Count on cynicism

It’s Monday evening. After sitting in front of the television nearly all day long listening to CNN’s coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court hearings, and then reading the transcript of those hearings online, pretty much all I can think about is how this is going to turn out.

I started to write one of those “I predict” columns, but then I experienced a bracing jolt of cold reason. Reason says that any journalist brave enough to try to predict what’s going to happen at this late date, after all the zigzag maneuvers that have happened so far, suffers from a severe learning-curve handicap.

In other words, you’d have to be stupid.

Having said that, I figure the likelihood that Vice President Al Gore’s superlawyer David Boies was able to shift the Supreme Court’s 5-4 split from Bush’s to Gore’s favor seems equivalent to the likelihood that the Republican Party would have ever sanctioned something as stupid and irresponsible as carting in busloads of riot-ready protesters specifically to disrupt a ballot recount in southern Florida. Wait a minute ...

In other words, anything can happen. And by the time you read this column, it may have already happened.

But right now, at 5:37 p.m. Monday evening, Dec. 11, as I wait for the other shoe to fall, I keep imagining various scenarios and outcomes.

For example, let’s say that Gov. George Bush does actually win this thing, as seems likely right now. Bush assembles his team, there are high fives all around, Jeb Bush is once again allowed to be a member of the family, and Ma and Pa Bush are merrily comparing themselves to Ma and Pa Kennedy. “Dynasty” is no longer a fictional TV show from a bygone era. Fantasy is reality. Kennebunkport is the new Camelot.

But then another reality kicks in. Human nature being the curious creature that it is, armies of journalists and other researchers immediately begin making the pilgrimage to the vaults containing those thousands of disputed ballots. Once they are done counting, recounting, researching, figuring and pondering, they can all be counted on to release their findings, which will find their separate ways to various newspapers, TV and radio stations, etc.

That’s when the real party begins. If you think it was ugly before, just wait and see what happens if enough folks come up with roughly similar vote tallies showing that Gore really was the man with the most votes.

Now add to that joyful scenario the additional number of truth seekers who will no doubt be making a parallel pilgrimage determined to confirm their own belief — and the belief of other Bush supporters — that Bush would have been the president even if the count had been allowed to continue. After all, the only way the Republicans will be able to credibly justify their hard-fought, successful efforts to prevent a recount — that is, if a later recount proves that Gore actually won — will be to release a counterreport designed to prove that those damned crumb-snatching liberals never learned how to count. Be on the lookout for clever terms such as “fuzzy math.”

I’m obviously not the first one to have seen this development forming on the political horizon, but it’s a scenario that has more than a few folks understandably concerned. No, the country won’t explode in riots if it turns out Gore was robbed. Bush will still technically be the president no matter what the truth turns out to be. He will have gotten away with it, and most folks will eventually get used to it and move on with the business of making a living and living their lives. At least on the surface, there won’t be much disruption that lasts longer than a relative heartbeat.

But just beneath the surface, this country will never be the same. Watergate created an entire generation of cynics who didn’t believe anything their government told them and who assumed politicians were not to be trusted. There’s a good possibility that campaign 2000 may create another generation patterned after those Watergate years.

Despite the title that will appear before his name, Bush’s presidency will become about as legitimate as the gold medal that was “won” by Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson in the 1988 Olympics before he was forced to hand the medal over to his archrival Carl Lewis once it was discovered Johnson had been juiced up on steroids. Johnson hated Lewis so much that he didn’t care what he had to do to beat the man, and he has spent many of the years since paying for that obsession under a cloud of shame, derision and embarrassment. Johnson
couldn’t pay anybody to race him after the Olympics. Of course, he couldn’t beat anybody after he went drug-free either, but that’s another story.

Anyway, this is different because once Bush is in, Bush Inc. will rule for the next four years. The only consolation to Gore will be in knowing what he has always known, namely that he really did win the state of Florida and that he should have been president.

As for Bush, no matter how much he tries to shove his way past the blizzard of reports as they swirl about his head, saying that it’s time to let bygones be bygones and to go about taking care of the people’s business, he will never be able to scrub off the stench that he wasn’t supposed to be declared president. Bush will always be confronted in one way or another with the suspicion that he only won because the truth was suppressed in the state where his little brother is the governor and where Secretary of State Katherine Harris was co-chair of big brother’s presidential election campaign in Florida.

The unanswered question of why Florida happened to be a state where exit polling was so drastically wrong will always hang in the air like a persistent patch of stormy weather over the White House — and over Florida’s state Capitol in Tallahassee.

But then again, what if Bush really did win Florida fair and square? What if a full recount actually showed that Bush won more votes? Well, then I guess we could all rest easy knowing the country is in good hands after all.


Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. Send comments to [email protected]
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