how a president is chosen in this country. They're learning a lot about our democracy," he said. This is a little like saying schoolchildren learned about a lot about marriage from Bill and Hillary Clinton. While it's true that the young (not to mention the rest of us) are indeed learning from the current crisis, its lessons teach us little about our government as it has run for the past two centuries.

That doesn't mean that Mr. Gore's example isn't instructive. That is, if Mr. Gore's attempt to overturn the results of Mr. Bush's first two victories in Florida is to prevail, the schoolchildren who will lead America must take some distressing new lessons to heart.

One such lesson is that winning at any cost is preferable to losing by constitutional law. Last week, even as the automatic Florida recount (recount No. 1) was still under way, Gore-Lieberman Campaign Chairman William Daley put out the word that "if the will of the people is to prevail, Al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and be our next president." This pre-emptive strike of a statement, accompanied by the promise of innumerable legal actions to contest any possible Bush victory, was just the beginning the Gore-Lieberman effort to erode the legitimacy of the Electoral College.

Another lesson is the obvious effectiveness of putting the language of democracy to work for winning at any cost. The public relations triumph enjoyed to date by the Gore-Lieberman campaign has rested on invoking the need "to count every vote" in Florida. But the Democrats have no interest in counting "every" vote. Indeed, Mr. Daley scarcely contained his satisfaction over the fact that his opponents missed the deadline to hand-count "their" counties.

The terrible fact is, the Gore-Lieberman campaign may be establishing dangerous precedents of contesting and challenging electoral defeat, of creating chaos, of sowing discord, of seeking grievance, all of which could permanently diminish the American system the most bitter lesson of all.

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