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The Worst-Case Scenario
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, December 9, 2000

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following column was written prior to the Florida Supreme Court's ruling ordering a manual recount of ballots in counties that had not previously done so.

Question: What happens if George W. Bush becomes president and then we find out that Al Gore did in fact win the vote in Florida? Is it just too bad for Gore and his voters? I guess what I am asking is, can the American people ever expect to get the truth? Will any investigations ever take place to find out what really happened in Florida? Or will half the country just be left feeling they were cheated? – Rachel Taylor, Cleveland, Ohio

No matter the outcome, many people will feel the 2000 presidential election was stolen. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: More than a few people have been routinely asking this question. Some are really concerned about the effect it would have on the national psyche if the declared winner turned out to be the loser. Distrust of government would skyrocket if it were shown that Gore actually won more votes in Florida, and Bush would be forever marked with an asterisk. To be sure, the Gore camp insists that the thousands of disputed ballots represent the smoking gun that would give them Florida and, consequently, the presidency. And so, their argument goes, they must be counted.

There is no shortage of media outlets and advocacy groups who have lined up to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get a chance to count them. But there is no shortage of those who are playing politics with this theory too. Having been stymied by the Florida legislature and the courts, they now have a way of questioning the legitimacy of a President Bush by offering this "what if" and leaving the question mark hanging in the air.

There's a wave of thought that says this would be destructive – that given this month of frustration and anguish over the presidential uncertainty, it might do the nation some good for closure on this, no matter who wins. Not that a concession speech by either candidate would end the controversy. But, the argument goes, it serves no real purpose to continue questioning the winner's legitimacy, especially once the lawyers and judges have gone home. Richard Nixon, our ancestors tell us, refused to contest the suspicious results that came out of Mayor Daley's Chicago in the 1960 election because it would have thrown the nation into a constitutional crisis. With feelings running so strong now, it's hard to imagine either side going away quietly.

Here's the catch: Who counts the votes? Who's the unbiased arbiter who could look at one of those dimpled chads and decide with any amount of certainty who the voter intended to select? And do you just count the 14,000 ballots the Democrats have singled out, or do you hand-count the entire state?

The questions are endless. It's the answers that have gotten us stumped.

(A postscript on Nixon. Yes, Democrats argue that the real reason Nixon didn't challenge the '60 election was because the Republicans did their own share of vote-stealing in southern Illinois. Whether that's true or not – and I highly doubt the GOP shenanigans came close to what the Dems did that year - the fact is that Nixon did the right thing.)

Question: If Al Gore wins, does Joe Lieberman have to resign his Senate seat? Couldn't he refuse the vice presidency instead, allowing Gore to name a new V.P. and assuring Democratic control of the Senate? – Mitch Paul, New Hope, Minn.

Answer: Lieberman put his fellow Democratic senators in a pretty uncomfortable position when he insisted on running for both the vice presidency and reelection to the Senate this year. Many Dems privately said during the campaign that he should have stepped aside in Connecticut and let another Democrat, for instance Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, run for the Senate in his stead. That way, the party would have been guaranteed of keeping the seat had Lieberman left to become vice president. The way it stands now is if Gore somehow wins, Lieberman's successor would be named by GOP Gov. John Rowland. And, given the fact that the Senate is slated to be 50-50, a Gore victory means Lieberman's choice of running for both jobs would have cost the Democrats control of the Senate.

So despite all the smiles and back-slapping that went on when Lieberman paid a visit to Capitol Hill this week, there was some residual unhappiness over his career choices. And the thought that after all this, after the risks Gore took in naming the first Jew to run on a major-party national ticket, that he would then give it all up to help his party in the Senate, is inconceivable. If he was going to do that, he would have done so in October, when the Democrats still had time to name a substitute Senate candidate.

Question: What did Barry Goldwater mean in his famous speech at the 1964 Republican National Convention, when he said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!" – Carolin Eiliya, Los Angeles, Calif.

Goldwater and his supporters wore the "extremist" label proudly. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: The defeat of Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio) at the 1952 Republican convention was a major body blow for conservatives, and for most of the Eisenhower years there was no central figure for them to rally around. By 1960, Goldwater filled that role. The Arizona senator was a strong anti-Communist who told it like he saw it and believed, as did most conservatives, that the government that governed least governed best. But he was also accused for much of his career, and certainly during his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, of being well to the right. According to his foes, you didn't have to look far or deep into his voting record to see that he was an "extremist" – by his voting against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, calling for Social Security to be voluntary, opposing arms control and federal aid to education, and advocating bombing the Communists in Vietnam into submission and breaking relations with the Soviet Union.

But when Goldwater stood up to accept his party's nomination in San Francisco on July 16, 1964, he was not about to apologize for his views. One cannot be faulted if he is "extreme" in defending liberty, he said. And as for those who said he needed to be more moderate, Goldwater insisted that one could not be "moderate" in pursuing justice. A great, rousing speech. And one of the most lopsided defeats in presidential history.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2000 Ken Rudin

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