- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

We've learned one stunning thing this week: The idea that America is a nation of laws, as we've always been told it is, is bunk.

What we are is a nation of hungry lawyers on the make. Lawyers, not law. Big difference.

The lawyers themselves are making their usual unseemly spectacle of themselves, campaigning for clients and saying the most ridiculous things, all to get on television in pursuit of an opportunity to put their hands in somebody else's pants.

They've descended on Florida by the hundreds, spreading across the land like the Ebola virus. Warren Christopher, who looks as if he escaped from a mortuary just in time, can't escape Bill Daley's shadow.

Mr. Daley, who knows that everyone imagines him a chip off the old block who stole the 1960 election for John F. Kennedy, stuffs Mr. Christopher's addled brain with sound bites, winds him up and sends him out to meet the cameras for every news cycle.

Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor who has been hanging out with O.J. and Klaus von Bulow and their ilk for so long that he has begun to think like them, grows so angry and frustrated with getting only the crumbs of this litigation that he descends into the kind of unimaginative name-calling last heard on the schoolyard: Katherine Harris, the Florida secretary of state, is a "crook" and a "criminal."

Joe Lieberman, having relinquished the last shred of the reputation he once had for a sober regard for facts and fairness, made the rounds of the morning television shows to cast Al Gore's scorched-earth strategy as the American way of electing presidents. When one of NBC's network blondes suggested that he was the man who had talked Al into playing his long-shot bet for the White House, little Joe basked in what he took for praise from a pretty girl. "Gosh," he said. "Gee."

And not just the lawyers. This has brought out the worst in a lot of us, including the reporters and pundits, and not just the usual television suspects. The New York Times, which once affected a magisterial above-the-fray tone in moments of high drama like this, has put itself at the service of the Democrats, hardly trying even to make it look good. Katherine Harris, discharging her duty in her decision to certify the machine-counted ballots in Florida, is described by the New York Times in a front-page story as a 'Republican Party stalwart who serves in Governor Jeb Bush's Cabinet.' This is true enough, but meant to mislead, and the editors at the New York Times know it is. They would never identify Carol Roberts, the fiercely partisan Gore Girl on the Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, as "a Democratic Party stalwart who hopes to parlay her prominence in the struggle as a springboard to a Democratic nomination to Congress in '02.' "

And not just the editors. Maureen Dowd, who wields the most poisonous pen in Gotham, can't get enough of bashing everybody named Bush: "The Bush monopoly, after all, has operated in the interregnum with the same arrogant philosophy as the Microsoft monopoly: You can have all the choice you want as long as you choose us."

Poor Mo. The embittered Irish spinster, ever dreaming of cold, gray Easter morns and exploding British post offices, proving you can take the girl out of the shanty, even reward her with a column in the New York Times, but you can't get the shanty out of the girl. The Gores are just as WASP as the Bushes, but the Bushes spring from New England gentility and the Gores from the Baptist good ol' boy culture of the rural South, making the Bushes more like the English she was taught to resent and rage against. Mo learns nothing, forgets nothing, and hates everything that hints of Anglo-Saxon. George W. never would have taken her home to meet the folks, but look who gets to throw the ink bomb.

If the standoff in Palm Beach County has so far exhibited only the power to bring out the worst in the public figures who have burned themselves into the nation's television screens with all their prejudices, biases and preoccupations, it has evoked the best in the public at large.

Despite the most earnest exertions of the scribblers and screamers of print and tube there is no panic, no hysteria, no mob in the streets. Even the Rev. Jesse Jackson, our blabbermouth-in-chief, has been unable to rouse more than a tiny remnant of unemployed rabble, and so far they haven't made enough noise to disturb the cat, napping at the nursing home.

We might get our final answer this weekend. If George W. maintains his lead after the absentee ballots are counted, and it becomes clear that he prevailed in the counting not once, but twice, all the huffing and puffing Al's lawyers can do is not likely to alter the impression that most of us have had all week. George W. Bush won.

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