Rhetoric swells as Bush's lead evaporates

Democracy in grave peril -- honest

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The next US president will take the oath of office in January under the realisation that, but for the grace of a meagre handful of Florida retirees who preferred him to his opponent, he'd be scanning the classifieds for a job. At the moment, with all precincts reporting, the re-count of Florida's six-million ballots shows Bush in the lead by an absurdly close shave of 327 votes.

Absentee ballots which have yet to be counted might well improve that margin; but a manual re-count in certain districts, requested by the Gore camp in counties where they believe the machines went awry, might cancel that out. Either way, the next president will have 'lost' half the nation, and will take office with that unpleasant fact weighing heavily on his shoulders.

Thus, with the election still up in the air and little in the way of facts and figures to distinguish the candidates, both sides are doing what comes naturally to political organisations: seeking justification in highly inflated rhetoric, disingenuous assertions and outright lies.

The Gore people are trumpeting a particularly gaseous line centering on the solemn need for thorough, painstaking procedural review lest democracy be irreparably insulted, while the Bush people tout an equally flatulent line calling for swift resolution -- again, lest democracy be irreparably insulted. To hear the two campaign chieftains tell it, peace, prosperity and democracy have never faced such perils before.

Gore drivel

The Gore PR spin, while disingenuous, deserves high marks for eloquence, with campaign chairman William Daley going deftly over the hot-buttons like a sociologist on Oprah.

"I'm here to report that what we've learned has left us deeply troubled," Daley said Thursday. "Twenty-thousand voters, who in all likelihood thought they were voting for Al Gore, had their votes counted for Pat Buchanan or not counted at all."

"Because this disenfranchisement of these Floridians is so much larger than the reported gap between Governor Bush and Vice President Gore, we believe it requires the full attention of the Florida courts and concerned citizens all around our country."

"If the will of the people is to prevail, al Gore should be awarded a victory in Florida and become our next president."

Nineteen-thousand ballots in Palm Beach County Florida were disqualified because two presidential candidates were selected -- the fault, we are told, of the now-famous "butterfly ballot," of which ABC News' Ted Koppel remarked dryly, "no one in the media ever heard of it, and now it's all anyone can talk about."

The Democrats have no doubt that the tricky ballot robbed Gore of many votes to which he is entitled.

"These logical conclusions are reinforced by the phone calls, faxes and other reports from a thousand residents of Palm Beach County that have poured in to us saying that they believe they are victims of this ballot confusion," Daley said.

"In response to this clear injustice, what does the Bush campaign say? They blithely dismiss this disenfranchisement of thousands of Floridians as being the usual sort of mistake made during elections."

"What we want is democracy fulfilled," Daley concluded.

Incredibly, Pat Buchanan himself tends to agree, at least in part. He allows that those ballots which were scored twice likely indicate voters who confused his punch-hole with Gore's.

"If the two ballots they selected were Buchanan and Gore, then those votes are almost certainly Gore's, not mine," Buchanan said firmly. He did stop short of conceding the disproportionately large number valid votes he got, saying that if his name alone was selected, one should trust that the voter knew what s/he was doing.

Bush drivel

While somewhat less eloquent, the Bush PR is equally disingenuous. Democracy [we're really getting sick of that word], again, is hanging by a thread:

"The Democrats who are politicising and distorting these events risk doing so at the expense of our democracy," Bush head flack Karen Hughes said during a press conference Friday.

"I think the American people should have a lot of confidence in Governor Bush based on the steady, calm and responsible way that he has handled these unusual events," she added.

"One of the things I've learned about Governor Bush over the course of six years of working for him is that he is very steady. He is conducting himself the way you would hope a leader should conduct himself," she said. "He's being thoughtful. He's being deliberative."

"It's time for all concerned to think about what's best for the country," Hughes concluded.

Not bad for an amateur, but by far the finest hypocrisy has been issuing from the mouth of former (Daddy Bush Administration) Secretary of State James Baker.

"We will vigorously oppose the Gore campaign's efforts to keep recounting over and over until it happens to like the result. For the good of the country and for the sake of our standing in the world, the campaigning should end and the business of an orderly transition should begin," Baker told reporters Friday.

"We hope Vice President Gore and his campaign will reconsider their threats of lawsuits or still more recounts, which could undermine the constitutional process of selecting a president and has no foreseeable end."

Lovely stuff, but quite hard to swallow. On Friday morning the mainstream press came out soundly against Gore's threats of endless litigation on their editorial pages, which resulted in an immediate, and significant, damping of the Democratic threat-rhetoric.

Baker seized it like a bulldog Friday and Saturday, but due to the timing of the Gore stand-down, he's beating a dead horse in public while talking out of both sides of his mouth.

The two issues galling the Republicans are the Gore campaign's request that ballots in several Florida districts be re-counted manually, and a grassroots movement to stage a new election in Palm Beach County, where those pesky butterfly ballots made a pudding of things.

Consequently, the manual re-counts are going forward, and a Palm Beach County circuit judge has issued a preliminary injunction barring certification of any re-count until after a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, where the issue of staging a fresh election will be considered.

Baker criticises Gore for trying to litigate his way into the White House, while at the same time seeking a federal court injunction to stop the manual re-counts.

The Bush camp opposes the hand counts because "with human contact, it's one more step down the slippery slope," campaign spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Friday.

"Machine counting is more fair," Baker said Saturday, adding that "it is less subject to human error and potential mischief."

Error and mischief. And this from the campaign which bleated, to the point of nausea, the trivial incantation "we trust the people."

For an ironic, final twist, Daddy Bush inadvertently stole a good deal of his boy's democracy-at-a-crossroads fire during a White House fete celebrating the building's 200th anniversary, attended by the senior Bushes, the Fords, the Carters and Lady Bird Johnson.

"Whatever happens....my pride and Barbara's pride knows no bounds, and our democracy will go on," Daddy Bush said.

Yep, that it will. Nice to see someone in Washington using his head for a change. ®

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