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Hanging Chad, Hanging Hope?
Chads may have won it for Gore.


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Jonah Goldberg

Hanging chad.

No, it’s not the name of a new necrophilic gay porn movie. It’s what this election has boiled down to. And for that reason, I regret to say, I now believe Al Gore will be the next president of the United States. Indeed, whenever weighty issues get boiled down to whether or not the chad is hanging right I simply take it on faith that it is to the Democrats’ benefit. Republicans had no idea how to argue with a president who could say — and a party that could defend — the proposition that the meaning of “is” is hopelessly ambiguous. Therefore, one has to assume that Republicans don’t take politics seriously enough to argue with chad Talmudicists.

Throughout this mess, three pop-culture moments keep coming to mind. The first two are from — surprise! — The Simpsons. There’s the episode when Homer travels on the space shuttle (“Deep Space Homer,” Episode 1F13). A shuttle hatch blows open (Homer’s fault of course). But Homer manages to use an inanimate carbon rod to pin shut the door, saving the shuttle and its crew. When they get back to Earth, Homer expects to be a hero, only to discover that the only hero of the trip is the inanimate carbon rod itself. It even makes the cover of Time magazine, with the headline “In Rod We Trust.” That’s what has happened for the chads of this world. A week ago, not one in a million people knew what to call the hole-punch detritus. Now, it is the thing that is assured to emerge from this mess with an enhanced reputation.

The other Simpsons scene is when Granpa Simpson — renown for his old-crank letter-writing skills — sends off a missive:

Dear Mr. President,
There are too many states nowadays.
Please eliminate three.
P.S. I am not a crackpot.

How can one deny the wisdom of that?

And lastly, I keep thinking of that other great round-the-clock South Florida counting scene. I’m referring of course to the illegal money count in Scarface where Tony Montana continually insists that his money-laundering bank is undercounting his cash. Of course, it’s not a fair comparison. In the movie, the Feds parachuted in to arrest the guilty parties and then Tony Montana criminally rigged the judicial system to win the day, only to lose everything because of his paranoia, so…hmm wait, maybe the analogy isn’t all that off.

Anyway, I wouldn’t necessarily bet that Gore will win (no one is feeling giddy about their predictive abilities these days), but I think Rich Lowry, William Niskanen and others make pretty clear cases that it’s not looking good for the good guys. I too wish the Bushies hadn’t gone to court themselves — although I think strategically they probably had no choice given the facts as they knew them at the time. This hand count is quite simply a rigged deck for Gore, or at least that’s how both camps see it. As Boss Tweed once said, “As long as I count the votes what are you going to do about it?”

A lot of readers wrote in to demand that I denounce the Republicans for going to court since I denounced the Democrats when it looked like they would go to court. It’s a fair point and I do wish the Republicans hadn’t done it. But the situation is not so cut and dried. First, Bill Daley explicitly and publicly encouraged voters to file lawsuits. Several of those lawsuits were brought by Democratic party stalwarts in Florida. Jesse Jackson implored people to file complaints about the election. The Democrats hired a telephone-marketing firm to call people at their homes to get people to report irregularities and essentially file suits. Yes, the Republicans, either knowingly or unknowingly, fell for a legal head-fake. But in that environment one can hardly say they were goaded into it. Besides, the Republicans are not trying to overturn the results of an election. They are trying to stop such efforts.

Gore is trying to win by arguing with the Ref. The Republicans in effect tried to go to the commissioner to get him to stop. It’s not a particularly pretty or principled position, but it isn’t bankrupt either.

However, I’m beginning to think that if Gore has to win, this is probably the best way, not for the country necessarily, but in terms of guaranteeing that his agenda gets eviscerated.

Of course, whoever wins will be hurt by all this. But Gore would be hurt more. Bush’s primary mandate, to the extent he had one, was to “restore dignity and honor” to the Oval Office, cut taxes for all Americans, and put an end to the partisan bickering. The first is easy enough to do as long as he keeps his belt buckled and doesn’t rent out any White House bedrooms. The second is tougher, but it is an inherently less divisive ambition. As Tip O’Neill liked to point out, if you tell a guy “I’ll cut your taxes, but you’ll only get $100 back and that rich guy will get $1,000.” The average citizen will respond: “Okay, give me my hundred bucks.” And as for the third — cutting the partisan rancor — well, he actually campaigned on doing exactly that.

Gore, however, ran as a “fighter” against the “powerful interests.” He suggested his enemies were racist, greedy, or lacking in empathy. He said he will never give up fighting. He didn’t say he’d never give up negotiating, persuading, or compromising.

In essence, whoever wins will have to make a stab at bipartisanship. That’s easier for Bush because that would involve keeping a promise. But Gore would have to break a promise to be bipartisan. Add to this a possible-to-probable recession and a one-term Gore candidacy is not nearly so horrifying a prospect as it was just a week ago when it seemed conceivable Gore could win with a mandate.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a huge downside to a Gore presidency — and not just the fact that my stock portfolio could continue to nosedive. If we lose the Supreme Court, expect any and all of the gains of the Rehnquist Court to evaporate quickly and perhaps permanently. Expect more confetti to be generated by the Reno Justice Department shredders than used in all the ticker-tape parades this century. Expect politicians to continue to cry foul whenever they lose an election. Expect the Democratic party to charge procedural injustice whenever minority votes go to the losing candidate. And, most of all, expect millions of Americans to drown in their own saliva or soup bowls as they try to remain awake during a Gore State of the Union Address.

DEAR READERS
Thanks so much for the continued patronage. My apologies for tardiness, but I had to write a piece for the magazine and prepare to leave the country. I do not know how often over the next week I will be able to contribute to NRO, but I assure you we will be going full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice as long as necessary.



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