Ahha! Ahha! Caught in the act! Who am I talking about? Andrew Sullivan!
For several weeks now, as a regular reader of andrewsullivan.com I’ve been watching Sullivan pillory my guy Al Gore for all manner of crimes, inconsistencies, villanies, violations of this canon and that. But now I’ve caught him.
In the course of a post gently attacking Rick Hertzberg’s most recent column in the New Yorker about the moral argument for Al Gore’s case, Sullivan writes:
The point of a Republican system of government is precisely to undermine the simple conflation of majority and morality.
Sounds right … But wait! Don’t we mean here ‘republican’ as in Machiavelli and Harrington and Sidney and Locke and Shaftesbury?
(Who are these people? Doesn’t matter. It’s Talking Points showing a little one-time-graduate-student- of-Early-Modern-English-history leg. Indulge him. It’s knowledge he can’t put to any other use.)
Back to my story.
What’s with the capital-R? You only use the capital-R when you’re talking about the Republican party. What’s going on here? A Freudian slip? Perhaps so.
P.S. Talking Points would like to stipulate that he chatted with Sullivan last week and Sullivan was perfectly charming. Sullivan is a Washington big-wig and Talking Points is, well … a small-wig. So he’s really hoping Sullivan will take this whole little outburst in good humor. Really hoping.
Just when I’m starting to think the Republicans might â¦might have the better part of the argument about whether or not improperly filed absentee ballots ought to be tossed out in Seminole and Martin counties, well, along comes Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee. I don’t know what else to say but that Nicholson is just a snarling and ferocious character. And his constant effort to paste a smile over his nasty outbursts just gives him an even more menacing appearance.
Okay, enough ranting about Jim Nicholson. Back to my point.
Republicans and the New York Times editorial page have a good point arguing that it’s unseemly for Gore to possibly be benefiting from throwing out thousands of absentee ballots of voters who committed no intentional fraud. It certainly gives me pause.
Nicholson is on MSNBC at roughly 9:20 PM on Wednesday night. He’s debating Ed Rendell, chairman of the DNC. Rendell offers to Nicholson that the Dems will drop every lawsuit to every ballot if the Republicans will agree to a hand recount of the ballots in every county in Florida – especially of course those choice ballots in Miami-Dade. Nicholson responds that there’s no reason to recount those votes, the much-mentioned ‘undervotes,’ because those are ballots of people who intentionally did not cast a vote for president. And then he tosses in that Democrats just can’t wait to disenfranchise Bush voters – and, in a gratuitous flourish, that they especially want to disenfranchise military voters.
So here you have the rub. Everyone who is even remotely honest concedes that the bulk of those undervotes in Miami-Dade and other counties are from people who tried to vote. Maybe they didn’t vote correctly. Maybe their intentions are unrecoverable. But no one seriously thinks all those people went to the polls and intentionally didn’t vote for a candidate in the race that most everybody cared most about.
So you have Jim Nicholson making an assertion that is transparent and deceitful crap. And tossing in a few slurs for good measure.
What this really comes down is that folks like Jim Nicholson can lie in transparently ridiculous ways and in so doing attempt to exclude numerous ballots. But if Democrats – or private citizens trying to help them – try to knock out illegally cast ballots they’re unprincipled slime. Democrats, it seems, have to play by Marquis of Queensbury rules, while no rules appear to apply to Republicans.
Democrats believe that they would win the election if all the votes were counted. And they have good reason to think this is so. If this is the case how wrong is it to knock out votes if in so doing you’d arrive at the outcome that a full tabulation of the votes would show? Or to put it another way, is it possible to steal your own car?
Is this really an unfair way of looking at it?
I’m anything but oblivious to the morally suspect nature of this sort of reasoning. But I put it forth to show the difficulty of contesting an election under rules which the other side seems uninterested in following.
So what to do?
If it were legally feasible to make such a deal (and I’m quite sure it’s not) the ethical use of the Seminole and Martin ballots would be to do the following: get the ballots excluded by legal process. Then go to the Republicans and say ‘fine, you wanna play that way. Then we win. But if you’ll agree to a hand recount in every county in the state then we’ll withdraw out objections to these ballots. And we’ll live by the outcome of those hand recounts without recourse to tossing out those absentee ballots. Take your choice.’
Possible? Of course not.
P.S. If, in the course of the Seminole and Martin county trials, it turns out that Republicans were extended the opportunity to correct their ballots while Democrats were not, well â¦ then all bets are off. I say throw ’em out.
P.P.S. Watching how worked up Nicholson just got I’m almost tempted to think the Dems might still have a chance at this. Almost.
Today Talking Points came across this little snippet in an article by Curt Anderson of the Associated Press:
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and once Bush’s rival for the GOP nomination, said he has talked to Bush about moving campaign finance reform legislation and promised swift January confirmation hearings for Cabinet appointees.
This passage seems to imply that maybe Bush and McCain were trying to work out some sort of arrangement on this highly contentious issue. (McCain has vowed that “We will have blood all over the floor of the Senate” until soft money is banned.) That could either mean that Bush was becoming more flexible on campaign finance reform and expressing a willingness to compromise on McCain-Feingold or it could mean that McCain himself was drawing off his commitment to push forward on the bill as the first order of business in the 107th congress, no matter what. Either possibility would be quite distressing to me, errâ¦ Talking Points, but for very different reasons.
Talking Points would hate to see McCain, whom he admires a lot, flake on his signature issue. But he’d also hate to see Bush see the light and jump on the campaign finance reform bandwagon. Eventually Bush will have to. Because the bill will pass the Senate this year. But if Bush gets religion now he’ll miss all the anguished blood-letting and political damage he’ll earn by opposing it till the bitter end. And that would take all the fun out of it.
So Talking Points looked into it. Turns out the article is a touch misleading. McCain spoke to Bush a few days after Thanksgiving mainly about the presidential contest and also brought up his decision to push for campaign funding reform in the next congress. But Bush didn’t have anything to say on that count. So, in other words, nothing has changed! McCain’s still gonna push it; Bush is still going to oppose it.
Or at least that’s how it looks right now.
This time Talking Points actually breaks some news on the on-going GOP-Senate-Leadership-in-Denial story. As regular TPM readers will know, Senate Republicans are currently divided between those who want to face the reality of a divided Senate and those who want to use Dick Cheney’s vote to pretend they possess something more than a purely nominal majority.
When Senate Republican committee chairmen met yesterday all but three wanted to keep to majority rules which would dictate that Republicans get more seat assignments than Democrats. Those three were Senators Ted Stevens at Appropriations, John McCain at Commerce, and Fred Thompson at Government Affairs.
Who says Talking Points never hooks you up?
Ahhhhh! So you didn’t believe Talking Points when he told you that Trent Lott was still living in denial about what happened in the Senate on November 7th? Well, maybe you’d be believe the New York Times? (Yeah, I thought so).
This article by Allison Mitchell describes how Senate Republicans are now divided between those who are willing to split resources and committee seats with Democrats and those who aren’t. Trent Lott’s in the second group and his conservative-heavy leadership team was just reelected. Their plan: screw the Democrats. With Dick Cheney’s vote, we still call the shots.
Note to Trent: Don’t bet on it.
The Daschle line:
“What I will simply say is that we will not be satisfied with anything less than a 50-50 split in the responsibilities and opportunities presented to this caucus and to their caucus in the next Congress.”
That sounds right.
For quote of the day Talking Points nominates these choice words Democratic strategist David Axelrod told the Philly Inquirer’s Dick Polman.
“[Al Gore] has fought his heart out, and he is getting an agonizing lesson in the unfairness of life. He knows in his own mind that he really won it, and that he was foiled by surreal circumstances. He has to process all that. The most difficult task of all is letting go.”
Talking Points hasn’t quite, totally, absolutely, positively, completely lost hope. But, ya know, we’re getting close.
Can someone do me a favor? I need someone to talk to Trent Lott. Talking Points has never had particularly fond feelings for, or cordial relations with, the Mississippi Republican. So he’s probably not the one to give Lott the news. But isn’t this getting a bit ridiculous?
That’s Lott in the picture. In case you’re wondering, he’s the Gulf Coast dandy with the ABSURDLY OVERSIZED feather in his cowboy hat. (Does this guy have something to prove? Is this some sort of sublimated courting ritual?)
Anyway, back to my story. Isn’t this getting a bit ridiculous?
On November 7th Lott had his head handed to him on a platter. But he apparently hasn’t felt around on his neck stump to notice that something is missing. Lott is starting to look like the little boy who goes to another kid’s birthday party and is the only one who doesn’t realize he ain’t the main attraction. Who’s gonna tell him?
That analogy doesn’t work for you? Well then he’s the has-been loser whose friends don’t have the heart to tell him to pack it in. Actually, wait a second. That’s not an analogy. That’s exactly what’s happening! He is a has-been loser whose friends don’t have the heart to tell him to pack it in!
Ever since he led his Senate caucus to a humiliatingly poor showing on November 7th Lott has been making the rounds, telling reporters he hopes Senator-elect Hillary Clinton gets struck by lightening, that maybe some Senate Democrats will die and put the Republicans back in the Majority. Occasionally he makes reassuring comments about reaching out to the minority party. Lott’s inappropriate bluster seems to grow at exactly the rate that his power diminishes. Maybe Don Nickles and Larry Craig need to organize some sort of intervention?
Trent â¦ buddy, amigo. You’re going to be the first Senate Majority Leader in history with no majority. The first one who needs a boost from the executive branch to get you into the big chair. Your colleagues on the Democratic side don’t think you’re the Majority Leader. And the only reason your Republican colleagues aren’t pitching you overboard is that they all think your job is going to suck. Don’t believe me? Take a peek at this article in The New Republic. In fact, let’s just ditch the ‘Majority Leader’ title. Can’t we just call you Parity Leader? It’s still a capitalized title. You still get the big office. But no more “Majority Leader,” okay? Not until you get another majority.
Talking Points just got his first blast email from something called the Bush-Cheney Presidential Transition Foundation, Inc.
(Not just a transition but a foundation. He really must be president.)
It says Dick Cheney’s going to be up on Capitol Hill tomorrow shmoozing with people from the House and the Senate.
P.S. Talking Points really doesn’t mean this in a flippant way. But didn’t this guy just have a heart attack? Shouldn’t he be taking it a bit easier?
Talking Points doesn’t think today’s double-barreled court decisions make it any more likely that George W. Bush will be our next president.
But it’s starting to look pretty clear that Dick Cheney will be.
Most observers have lauded President Clinton’s willingness to put vice-president Gore’s talents to use during their two terms in the office. But here’s one of the reasons you don’t want to use the vice-president as a de facto prime minister (or, let’s be honest, a de facto president.)
What if the president and the vice-president have a falling out? Or what if they break on a significant point of policy. With a Chief of Staff or a Secretary of State or a senior advisor, this isn’t a problem. The president fires them. Or they resign. But Bush can’t fire Dick Cheney. The vice-presidency is a constitutional office.
Now, I’m willing to admit that it’s hard to figure how Bush and Cheney would break on a significant policy issue since Cheney seems to tell Bush what to think on every policy issue.
But, hey, maybe W. will start reading books after he’s sworn in as president. Maybe he’s not dumb, just a late-bloomer?
Anyway, it’s worth thinking about.
On his site today Andrew Sullivan defends Montana Governor Marc Racicot against one of Sullivan’s “liberal friends” who said Governor Racicot was “evil.” (Racicot’s the one who’s been holding all those press conferences for Bush in Austin and appearing on countless chat shows on the governor’s behalf.)
Racicot’s not evil. He’s pathetic. (And that’s much worse than evil.)
Sure, sure, Montana’s one of the more feeble states. But it’s still a state! Racicot’s running around like he’s trying out to be Bush’s press secretary. Why doesn’t this guy have more respect for himself? He’s the governor of a state! Aren’t the people of Montana starting to wonder why their Governor has set up shop down in Austin, Texas? Is he still on the state’s payroll? And what happened to Karen Hughes? Isn’t she good enough anymore?
Word is that Racicot may be in line to be George W.’s Attorney General. But doesn’t this pathetic behavior in search of a cabinet post tend to confirm the charge that Bush puts sycophantic loyalty above quality and merit in most of his appointments?
Bring on the yes-men!
P.S. Think you’ve heard Talking Points getting on Racicot’s case before? You’re right. Last month, the late night post on November 20th. It seems to have become an obsession with Talking Points. And Sullivan’s post just set him off.
Talking Points hardly likes anyone better at Slate Magazine than Will Saletan. Not only because he’s a very nice guy and Frame Game is a great column, but also because he hooked Talking Points up with some really choice exit poll data on election day (I’m figuring that VNS has enough to worry about now and won’t try to bully us with any lawsuits.)
But I don’t quite buy the argument he makes in his most recent column. That argument (as nearly as I can figure it) is that the margin separating the two candidates is smaller than what one might call the margin of the error of the voting technology. So you’re in a quantum physics-like conundrum where you just can’t push the numbers much further than say a .1% margin.
That sounds right.
But his conclusion seems to be that since you can’t really know who won in cases where the margin is this small you just have to go with the call the networks made on election night.
New Bush Slogan: they trust the people, we trust the networks!
(Note: I’ve caricatured Will’s argument a bit here. If you want the uncaricatured version I’d suggest you read the piece. But, hey, I had to come up with a new post for this afternoon. So there it is.)
And another thing. George W. Bush is trying to make nice with Dems by saying he’s going to appoint some House Democrats to his cabinet. Does W. think we’re as stupid as Talking Points thinks he is? I’m sure the Republicans would like to knock a half dozen Dems out of the House.
(Note II: Talking Points had some help on this second item from this character. But actually Talking Points had also thought that Gore could demonstrate his bipartisanship by appointing senators Judd Gregg, Jim Jeffords, Dick Shelby and Gordon Smith to his cabinet. So he’ll take some of the credit. Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck. We can play that game too!)
If Talking Points used headlines or titles for his posts he might call this one “moronic crap watch.” The Miami Herald article discussed in the previous post included comments on the article’s findings from the Bush and Gore campaigns. It’s bad enough the Bushies keep insisting that undervotes are just ballots from people who didn’t want to vote for president. Now Bush flak Tucker Eskew trots out this one:
Eskew, the spokesman for the Texas governor, flatly rejected [the study] as “hocus pocus” and “an utterly unfounded scientific process.” In addition to mistakenly assuming that voters handing in undervotes intended to vote, he said, the analysis also ignores the notion that many of the double-punched ballots may have been “protest votes,” intentionally spoiled. “That is a deeply flawed model that suggests statistical voodoo,” he said.
Yeah, I’m so mad I’m votin’ for Bush and Nader. That’ll show ’em. I’ll vote for Bush and Gore. Let ’em take that!
You wonder after a while why the Bushies don’t stick to the unexceptionable argument that overvotes (double voted ballots) don’t count, period. Don’t these transparently ridiculous assertions just make them seem indifferent to the truth?
He shoots … He S-C-O-R-E-S!!!
Talking Points runs with some breaking news! The Florida Supreme Court will announce a decision tonight. Not tomorrow, tonight. Apparently they’ve given the heads-up to the networks. But the networks aren’t supposed to tell anybody. Apparently the delay has to do with a broken xerox machine in the court, which has slowed things up.
Hey, that’s what I’m hearing
As of about 7 PM on Tuesday, Talking Points heard (from his sources on CNN and MSNBC) that Palm Beach County had given Gore a measly 3 more votes, with about 1/5 of the precincts reporting. Broward had given the veep a semi-respectable 118 votes more with all the precincts reporting. And Miami-Dade had given Gore 114 more votes with 99 out of 614 precincts.
Let’s hear it for Miami-Dade! These guys are really pulling their weight!
(Actually the vote woman on MSNBC says those hundred-odd precincts already reporting lean even more Democratic than the rest of the county. So maybe it’s not as good as it sounds.)
Of course, the real issue is dimples. And which counties have how many ‘undervotes’ – that undiscovered country of hidden suffrage? Palm Beach has about 10,000; Broward’s got between 1,000 and 2,000; and Miami-Dade has some 10,750.
So, hey, there’s plenty of work to be done, assuming the Florida Supreme Court doesn’t completely shut Gore down.
Oh yeah, one other thing. If you include the already counted Palm Beach ballots with dimples Gore picks up another 301 votes.
So Gore’s not doing that badly. But obviously it’s going to come down to whether or not he gets his dimples.
From real Gore campaign sources I’ve heard that the whole race will come down to 100 or 150 vote spread either way. Unfortunately for them they’re not sure which way.
Talking Points is also wondering what’s up with retiring Senator Bob Kerrey. Normally Kerrey is a bit of spoil sport, especially in partisan terms. And for years he could be counted on to trash and take potshots at the Clinton-Gore administration. (In fact, Talking Points has been trashing Senator Kerrey in print for a couple years now – example one, two, and three.)
But all of sudden he’s Al Gore’s biggest pit bull. Today the Gore team had Kerrey (a Vietnam vet who lost the lower part of one leg in the war) down in Florida taking the fight to the Republicans on the military overseas ballot issue. Apparently, a bunch of those overseas military ballots had problems besides not being postmarked. No signatures, no witnesses, etc.
Senator Kerrey’s line: if you’re in the military, you’re supposed to follow the rules.
I could get to like this guy!
P.S. Talking Points would like to make clear that he is actually quite pro-military, and something of a foreign policy hawk. So no emails saying he’s ganging up on the military!
Finally, finally, finally someone has the good sense and courage to point out how hideously unfair and outrageous those charges are about the Gore campaign trying to deny soldiers their right to vote. (A few days ago Talking Points said the Republicans were playing the Sturm und Drang, Stab-in-the-Back, Last-Days-of-the-Weimar-Republic card. He thought that was pretty clever. But it was too generous, because too jocular.)
Listen to Florida Democrat Peter Deutsch last night on Crossfire:
Let me just talk a little bit about the whole, I guess, spin from the Republicans about — which has been to me the absolute most — the worst statements I have ever heard probably in my life about anything. I mean, almost a blood libel by the Republicans towards Al Gore, saying that he was trying to stop men and women in uniform that are serving this country from voting. That is the most absurd thing and absolutely has no basis in fact at all.
Alright, alright, not the most articulate guy in the world. But you get his point!
“…almost a blood libel.” That’s pretty strong stuff. Strong, but not too strong. Because it’s true.
(Deutsch can get away with this statement, in part, because he’s Jewish. But so is Talking Points; so he gets a pass too!)
You don’t just toss around charges that the possible next president of the United States is conspiring to take the vote away from American soldiers overseas. Given the volatility of the moment and the divisions already existing in American society it really is almost like a blood libel. Almost.
People in the press should have called the Bushies on this rather than treating their new line of attack as if it were nothing more serious than the dissing and trash-talking one hears on the Jerry Springer show.
Talking Points was going to leave it at that. But then he read Tom Friedman’s column in the NYT this morning. Friedman said:
Our armed forces, the courts, the federal government – these are the nonpartisan institutions we need to hold our country together once there is a partisan outcome to this election. It was out of line for Ms. Hughes to imply that our armed forces are pro- Republican and that the Democrats were trying to prevent them from voting. Ms. Hughes might as well have called Mr. Gore a traitor. It would be like Mr. Gore accusing Mr. Bush of bigoted motives because he resisted recounts in counties with heavy black and Jewish populations. You just don’t talk that way about the man who might be our next president.
Talking Points couldn’t have said it better himself. I guess that’s why Friedman is on the Op-Ed page of the NYT and Talking Points â¦ well, just has Talking Points.
Talking Points understands that every self-respecting post-election presidential candidate these days needs his surrogates. But why can’t George W. Bush at least get political hacks from Florida to make his case for him?
The Dems have Reps. Peter Deutsch D -Fla. and Robert Wexler D -Fla., two congressmen from the Palm Beach area, spinning for them. But who’s Bush got? Rep. John Sweeney, R-N.Y who told the AP today that “Miami-Dade has become ground zero for producing a manufactured vote” and Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio who called the balloting there “a joke on our democracy.” What’s the deal here? Why can’t Bush get any home grown talent?
And what’s with Marc Racicot, the governor of Montana? Since when is this guy Bush’s press secretary? What happened to Karen Hughes? Aren’t the folks in Montana starting to wonder why their governor has set up residence in Austin, Texas?
Is this the kind of scut work you have to do to get an appointment in the new Bush administration?
Talking Points is not a lawyer (though he did take the LSAT during one very misguided summer in the mid-nineties). But he feels qualified to offer some advice to Joseph Klock, the lawyer who represented Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris today before the Florida Supreme Court.
1. When addressing the Court (especially a potentially hostile one), refrain from sassing, getting in the face of, talking over, or in other ways mouthing off to the justices. While this seems like a sure-fire strategy, it sometimes produces negative results.
2. When presenting arguments, refrain from interjecting or ending statements with gratuitous throw-away lines commonly used on Hardball. Free form prose poems about chads (“hanging chads, banging chads, pregnant chads, schmegmant chads, etc.”) are particularly to be avoided.
3. Avoid legal arguments which imply that the vice-president’s campaign would actually be in a much better position to lodge complaints once the election is certified and his opponent is elected.
Talking Points really liked Juliet Eilperin’s and Eric Pianin’s article in today’s Washington Post about how furious Republicans might cripple a potential Gore presidency. (Actually, Talking Points likes everything Eilperin writes; he doesn’t know the Pianin guy.) But maybe this is a moment for a reality check.
No doubt the Republicans will be furious with Gore if he wins; they’ll do all sorts of nasty things because of it; they’ll probably try to obstruct his agenda, and so forth. And this would be in contrast to â¦?
The get-along-go-along free ride they’ve given Bill Clinton?
Hardcore Republicans (and not a few soft-core ones) never accepted the legitimacy of Bill Clinton’s presidency either. And while no one can be happy about the sour feelings which will result from this mess (however it turns out), Democrats shouldn’t be bullied or intimidated by Republican threats, or mau-maued into inactivity should Gore win Florida.
There’s a lot of talk about rejected military absentee ballots, but Talking Points still isn’t convinced that a lot of civilian (and thus more likely Gore) absentee ballots weren’t rejected in Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and other counties. Yesterday’s New York Times says that “Lawyers for each party made sure that each envelope containing civilian ballots met the stringent requirements of state law, including having the voter’s signature and the date, with the signature crossing the seam where the ballot is sealed, and having the signature of a witness who is either a notary or a registered Florida voter [italics added].”
But a Talking Points reader in Israel, who tells me he helped others navigate the paperwork of absentee-ballot-dom, says there was never any mention of this requirement in the absentee ballot instructions. And he actually seems to have some proof to back up his claim. The Federal Voting Assistance Program website has instructions for obtaining and completing overseas absentee ballots. And the site has information for how to deal with absentee ballots for citizens of each state – information gathered from the state authorities.
But on the Florida section of the site there is no mention of needing a notary or a registered Florida voter to witness your ballot.
Now Talking Points has to admit he got pretty confused reading this material. It took him a while to realize that a good bit of the information on the site applies to the card you send to get your absentee ballot.
But … but the document does clearly state: “When returning a voted ballot, the certificate on the return envelope must be witnessed by one person over the age of 18. The name and address of the witness are required on the certificate.”
No notary, no registered voter Floridian required!
Who’s responsible for this screw up? The Feds or Katherine Harris? Did it say something different on the absentee ballots themselves? And how many civilian votes got tossed because of it?
P.S. Talking Points has to admit that he’s still a little confused about this; but he thinks he got it right.
An update on how Gore’s doing in the recount: according to CNN, with roughly 30% of the precincts counted in Palm Beach County, there are some 1000 ballots which have been set aside as under dispute. Those will later be reviewed by the canvassing board and, in all likelihood, later by a court. What does that mean? That a Gore-friendly resolution of the chad question could well give the veep enough votes to move ahead of Bush.
The new Republican line is that all the mess going on down in Florida is the result of the Democrats’ decision to “depart from the rule of law.” (I’m calling this the new Republican line because they’re all using it on the Sunday morning shows – especially Sen. Fred Thompson on This Week.) But wait a second: aren’t law courts the font of the “rule of law”? I know there a difficulties aplenty with getting elections into the courtrooms. But for serious “rule of law” theorists the rule of law is all about independent courts, an independent judiciary, and – yes, god forbid – lawyers. Process, process, process! Procedure, procedure, procedure! Give two hypocrite points to the GOP on this one.
Several Talking Points readers have pointed out the answer to the apparent contradiction noted in last night’s post: i.e., why the Republicans are going ballistic over the hand-recounts at precisely the moment when those counts don’t seem to be going as well as the Democrats had hoped.
The answer? These unofficial estimates coming out of Broward and Palm Beach don’t include a growing stack of disputed ballots with dimpled chads and pregnant chads and so forth. Depending on how the Florida Supreme Court rules those ballots could throw the count decisively in Al Gore’s direction. So, yes, the Bush folks do have reason to be worried.
One more question. The new Republican battle cry is over these tossed out military absentee ballots that don’t have postmarks. The GOP is really sharpening the blade on this one – trying to characterize this as a Dem effort to disenfranchise soldiers. (Ahh â¦ what a responsible thing to say.) But according to the New York Times, “In counties carried by Mr. Bush, 29 percent of the overseas ballots were ruled invalid, but in counties carried by Mr. Gore, the figure was 60 percent.” It sounds like Gore’s ox is being gored more than Bush’s. Are those tossed out ballots in the Gore counties military ballots or are they civilian ballots? That’s the question Talking Points hasn’t heard the answer to. The Times article seems to imply that the thrown out ballots in the Democratic counties were military ballots, but doesn’t quite say so.
Do you notice something odd? The Bush campaign today launched a ferocious attack on the hand counting procedures being used in Palm Beach and other counties in southern Florida. They’re no longer challenging hand-counting as inherently unreliable and perhaps open to ‘mischief,’ they’re leveling explicit charges of ballot tampering and fraud.
The Bush folks are also charging the Democrats with plotting to toss out military absentee overseas ballots because they lack postmarks. Bush surrogate, Montana governor Marc Racicot charged that “the vice president’s lawyers have gone to war in my judgment against the men and women who serve in our Armed Forces. In an effort to win at any costs, the Democrats have launched a statewide effort to throw out as many military ballots as they can [italics added].”
(This, you might say, is the Bush team’s effort to play the Sturm und Drang, Stab-in-the-Back, Last-Days-of-the-Weimar-Republic card.)
The implication of this quickly escalating rhetoric is pretty clear: the Republicans are scared to death of what might be found in those hand counts.
The problem is that the hand counts don’t seem to be going that well for the Democrats. At least that’s what CNN and the rest of the nets seem to be reporting. A hand recount of a third of the precincts in Broward county yielded only 59 new votes for the vice-president. A Democratic member of the Palm Beach canvassing board said he wasn’t “seeing much of a change” in the vote totals so far in the recount in his county. Gore’s got to get a thousand votes to catch up to Bush; and it doesn’t look like it’s going that well.
So what gives? What does the Bush campaign know that the rest of us don’t?
As of late afternoon on Friday only about a half-dozen Florida counties had reported their overseas absentee ballot totals. But the results weren’t pretty. So far the numbers are running 31 to 10 in favor of George W. Bush. Yikes! If that sort of percentage holds up Bush could move another thousand votes ahead of Gore.
Consider this, though. Fox News reported on Wednesday that the US Postal Service was expediting delivery of military absentee ballots. But only military ballots. That doesn’t seem fair. What if you’re a Floridian hanging out in Tel Aviv? What about your vote?
The question, though, is this: Did the Bush folks lean on the USPS and get them to move those ballots along? And if so, why are the postal folks such push-overs?
Why does Talking Points think the Bush folks may have gotten in touch with the people at the US Postal Service? He has learned, on good authority, that the Bush campaign sent a letter to the Defense Department asking them to help insure that all military absentee ballots got to Florida in a timely fashion. Don’t get me wrong: nothing untoward was implied or requested. But the folks at the DOD rightly responded that there are already procedures in place for this sort of thing.
Maybe the postal service didn’t respond in quite the same way.
Talking Points thought he’d said enough about Al Gore’s new state-wide recount gambit; but he was wrong. Anytime your spin makes your opponent respond with counter-spin that is self-defeating and transparently moronic you know you’re dishing out some really good spin.
Think Gore’s offer last night was generous? Generous, Shmenerous! Listen to the Washington Post‘s David Broder summarize the Republican line: “Bush aides said … that the offer of a statewide hand count was less generous than it seemed. Looking at precinct returns even in counties carried by Bush, they said, more spoiled or uncounted ballots may have been cast by Democrats than by Republicans.”
Good point! In other words, this is a devious ploy by the vice-president to demonstrate that he really won the election.
There’s no denying this was a tactical coup for Gore. Let’s get him into the White House and have him loose some of that mojo on Saddam Hussein!
Of course, the fight’s far from over. Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris may exercise her authority to burn all remaining uncounted ballots, which from what I see of Florida election law she is probably entitled to do. But for right now the veep is looking pretty good.
Gore wins! Well, at least sort of. Whether or not Al Gore becomes the next president, last night he went a long way to winning — perhaps already won — the publicity war, the war for public opinion.
Gore’s offer to agree to a statewide hand recount of the votes, and abide by the results with no recourse to the courts, is an eminently reasonable offer — one which George W. Bush will have a really hard time refusing.
Of course, Bush DID reject the offer, just a couple hours after the vice-president made it. But, finally (for once?), the editorial responses were swift and unequivocal against the governor. Both the Washington Post and the New York Times teed off on the governor, granting that Gore’s offer played to his advantage, but also agreeing that it was the only fair and logical way out of this mess. (Talking Points doesn’t mean to indulge in a hideous, East Coast, elite media bias – but he suspects editorials from around the country will come to a similar conclusion, as will most members of the American public with whom he is in a constant and almost mystical communion. (Late Update: USAToday was a little less kind. They called Gore’s gambit “artful political alchemy, not altruism.”))
The Times wrote “Mr. Bush’s swift rejection of the proposal was a disappointment on civic grounds, a political mistake and unsound as to his reasoning that a manual recount would be ‘arbitrary and chaotic’ â¦ Mr. Gore’s proposal was right on the substance and also tactically smart.” The Post made a similar argument and concluded by writing “Mr. Gore’s offer was doubtless in some ways to his own advantage. But it was to Gov. Bush’s disadvantage only if he was clinging to an artificial lead that would not stand up to legitimate review.”
Both papers also took a stern swipe at the increasingly unforgivable stance of Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Harris makes a commentator’s task a difficult one. Normally, a bad actor proceeds with sufficient deftness to make their bad conduct require explanation. But Harris’ attitude and actions have been so brazen, so partisan, and so clearly ill-considered as to make any discussion or attack upon them thoroughly redundant. In our modern political culture, so sensitive to conflicts of interest, people commonly recuse themselves from decisions they would likely have little difficulty making fairly. Harris, though, persists not only in making decisions she is clearly not in an appropriate position to make, but makes them in the most transparently partisan way.
When Talking Points thought it over, the most offensive thing he found in Harris’ behavior was not so much her transparently partisan conduct as her brazen willingness to act in such a way in the full light of media attention. She isn’t even trying to hide it. And thus her real message seems to be: I’ve got the power to do this, and I just don’t care what anyone thinks.
Somehow or another the Republicans appear to be on the verge of shutting down the whole process of manual recounts in Florida. The only thing that may stand in their way now is public opinion and elite opinion – obviously two different things. So how do the prestige national dailies react on their editorial pages? Well, it’s pretty disappointing. The Washington Post has a typically supercilious, plague-on-both-your-houses complaint about how both campaigns have their spokesman saying some awfully un-nice things. (Did Chris Lehane really call Katherine Harris “Commissar Harris”? Chris, I’m on your side, man, trust me. But that kind of talk really doesn’t help matters.)
Anyway, back to my story. The Wash Post editorial is a pretty big disappointment. Characteristically they seem quite oblivious to the thought that there might be an issue of small-d democratic principle at stake here. Since when does David Broder get to write the unsigned editorials for the Post anyway?
The NYT editorial is a little more encouraging, praising the state court decision which agreed that Katherine Harris has discretion over what to do about accepting those overdue election returns, but encourages her not to exercise that discretion in the irresponsible and arbitrary way she seems to intend.
Apparently Bob Torricelli is still playing the nay-sayer, bucketing water into the Democratic boat rather than the other way around. Anyway, that’s what Kausfiles seems to imply that Torricelli did last night on Hardball. Talking Points would comment on this matter directly. But he’s currently visiting his girlfriend in New Haven and she doesn’t have cable TV so he has no direct evidence. He has to rely on Kaus.
The one half-way decent editorial on this is in USAToday. They basically make the standard anti-litigation argument. But they’re at least sensitive to the fact that the Republican strategy is to avoid accurate tabulation and avoid having everyone’s vote count. The real answer to this quagmire, they argue, is to have the whole state do a manual recount. (Note: here’s where my editorializing begins) That really is the one solution that no one should be able to argue with. It really will get the most accurate count. There would be no question of selective counting. And perhaps best of all the proposition would create sufficient uncertainty for both camps – a decent shot at winning or losing – that pressure might be applied to get both to agree in advance to honor the result without further grousing. (Secret word to fellow Democratic partisans: apparently the big Democratic counties are the ones that tend to have the machines most likely to miss votes. So even the fair way of settling this seems to lean in our favor – of course, that’s only because most people in Florida did apparently vote for Al Gore.)
Tomorrow’s big question is whether state judge Terry Lewis will prevent Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris from making 5 PM Tuesday the drop-dead deadline for all ballot recounts – a decision that would effectively prevent hand recounts in several key Democratic counties, and probably make George W. Bush our next president.
But has anyone else noticed how feeble an argument Harris’ attorney made in court on Monday afternoon?
A number of good articles ran Monday explaining that Harris is much more than a passive supporter of Governor Bush (see these effective flayings of Harris in Salon and ABCNews.com); but Harris and her supporters argue that, whatever her personal feelings in the matter, Florida statute mandates that she enforce the deadline, period.
Here’s how Reuters described one exchange:
Debby Kearney, general counsel for the secretary of state’s office, acknowledged that state law gave Harris discretion to extend the deadline but said she refused to do so because the counties had given no adequate reason why they could not comply.
“We don’t think anything has happened to require us to use that discretion,” Kearney said.
Is she kidding? The counties have “given no adequate reason why they could not comply.” Please! Can’t they do better than this transparently false assertion?
If that’s the best they can do I’m dusting off my résumé and sending it off to Warren Christopher. I hear he’s slated to head up Gore’s transition.