Gore, Bush Should Fight To The Finish The Game's In Double Overtime, But Both Candidates Should Do What's Necessary To Make Sure The Outcome Is Fair

Posted: November 09, 2000

If an infinite number of pundits made an infinite number of predictions, would they have come up with the scenario for the presidential election that we're living today?

Al Gore winner of the popular vote but perhaps losing the electoral vote to George W. Bush? The entire presidency hinging on a few thousand votes in one state, Florida? The TV news services declaring a winner of that state wrongly - not once, when they called it for Gore early on Tuesday evening, but twice when they declared Bush the winner after 2 a.m. only to pull back a hour later?

And what about the polls? The margin of error was more like a mile of error: Nearly all were wrong.

Election 2000 has become "Survivor" for wonks, the ultimate reality programming for the politically inclined. Instead of holding our breath over 13 episodes to see if it's Richard or Kelly who prevails, we've been staying tuned for 30 hours, and counting, to see whether it's Al or George who finally get voted off the island.

We hail "Election" for the ultimately victory of reality, and its reminder of how uncontrollable it is. "Survivor," after all, was shot over six weeks and edited into a watchable package. "Election" unfolded in real time and didn't need editing for its drama and excitement.

Virtual, smirtual: "Real" reality wins, hands down.

And so we wait and wait and wait for the most important outcome our country can have. In the meantime, here are some things to chew on:

* Vice President Gore made it clear yesterday that he was willing to concede defeat if, in fact, he had lost the electoral vote. But he was right to retract his concession to Bush, and he must wait to make sure that the final count is accurate.

If we were in the throes of the Cold War, the pressure would be on Gore (or Bush, if the numbers were reversed) to spare the nation, and our allies, the uncertainty of a recount, and not challenge votes where there appear to be irregularities.

But in this new era we have the luxury of time to get it right and we should. Gore in Florida - and Bush in Iowa or Wisconsin, where the margins were thin - should fight for every vote. Forget statesmanship, they owe it to their supporters to make sure votes got counted properly, even if it means we don't know the winner for days.

* The situation has increased calls to junk the Electoral College.

Critics have a point: It's unsettling that Gore, the winner of the most votes, might not win the election. Yet the whisker-close race confirms one advantage of the electoral college: we only face a recount in Florida, not a recount of 100 million votes nationwide. Besides, the Electoral College ensures that candidates try to appeal to the whole nation, not just those few states with big population numbers.

* America is the land of the free and the home of conspiracy theories; wouldn't you know that the state in question, Florida, just happens to have the brother of one candidate as its governor? (Jeb Bush has recused himself from the recount.)

Meanwhile, there's the case of the confusing ballot in Palm Beach County, where a lot of elderly Jewish voters apparently voted for Pat Buchanan when they intended to vote for Gore, enough perhaps to change the outcome. Yet the people who made the mistake represented a tiny fraction of the total, making it unlikely the problem can be legally rectified.

* Ralph Nader can glory in the "spoiler" role all he wants: If his race deprives Gore of the presidency, he will have betrayed his own cause. His Green Party got far short of the 5 percent of the vote needed for federal matching funds, and that's good. This nation may need a new progressive movement, but not one headed by egomaniacal, elitist naifs willing to let the poor, the minorities and women suffer for their ideology.

* But no matter what the outcome, the people who "turned out" did themselves a favor: Those votes will be noticed, and the concerns of those voters addressed.

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