At the height of the madness in this 5-week presidential election, someone on TV — probably NBC’s Tim Russert, with his ever-present Magic Marker tote board — came up with the doomsday scenario.
The Florida Legislature, dominated by Republicans, would give its 25 electoral votes to George W. Bush.
The Florida Supreme Court, dominated by Democratic appointees, would give the recounts — and thereby the electoral votes — to Al Gore.
With two sets of electors, Congress would decide. And since Congress has six more Republicans than Democrats, Bush would win.
Then the Senate would vote. And since the Senate has a 50-50 split, Al Gore, as vice president, would give the deciding nod for his Democratic self.
Which would then throw it back to the state of Florida, where the governor gets the last call. And since Jeb Bush is the Republican governor, he would go for his brother and deliver him the White House.
Now. You know what bothers me most about this ridiculous maze? That every step of the way, the assumption was Republicans would automatically go for the Republican and Democrats would automatically go for the Democrat. No exceptions.
What happened to voting your conscience?
Hatfields vs. McCoys?
Why have we become so polarized in this country? Since when are we so defined by our political parties? This isn’t Northern Ireland. This isn’t Bosnia. There’s no 800-year history of each side killing the others’ ancestors.
Remember that before the election, the knock on Bush and Gore was that you couldn’t tell their politics apart.
How then, when it came to choosing one over the other, did we become the Hatfields and the McCoys?
Call it the conceit of victory and the fear of defeat. This became so much about winning and losing, we lost sight of acting human. I spoke to intelligent Republican lawmakers, who acted as if hand-counting votes were akin to eating human flesh.
And I spoke to intelligent, levelheaded Democrats, who insisted that picking three counties to recount votes was somehow fair and balanced.
The arrogance of Bush adviser James Baker was evident in the final weeks. When the Florida Supreme Court didn’t go his way, he brazenly cited the dissenting opinion, as if three votes counted more than four. Yet when the U.S. Supreme Court barely went his way, by a 5-4 vote, he acted as if dissenting opinions were vomit.
Similar arrogance was shown by the Gore camp, which hollered endlessly about
“count every vote, count every vote” yet continually ignored some military ballots and supported a lawsuit to throw out thousands of votes in several primarily Republican counties.
Ann Coulter, the conservative writer, told me, “George W. Bush would never act the way Al Gore is acting if the shoe were on the other foot.” When I doubted that and asked how she knew, her answer was, in essence, because he’s a Republican. You know, the good guys.
Meanwhile, Alan Dershowitz, the liberal-leaning law professor and author, told me the five conservative Supreme Court justices “are in the pockets of Republicans!” When I pressed him for details, he said, “Several of them want to retire, but swore they would never give up their seat under a Democratic president.”
Party or conscience?
Now we know partisanship crept into every crevice of this battle. My question is: Why?
We are allowed, in this nation, to be a registered Democrat and vote for a Republican, and vice versa. Why can’t our leaders see the issues based on merit, not party lines?
I’ll tell you this much: Their solidarity should scare you. Because alliances based on party over conscience result in voting for things you know are wrong in exchange for support on your own agendas. And “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” only results in a lot of fingernail marks.
At the end of his speech Wednesday night, George W. Bush looked into the cameras and said, “I was elected not to serve one party but to serve one nation.”
Let’s hope so.
He sure didn’t get in that way.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).