Myths about the election

Dec 6, 2000 at 12:00 am

Some things take longer than others. Settling this election is clearly one, though I firmly believe some very young children among us may still be alive when that day comes.

But while the story has gotten so much press a space alien might be fooled into thinking it nearly as important as the O.J. trial, the saturation coverage has actually helped reinforce some silly, and sometimes dangerously wrongheaded, myths.

Let’s take a look at a few of these:

Myth No. 1: The nation is in a constitutional crisis which we have to resolve as quickly as possible.

Reality check: The Civil War was a constitutional crisis. Watergate was threatening to turn into one when Richard Nixon quit. This is exactly the opposite; the disputed election is working its way through the system. We will eventually have a winner.

Myth No. 2: Well, it is still a national crisis. Every day that goes by without having an official president weakens this country.

Reality check: We do have a president. His name is Bill Clinton. He will be there until Jan. 20. Then we will automatically have another. If worst comes to worst, it will be the Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, a pleasantly dull man. There is nothing to suggest he would behave badly enough to blow up Moldova or Minnesota. True, if he dropped dead, Strom Thurmond, 98, would be next. Then you can worry.

Myth No. 3: But the eventual winner will take office without the usual 10-week transition period to pick Cabinet officers. etc. What if we only find out who has won a few days before? How can they possibly run the country?

Reality check: Harry Truman knew absolutely nothing the afternoon he was called to the White House and told the president was dead and he was it. He’d been kept totally in the dark by Franklin Roosevelt. Nevertheless, he went on to become one of our better presidents. What if a new man took office and all the old Cabinet heads bailed out?

Fact is, most of the government pretty much runs on autopilot; even without secretaries of state, commerce, etc., thousands of industrious bureaucrats would keep toiling away. Besides, in the event of an emergency, any current Cabinet members or other crucial personnel would undoubtedly agree to serve as long as necessary.

Myth No. 4: Al Gore has proven he is nothing but a sore and bitter loser. He should show good sportsmanship, concede defeat and bow out gracefully.

Reality check: Indeed, that might make sense if this were the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals, and the winning goal came on a bad call. But this was a contest fought to determine the future course of our country, not who gets to fly the pennant. Gore would be worthy of contempt if he thought his policies weren’t fighting for.

Besides, more people across the nation voted for him. Not to mention that the state in dispute is governed by his rival’s brother and the election process run by a highly partisan Republican who wants to be an ambassador.

Myth No. 5: This has appeared more than once even in the New York Times: We should learn from Richard Nixon, who, even though he had reason to believe his election in 1960 had been stolen by Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, didn’t contest it for the good of the country, unlike that selfish Al Gore.

Reality check: Nixon indeed didn’t contest that election. That’s because it wouldn’t have done him any good. He lost Illinois by 8,858 votes — far more than George W. Bush’s current 537-vote margin in Florida. Oh, Nixon did look into it, as he reported in Six Crises, the first of his many autobiographies. “I found it would take at least a year and a half to get a recount in Cook County,” he wrote.

That’s not, however, why he didn’t make a fuss. What everyone always forgets is that had he won Illinois — he still would have lost the election! He needed to reverse the results in two Kennedy states. The only other place serious voter fraud was suspected was Texas. But there, Nixon trailed by 46,242 — far too many votes to have been easily stolen. Not to mention that Nixon also lost the psychologically important popular vote.

Myth No. 6: This is the main myth spread by Democrats about this election — Ralph Nader is a little slimeball who deserves to be blamed for the result. If George Bush ends up in the White House, it is Nader’s fault.

Reality check: Every qualified American has the right to run for office. That’s especially true, perhaps, if they have a set of issues they feel are being ignored. Democrats who attack Nader for running show only that they still don’t get it; they need to ask themselves why they left a vacuum for him to fill. Having said that, there is ample reason to doubt that Nader is actually up to the job; he has never held any elected or major administrative post, nor are the rigid and uncompromising qualities that enabled him to stand up to General Motors the same tools needed for successfully maneuvering in Washington. But he did the nation a service.

Now what?

Here’s the best way to resolve this: The Florida Supreme Court should order a supervised hand count of the entire state, with court-mandated standards for what counts as a vote. They should also lay down rules for counting military and other absentee ballots. Then, regardless, we should accept the results. Shake hands, be grown-ups, and go back to our real national pastimes: money and sex. And yes, you may quote me.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]