Okay, admit it. This week's been a hell of a lot of fun. Unless you got all F's in American History in high school, you've enjoyed the spectacle of the first presidential Election Day quadruple-overtime since Teddy Roosevelt was in knickers. Like me, you've probably dusted off that old copy of Gore Vidal's 1876, and already know that Samuel Tilden shoulda, coulda, mighta won that equally controversial presidential election 124 years ago.
So far at least, it's been fun. And given the fact that none of them have ever been here before, the two protagonists have comported themselves fairly well. Sure, the Bush campaign has been a little childish with its posturing about transition teams and making a show of preparing, in unseemly fashion, for the Big Show. And Bill Daley and Warren Christopher ended up looking like idiots Wednesday afternoon, with their sabre-rattling about the shenanigans in Palm Beach County. (Never before has my recently-deceased mother's long-time admonition, "God gave you two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion," rung so true.)
But all in all, candidates Bush and Gore haven't done too badly. There's nothing illegal about posturing; no long-term consequences of trying to out-maneuver your opponent, as both sides clearly have attempted to do. So far, at least, neither has done anything that they should be terribly ashamed of doing.
Until this morning. At 9:30 a.m. Memphis time, former Secretary of State James Baker, Governor Bush's "prevailing legal authority" in the Florida vote-count mess, announced that the Republicans would be seeking an immediate court injunction to prevent a Gore-requested manual recount of the votes in four Florida counties.
You can get all the details from MSNBC or CNN, where the "talking heads," I'm sure, are already spinning. But the Republicans have now taken their game to a new level. By interfering with the established process of the Florida electoral system -- in what is evidently a heavy-handed attempt to "shame" Vice President Gore out of the race -- they have not only been guilty of shameless political interference in that process; they have cast a real pall over this unique election, one that will leave a cloud for decades and centuries to come.
Think about it. Secretary Baker argues that "manual" counts are a real "problem," that they introduce as more error into the process, not less. Talk about insults, not just to the current generation of Florida election workers, but to anyone and everyone who's ever worked on an election campaign. Does Mr. Baker not think that, with proper supervision, and with oversight by representatives of both parties, the people of Florida can count?
This is a truly remarkable assertion.
Moreover, keep in mind what former Carter aide Patrick Caudell on MSNBC has been reminding all of us for days now, namely, that we haven't actually had any recount yet. What Florida has done is simply recalculate the returns submitted by individual wards and precincts throughout Florida. No votes within these precincts have actually been recounted. And if Mr. Baker has his way, they never will be.
No matter that merely a few hundred votes separate the candidates; Mr. Baker would have us believe that "enough is enough," and it's time to get on with the business of transitioning towards a Bush administration. Sound familiar? I think there's a guy named Fujimora down in Peru who's pulled exactly this kind of stunt on more than one occasion. As far as the past, well, I'm afraid you'll have to go beyond American history to find anything remotely parallel. I can suggest, however, some names of some European countries to research, if you'd like.
I expect the Democratic Party's response to all this will be, shall we say, strong. And shrill (what else?). But if they had any political sense -- which, after the seriously inept Gore campaign, I seriously doubt -- the Democrats would say nothing whatsoever. In fact, from a long-term political perspective, they should be hoping for a judge to endorse Secretary Baker's motion. Then -- assuming the vote total in Florida goes Bush's way -- we'll have a new administration taking office in January, on the strength of legally stifling a vote recount in Florida, a state governed, by the way, by the new president's brother. Talk about mandates. Talk about the "appearance of impropriety." If leaders of the Bush team think they'll be able to govern after such an auspicious beginning, they really have spent too much time in South America.
[ Kenneth Neill is the founder and publisher/CEO of The Memphis Flyer. ]