- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2000

George W. Bush's apparent but disputed presidential win Tuesday, however narrow, represents a dramatic turnaround in American politics.

The American people in at least 30 states, including all of the Southern and Border states, virtually all of the Western Plains and Rocky Mountain states, and parts of the Midwest, have voted to turn the government in a sharply more conservative direction. That much, even in the midst of the controversy that swirls about a single, critical state, comes through loud and clear.

Despite the razor-thin 271 electoral margin Mr. Bush received from all of these states and that is now under a recount challenge in Florida the sheer geographical sweep of the Bush vote represented an undeniably powerful rejection of the Clinton-Gore policies and scandals of the past eight years.

We do not know what will happen next in Florida, the key battleground state whose 25 electoral votes initially put Mr. Bush over the top. But it is more than likely that the recount along with the remaining absentee votes will keep that state in the Texas governor's column. The final unofficial count showed him ahead there.

But as the smoke drifted away from the campaign battlefield, there was one distinct message that came through especially clearly: About half of all voters, according to the exit polling by the Election News Service, said the Clinton-Gore scandals, including the campaign finance scandal in which Al Gore was the central figure, was a chief reason for the way they voted.

Moreover, millions of Americans, who said issues mattered more to them than personalties, voted for the Bush agenda to enact $1.3 trillion in across-the-board tax cuts and to partially privatize Social Security, the cornerstone of New Deal liberalism.

After eight years of an administration that believes the government is the answer to every ill that confronts our society, Americans voted to turn the federal government unambiguously to the right.

There were few pale pastels in Mr. Bush's agenda. He had proposed the most conservative set of social and economic reforms since Ronald Reagan rode into town and, guess what? People were not buying the hysteria, fear and scare tactics Mr. Gore had tried to stir up and foment in his campaign.

Besides returning one-fourth of the budget surplus to the people who earned it in the form of income tax rate cuts for everyone who works, the Bush agenda boldly proposed we begin the process of moving Social Security into a private investment system. It is an idea that was once promoted only by libertarians but is now accepted by millions of workers who want to reap a better return on their payroll taxes than the paltry 1 percent to 2 percent the government gives them now at retirement and that the vice president does not want to change.

Others were embracing Mr. Bush's school choice school voucher plan to give parents a way out of failing public schools, his call for an anti-missile defense system and beefing up a weakened, demoralized military in an increasingly dangerous world, and, most especially, his pledge to restore dignity and honor to the White House.

Yes, this election is probably the closest presidential race in American history but that is becoming a growing fact of political life in many state and local elections. Both major political parties are roughly at parity in numbers and the independent vote is growing larger and more influential with each passing election, though remains equally divided.

But a close election should not mean its eventual outcome is any less legitimate than a landslide.

Yet even as election was coming down to the wire in the early morning hours Wednesday, the pundits were on the tube questioning whether Mr. Bush would have a mandate to do anything if he won by the narrowest of margins.

This was not a question that I remember the pundits raising after John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in 1960 by an average of one vote per precinct, nor after the squeaker in 1976 when Jimmy Carter barely beat Gerald Ford. Nor did the media's chattering class question whether Bill Clinton won a mandate even though he did not win a majority of the vote in two elections.

In our democratic political system, if you win by a million votes or a single vote, you are the legitimate winner. Similarly, under the electoral system that our Founding Fathers wisely designed to elect our presidents, it is possible to win a majority of the 538 electoral votes but still fall short in the popular vote. It rarely happens but, as Al Gore told a reporter recently, in such a situation "we would respect the Constitution."

No one ever said the constitutionally prescribed electoral system was perfect but it is unquestionably the best system ever devised to choose the leaders who will govern us. Let the recount begin.

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