Boiling Points

This space usually goes to a sportscentric and local tale. George W. Bush is an ex-baseball-owner hoping to become a D.C. resident. That makes him fair game. Besides, Norv still has a job, the Caps and Wizards still stink, and we've all been reminded that politics is still the only sport that really matters in this town....

If it turns out that Gov. Bush did indeed win, he, in jock jargon, won ugly.

Bush's grandfather was a senator. His father headed up the CIA and served two terms as vice president and another as president of the United States. Yet George W. ran from Day One as a political outsider.

He was born in Connecticut, grew up in a Massachusetts boarding school, went back to Connecticut for college, and, through middle age, summered in Maine. It now seems that the only time he spent in Texas before then was when he needed to renew his driver's license. Yet he ran as if he'd never crossed the Red River until the presidential campaign kicked off.

He avoided Vietnam and then shirked his National Guard duties—though unless you read the Sunday Times of London you might not know about that. Yet he campaigned as the good soldier against a guy who enlisted and even spent some time "in country."

He put up not one dollar of his own money to buy into the Texas Rangers, then allowed the club to use the name he shared with President Dad to lobby state lawmakers in Austin for the hundreds of millions of dollars it cost to build a new stadium in Arlington. The value of his stake in the Rangers ballooned to more than $16 million largely because of the publicly funded venue. Yet after cashing out, he ran as the anti-big-government candidate.

Then there's his police record, which, it should be noted, was the only record voters had to judge him by until his mid-40s. He refused to answer most questions about his Thousand Pints of Lite years until just before closing time of the campaign, when word got out that he was guilty not only of drunk driving but also of lying about it. A "youthful indiscretion," he called the crime. Well, Bush was 30 years old when he got popped. If that's youthful, an awful lot of youths have been executed down in Texas during his reign.

Between Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, the scoreboard shows, there are at least five alcohol-related arrests—the Drunk and Drunker ticket, indeed. Yet they're the pair that'll restore dignity to the White House. Drunk driving is a wrong that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, yet on the eve of the vote the New York Times stopped mentioning the candidates' convictions or Bush's prevaricating. Other dailies and TV stations played follow-the-leader. Why waste those column inches and soundbites on Bush's drunk-driving record when they could be used on critical stories about how old Al Gore really was when his mom sang him labor tunes or whether it was a Texas flood or a fire that he flew over with the FEMA director. (Anybody who employs "the liberal media" canard after this election finally wraps up deserves an exit poll shoved up his bum.)

On Election Night, sometime after Florida had been awarded by the networks to Gore, Bush let the TV cameras into his room and said that he wasn't conceding the state. He and little brother Jeb, the Bo and Luke Duke of national politics, announced that no matter what the exit polls showed or the media knew, the Bushes knew better. The plot sickened a few hours later when Fox's John Ellis, a cousin of the Bush brothers (Jeb's full name is John Ellis Bush), declared Florida for the Republican candidate even though Voter News Service, the exit-polling service all the major networks subscribe to, hadn't made such a call. Like lemmings, other networks followed Fox, and the Bush campaign—the wildly fluctuating vote differential in the state be damned—seized the moment and started demanding the keys to the White House.

And never stopped. James Baker, yet another FOD (Friend of Daddy) in the Bush camp, held a press conference in Florida to declare that all those disputed Palm Beach County ballots must be disregarded, because our democracy depends on "the principle of one man, one vote." Baker apparently had no problem with the 30,000-man, no-vote system in place in the county.

Baker also had the gonads to perpetuate the myth of Richard Nixon's patriotism after voter fraud was alleged in Illinois in the 1960 election, never mentioning that the Democrats could have conceded Illinois and Kennedy would still have had more than enough electoral votes to win.

Another builder of Bush's bridge to the last century, Bob Dole, himself a two-time loser in presidential elections (1976 and 1996), took to the airwaves to promote another myth: that Bush was hurt in Florida when the networks originally called the state for Gore, because those polls in the Panhandle portion of the state that are in the Central time zone were still open. It was 7:49 p.m. EST when Gore was first declared the winner in Florida. Anybody sitting in front of a television set or in a car 11 minutes before the polls close probably wasn't going to vote anyway. And Dole's assumption that more Republicans than Democrats would decline to vote after such a declaration was baseless.

Carl Rove and Karen Hughes, Bush's spokespersons, held their own presser in Austin to proclaim the Republican candidate the people's champion. Rove justified Pat Buchanan's 3,407-vote total in Palm Beach, though several times higher than his total in any other county in Florida, by telling the press that the Reform Party had more than 17,000 voters registered there. The real number of voters registered as Reform Party members in the heavily Jewish, heavily senior county was only 336. Rove also misled the press when he said that an equivalent number of ballots had been canceled in Palm Beach during the 1996 presidential election—roughly twice as many ballot cancellations occurred there last Tuesday. Perhaps Rove, who concealed Bush's drunk driving from the press all campaign long, figured—rightly so, as it turned out—that network reporters wouldn't have time to check his numbers before that evening's newscasts.

Though Bush lost the popular vote by a couple hundred thousand votes and, given all available evidence, was meant to lose Florida (and all the election-deciding electoral votes that go with it) by more than 10,000 votes, the governor declared that he was in the process of forming his cabinet. Similar claims and behavior from Slobodan Milosevic a few months earlier had incited the U.S. to threaten to deploy more troops in Serbia.

The Republicans' cockiness and righteousness evaporated along with their candidate's lead over the post-election weekend, as the difference between him and Gore whittled from 1,784 votes down to a few hundred. News came from Duval County that more than 22,000 ballots had been canceled, most in minority precincts.

All of a sudden, Mr. Trust the States attempted to get a federal court to compel Florida counties to stop counting votes. Mr. Trust the People argued that machines, not citizens, should be trusted to tally ballots. Yes, as governor he had signed a bill into law endorsing hand counts in Texas, and his vote tally in New Mexico was bolstered after hand counts, but Florida hand counts were somehow deemed "unconstitutional" by Bush. Letting people do the counting, Baker said, would only lead to "mischief," and only stopping the process would "preserve the integrity of the vote."

Integrity? Tell the elderly Jewish voters in Palm Beach whose votes now reside with Buchanan that the system has integrity. A friend of mine joked that the "Holocaust Survivors for Buchanan" coalition really brought out the vote this year.

That's a great line. Someday we'll be able to laugh at it. —Dave McKenna

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