- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 29, 2000

Temple University mathematics professor John Paulos has astutely noted that: "The margin of error in this election is far greater than the margin of victory, no matter who wins." In this unassailable fact lies the candidates' and the public's agony. When all the litigation is over, one of the candidates will, de jure, have more Floridian votes than the other. But those on the losing side will not believe they in fact lost.
Even after that point, four historically unprecedented steps well may be taken: 1) The U.S. Supreme Court will have ruled on a presidential race for the first time, 2) if Al Gore wins the contest, the Florida legislature may attempt to override the electoral process with its own slate of electors, 3) if the conflicting panels of Florida electors go to the Senate, Mr. Gore, sitting as vice president then would have voted on his own election, which would result in a split vote between the House and Senate, thus leading to, 4) the decision of which panel to seat would have reverted to the governor of Florida George Bush's brother. Jeb Bush would then pick George Bush for president.
In the aftermath of such a cataract of electoral, constitutional and statutory quirks, the losing candidate and his supporters will forever doubt the factual accuracy of that legal finding. And few of us on the losing side will be able to suspend our disbelief in the legitimacy of the winner. Those negative passions will run stronger amongst concerned citizens than with the nonvoting half of the public. And the passions will be strongest and longest lasting amongst the professional political class here in Washington, who will have lost not only an election, but power, jobs, connections and the money that flows from them.
The next four years in Washington then would see an unholy combination of righteous outrage and partisan, realpolitik calculations that will make the last eight years of vicious national politics look like an era of good feelings. This town is currently schizophrenic: On the one hand, both parties are throwing in the kitchen sink in a desperate effort to win; but they are also secretly relishing victory by the other side.
Anticipating a recession and a president impotent to accomplish anything, the "loyal opposition" would be able to run wild destroying the reputation of the "winning" party. All eyes and all plans would be on the 2002 election, with the expectation that the presidential party would lay in ruins thereafter.
Such politically useful mayhem would be self-justified and rendered even more ferocious by the righteous belief that they are vindicating themselves after a stolen election. Historically, the most vicious and merciless combatants are those who believe they have "God on their side." (But as Joan of Arc reminded her French army: "It is not enough to have God on our side, we must be on His side." I rather doubt God would endorse such political mayhem by either party.) The sheer ugliness of what would then ensue would repulse the nation and the world.
This increasingly plausible nightmare scenario can be short-circuited by only one unlikely electoral possibility: If Mr. Gore wins his contest of the Florida vote and still loses after all his claimed votes are counted. After such a result, even Mr. Gore would have to recognize the legitimacy of Mr. Bush's win.
If that contingency doesn't occur, we will be in for it. Mr. Bush would be president, but he would have no chance for success (or Mr. Gore could win if he wins the contest and the Florida legislature doesn't file an alternate panel of electors). No matter how many Democrats Mr. Bush would put into his Cabinet, the Democrats would only feign bipartisanship (the same would be true for Mr. Gore if he were to win). Washington is not Austin. Texas had a tradition of bipartisanship on which Mr. Bush was able to build.
Washington has become a city without any partisan restraint. There are no wise men left. The alleged senior statesmen no longer stand above the fray they leap in and kidney punch with the worst of them. Only those without power argue for restraint. We don't merely fight partisan fire with fire: We fight a lit match with Napalm; we fight Napalm with a thermonuclear bomb. This capitol is on the verge of politically incinerating itself.
On Jan. 20 the chief justice of the Supreme Court will swear in the new president. By tradition, after the oath is taken the chief justice says "Congratulations, Mr. President." This time he should add: "And may God have mercy on your soul."

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