The death toll in America's bitterly contested election has so far been exactly zero, an encouraging contrast to recent experience in some less fortunate nations.
I worry, though. The Clinton and Gore haters are dreadfully overwrought about the impending "theft" of this election. Peggy Noonan, the Bush and Reagan speechwriter, has worked herself into a state of beastly dementia in the pages of the the Wall Street Journal. I'm terribly concerned she'll fall over and hurt herself.
And no man Rupert Murdoch's age should be out whipping up his exhausted troops at the New York Post to produce headlines of greater and greater paranoia, each suggesting the Gore dictatorship is upon us. You'd think he was William Randolph Hearst promoting the Spanish-American War.
Let's all get hold of ourselves before things get bloody. It's true George W. Bush would be the first president elected in 124 years without winning the popular vote. I guess the real question is, how do you "steal" an election that's already been stolen by that 18th century atrocity known as the Electoral College? Or, how do you steal a state - Florida, for instance - where the political machinery is controlled by a Bush and a Republican Legislature?
Most tellingly, how do you steal an election that's already been stolen - very well, legally purchased - by a gush of corporate soft money in which Republicans enjoyed such vast advantage?
Democrats must calm down, too. Look at what we have just escaped: an unambiguous mandate, a landslide of electoral or popular votes for the notion that America be turned into a larger version of Texas - a right-wing democracy based on the political power of oil and the liberal practice of death penalty. Add to our good fortune a U.S. Senate in which a trouser-length Republican majority has been cut down to gym shorts. If the next president must be damaged goods, let him as well be a Republican.
Forget about who "won" this election. Let's say nobody did. What's really important is the pattern it sets for the next two.
With Bush's putative Florida victory so slim and unconvincing, we now know that if Gore had saturated the TV markets of South Florida, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville with $10 million more in last-minute commercials, it would have changed history. We can be just as sure that if Gore had known this, he'd have found the money if it meant selling his dog for cat food.
Just as certainly, Bush would have laid his hands on even more if he'd known his own brother was going to deliver Florida by such an embarrassing squeaker and that, as hapless Florida went, so would go the nation.
Absent campaign reform, which Bush has no stomach for and which will take place only over the stiff and putrefying body of Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., corporate America must brace itself. In the 2002 election, pressure from both parties to cough up enough money to secure more effective majorities in Congress is going to be excruciating.
And in 2004, with both parties famished for the rich spoils of an untarnished presidency, things'll really get expensive.
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