I see by the newspapers that I'm supposed to be enraged. Conservatives are like that, you see. Kind of touchy--unbalanced, really. When a politician we don't like--Al Gore, in this case--goes to court to try, for the first time in history, to overturn the certified result of a presidential election, and then launches a raft of novel and fallacious legal theories to muddy the clear intent of legally passed statutes, and finally enlists the aid of a politically sympathetic team of state supreme court judges to count the votes and count them again until the tally makes him the winner--well, we conservatives just refuse to do the gentlemanly thing. We lose our heads. We depart the world of rationality.
It says so right here. We "bellow," says the Los Angeles Times. And "howl." We reach "fever pitch." Our "rage sharpens" our rhetoric, says the Washington Post. We "unleash our wrath," says the Baltimore Sun. I always trust the newspapers, of course, but I've searched myself for signs of rage, and I've come up empty. The same is true for my conservative pals (not one of whom, I'm happy to say, could be counted among the G.O.P. battalion of Brooks Brothers goons who actually did bellow and howl at Miami-Dade officials last month). Like most people, conservatives ran through a series of emotions last week. I was mildly pleased when Judge Sauls slapped down Vice President Gore's lawsuit contesting the election, and I was mildly alarmed by the Vice President's brief press conference, when he pronounced himself "optimistic" (Who's unbalanced now? I wondered), and then, when the Florida Supreme Court overturned Judge Sauls' ruling and confirmed Gore's optimism, I somehow managed not to foam at the mouth. But I was surprised and appalled. And then surprised again and pleased again, 24 hours later, with the U.S. Supreme Court's emergency stay.
All of which seems to me, with all due respect to the L.A. Times and the others, to be a perfectly rational reaction. The dispute over Florida touches on first principles, as disputes between liberals and conservatives often do. The train of reasoning is roughly as follows. Most people not besotted by partisanship have reached the conclusion that the vote in Florida is a statistical tie. Out of 6 million votes, the difference between the two candidates' totals is so slender that it could be accounted for by any number of variables having nothing to do with the intent of the voters--errors committed either by machines or by humans, in either the casting of votes or their tabulation. These variables, and the extent to which they influenced the vote, are essentially unmeasurable and hence unknowable. Count the totals 10 times, and you will get 10 different results--first one winner, then another, and then the first one again.