This could get more tedious. Of course that would require a dentist coming to my house and drilling a cavity down to my sphincter while I listened to MSNBC’s coverage blasted in Spanish simulcast. But, theoretically, it is possible. Don’t get me wrong, this is very important stuff. Lots of things can be important and grating, like a long drive to an important destination, studying for a big test, listening to Paul Begala.
But the reality is that this stopped being exciting a while ago. The gears of intellectual consistency and moral principle have been stripped clean off Al Gore’s arguments. If he ever cared about “every vote being counted,” he stopped long ago. His only hopes now rest on the idea that thousands of votes not be counted. He may be able to justify this in some big-picture equation — he did win the national popular vote and more people might have planned to vote for him on Election Day if they hadn’t been overly distracted by the prospect of an early-bird special at the Sizzler — but the simple truth is that he can’t win now. Even if these votes are thrown out, he will lose ultimately on appeal to either the Florida supreme court, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Florida legislature or the federal legislature. If any one of these four institutions rules against Gore — and at least two of them definitely would do so if it was necessary to assure a Bush victory — than Gore will become the next president of the University of Tennessee, or perhaps of a school in a state he actually won.
So, at this point, this has all become a formality. Gore can’t win under any circumstances, but he does have a choice about how he loses. He can lose while it still appears he is making a sacrifice or he can “stay and fight” and muddy his own reputation and George Bush’s. Which gets to the real point I’d like to make.
Almost every pundit out there, some intelligent and some merely parroting the intelligent, has declared that this is a “great civics lesson” for America. In one sense this is, of course, right. More Americans understand what the Electoral College than they did on November 6. More Americans understand that even in this day of hyper-convenience and voting as an expression of self-esteem, that there are some minimal requirements for voters. In this case the minimal requirement is that you should make sure you vote for only one candidate and you should make sure that he is the candidate you want to win the election. The “I coulda had a V-8″ theory of American democracy has been discredited a bit.
But this qualifies as a great civics lesson? Civics means more than the literal instructions for our government machinery. Civics is about citizenship, about how people are supposed to behave in a free society. And in that sense, this has been a terrible civics lesson.
I know a lot of lawyers and Democrats think it’s just peachy that this is playing itself out in the courts. They say that there’s no crisis and the process is working great. The country is not in turmoil. The sun is rising. The workday proceeds. Dogs are still licking themselves. Nothing’s changed. And yes, as a conservative, I am somewhat heartened to see the country shrug off a Washington crisis. But the fact is that not all disasters affect people when they happen. Not all lessons are taught in real time. The disaster here is the precedent. Indeed, the same people who said there was no crisis during impeachment have been proven wrong. This is the fallout from impeachment. This is the logical consequence of a president pursuing every legal strategy imaginable and justifying it as his prerogative.
Then, as now, the legalists liked to tell us there is nothing wrong with exercising your legal options. President Clinton did nothing wrong, we were told, by exercising his rights. Vice President Gore, we are now being told by such stentorian lightweights as Mario Cuomo, is doing nothing wrong by exercising his rights. Well, that’s garbage. Having a right to do something doesn’t make it right to do it. Al Gore has a right to fight this out for as long as possible. He has a right to say whatever he wants about the process and George Bush’s legitimacy. He has the right to blame his loss on a conspiracy led by Colonel Sanders, the Rothschilds, and the Queen of England, but that wouldn’t make this a better country.
This is all a kabuki dance at this point. Everyone is just going through motions. We know that this will end with Bush winning. The only thing in doubt is what the moral of the story will be. If Gore keeps up his fight, the moral will be that it’s worth going down in flames if you can take others with you. The story may be surprisingly tedious, but that doesn’t mean no damage is being done.
1. Assuming this trial ends early enough, I will be on CNN tonight at 10:30 where you can hear me say all of this all over again.
2. There are new changes to how the email-blasted Goldberg File works. My understanding is that someone lost a hand in the machinery and so they had to change the tubes. Don’t ask me. Some guy with a pocket protector handed me a note which says this on it:
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