You know youre confronting a double standard when the argument youre hearing reminds you of the schoolyard phrase: Heads I win, tails you lose. Lets examine the double standards that have been put in place to block Al Gore from becoming president.
For days now, the common wisdom, even among Democrats, has held that if Gore loses his case in the Florida Supreme Court, he should concede to George W. Bush and be gracious.
Its not an unreasonable view, especially since many of the Florida justices tried hard during oral arguments on Thursday to give Gore his due. Justices such as Harry Lee Anstead were forceful in questioning the strange decision of Circuit Court Judge N. Sanders Sauls to issue a sweeping ruling against Gore without looking at the core evidence in the case, the disputed ballots.
Since were all lawyers now, lets stipulate that Gore should drop out if this court rules against him. Shouldnt the same expectation apply to George W. Bush? If the court orders recounts that show Gore won Florida, shouldnt Bush also be gracious and concede?
But no one expects that to happen. Already the Repub-lican-dominated Florida Legislature has moved to name Bush electors who would contest Gore electors chosen by the people.
There was a revealing moment in the courtroom Thursday when Joseph Klock, who otherwise did an excellent job as an attorney for Secretary of State Katherine Harris, underscored that the Legislature would have no compunction about taking the choice of presidential electors away from the people.
For now, he said, the Legislature has allowed the people to make that choice. Note that word allowed, which makes the Legislature the parent and the voters a bunch of children. If the lawmakers dont like what the people did, they can disallow the people.
And Bush, who got slapped back by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday in his effort to stop all hand recounts, can also be counted on to appeal any ruling by the Florida Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court.
So Gore has to drop out quickly, but Bush can keep fighting. Heads Bush wins, tails Gore loses.
Or take those cases on illegally processed absentee ballots in Seminole and Martin Counties. The facts are clear: Republican officials doctored applications to make sure that some 2,000 absentee ballots in Seminole County and a smaller number in Martin County got sent out. No one disputes that what the Republicans did was against the law.
Yet any effort to throw out the illegal ballots which could give the election to Gore will be condemned for denying citizens who themselves broke no law with their legitimate right to vote. Fair enough, except that no such solicitude is shown toward voters who lost their ballots because of well-documented problems with Floridas voting equipment.
Think about the arguments being made here. When Broward County ballot counters were examining legally cast ballots, Repub-licans charged that counting any dimpled chads for Gore constituted some corrupt, outrageous violation. Yet Republicans who claim to be strict constructionist, throw-the-book-at-em, law-and-order types suddenly go squishy and say the problems with the Seminole and Martin ballots are only technicalities.
Can you imagine the vituperation that would issue from Rush Limbaugh or James A. Baker III if these were Democratic ballots in Democratic counties? Pity Todd Schmick, the political director of the Florida Republican Party. On the stand Wednesday night in the Martin County trial, he looked uncomfortable in confirming that the elections supervisor was going to correct the problem internally in Martin County. In other words, the fix was in.
Thus, the new Bush slogan is: Illegally obtained ballots, yes. Dimpled chads, no. Heads Bush wins, tails Gore loses.
Heres what the double standard asks of Gore. He must: (1) ignore any illegally cast Bush votes; (2) never get to examine ballots in Miami-Dade that have already been shown to contain votes for him; (3) accept the exclusion of 215 ballots cast in Palm Beach that, by a strict standard the Bush campaign praised, were recounted in Gores favor; (4) forget about elderly or African-American voters disenfranchised by equipment that made it hard for their votes to be registered. Oh, yes, and then Gore must concede graciously.
And here is what the double standard asks of Bush: Absolutely nothing.
As I write, we await decisions from the Florida Supreme Court and the two absentee ballot cases. If the courts go against Gore, the pressure on him to quit will be enormous.
As for Bush, hes above the courts, above the vote counts, above inconvenient questions about whether he really won the election. If the courts rule against Bush, hell just keep going until January. Will anyone say a word? Heads Bush wins, tails Gore loses.