This just in: Vice President Albert Gore Jr. has surged ahead of George W. Bush in the Florida presidential contest. He now leads the Texas governor by a margin of 500 lawyers, and his lead is growing by the minute.
That’s right, folks: The presidential canvass officially has become the most grotesque, prolonged, expensive and annoying lawyer joke ever. It also is our future, should Mr. Gore prevail.
The vice president’s case is pure Lewis Carroll. Consider the chief arguments:
Voting machines have not counted tens of thousands of votes in Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.
This is a statement of faith, not fact and it is impervious to actual evidence. It assumes that every Florida voter picked a presidential candidate on Nov. 7, even though it’s obvious that millions of Americans were underwhelmed by both guys.
The “undercounts” in Southern Florida are consistent with patterns there in recent presidential elections, and are lower than this year’s national average. It’s not as if election officials haven’t been looking for evidence of voter interest. All the ballots in question have been tallied at least twice; some, thrice; a few, four times. As tough as it may be for Mr. Gore to comprehend, not everybody gives a damn about him.
Defective voting machines made it difficult for people to punch out a presidential choice.
This claim reinvents both math and physics. Team Gore says people were able to knock out chads for senatorial, congressional and local races, but not the presidential contest. It also claims voting machines failed due to excessive wear and tear.
Let me rephrase the Gore logic: The presidential portion of the punch ballot was used less than other sections of the ballot. Therefore, it was used more than other sections of the ballot.
Mr. Gore and his running mate Joseph Lieberman want every vote to count.
Mr. Gore dispatched suits to every county in Florida with instructions to disqualify votes cast by members of the military. The lawyers succeeded in tossing all but three military votes in the state’s most populous county, Miami-Dade. Gore allies want to reject thousands of ballots in Seminole County on the basis of a legal technicality, and the vice president’s legal team wants to override a Democratic election official in Nassau County, who noted that 212 ballots inadvertently were set aside during a machine recount. The official ordered every vote counted, providing a net gain of 52 votes for George W. Bush.
In short, Mr. Gore has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to reject ballots that feature undeniable evidence of voter intent such as signatures while urging elected officials to intuit intentions on the basis of chad indentations. He prefers imagined votes to real ones.
Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman believe in the rule of law.
No: They believe in the rule of lawyers, which is a far more arbitrary and chaotic thing. Florida law demands that counties certify their votes within a week of Election Day. It instructs the secretary of state to certify a winner soon thereafter. In addition, federal law requires the counting of absentee ballots within 10 days of a vote. The Gore team asked the Florida Supreme Court to overthrow the law, which it did. The court rejected a “hypertechnical reliance on statutory provisions” in favor of a hypertheoretical thesis about voter intent.
The Bush team is stalling.
Huh? Mr. Gore, not Mr. Bush, started this mess. And Mr. Gore, not Mr. Bush, is prolonging it.
Finally, if Mr. Bush wins without the kind of recount Mr. Gore demands, a Bush presidency would lack legitimacy.
Translated, this means Mr. Gore is ready to hand purple Kool-Aid to the legal system, his party, the presidency, and even his own political future.
One can understand the frustration. Al Gore has staked everything not on what he knows, but on what he believes. And he wants to bend reality to his liking through the use of legal muscle.
Now, our system of laws can operate in one of two ways: It can serve as an engine or justice, or as a means of bullying. Mr. Gore has chosen the second use of the law, while claiming to advance the first.
But he can’t have it both ways. He knows it. His pals know it. And his fellow Democrats know it. If present trends continue, the only friends Mr. Gore will have left will be those on his retainer. The others will shuffle slowly and sadly away, realizing something he does not: That Al Gore, in his zeal to obtain an office that is achingly close to his grasp, has become the punch line to history’s most wicked lawyer joke.
Tony Snow is a nationally syndicated columnist.