Bush should have taken recount dare

At this writing, the State of Florida has certified Gov. George W. Bush as the winner of that state's presidential electors.

Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified his win Sunday night. Florida statute says she should do so within one week of the election. The Florida Supreme Court said she had to wait until Nov. 26. The Florida Supreme Court also said that any challenges to the Nov. 26 certification had to be resolved by the 12th day of December.

Republicans challenged the Florida Supreme Court's right to "change the rules after the election was over." Republicans said the Florida Supreme Court was legislating. We have reached the stage of "a pox on both your houses."

Two weeks ago Vice President Al Gore offered to count the whole state and abide by the results. That is to forswear any litigation. He did so in the sure and certain knowledge that the Bush people would not agree. He was right. The Bush people should have agreed.

Here we are at the nub of this entire unsavory event. More than 5,800,000 voters cast ballots in Florida. Out of that total, 184,000 of them failed to vote for president. That is three tenths of 1 percent. That national average, not voting for the top of any ticket, is one-half of 1 percent. For the Democrats to prate and whine about "votes not being counted" is true theatre of the absurd.

For the Republicans to insist on counting military absentees but allowing no other recount is at best a fuzzy message. Every vote that the Democrats whined about was counted. The machine in the first count rejected the 184,000. That is, those voters messed up their vote some way. Either voted twice for the same candidate, or did not vote at all. People do this with "fill-in-the-space" voting for counting by an optical scanner. These mistakes don't happen just with punch ballots. Spoiled ballots are a national phenomenon.

Florida is neither worse nor better than any other state.

Elderly Jewish people are no more prone to error than elderly gentiles. They just whine louder about it. What is stunning to me is that the Democrats had the courage to demand a recount in only four heavily Democrat districts, and the Republicans stayed mute on that aspect of this totally unacceptable demand.

Had Florida done a statewide count, (which I guarantee the Democrats would have welched on if the Bush folks had been smart enough to accept Gore's public relations ploy), Bush had as good a chance of winning as Gore, and whoever won, it would have served the country better. A more acceptable result than the perceived forced result that was the product of court and statute full court press would have served the country better.

Gore will whine his way through the Florida courts to no good end, the United States Supreme Court will throw the ball back to Florida in a manner that will preclude recounting of any county's ballots because of the Dec. 12 deadline set by the Florida Supreme Court.

But the naked desperation that has driven the Democrats to this extraordinary length of bad taste and no class is something that says more about them than you really want to know. Those people, Mr. Gore and his team, believe that they are entitled to do whatever it takes to win. They feel this way because these people have no other life except the political and this is the top of the political mountain.

Many of them, including Gore, know that they will never get this way again. They believe they must make the most of this chance. If that means lying and cheating and demonstrating, so be it. Sadly, the Republican operators are just as bad. They care more for tactics than the country. That's my very subjective call, but I attribute it to the lost opportunity of Gore's offer to recount the whole state. At that time Bush had something more than 1,000 votes over Gore. The dim bulbs – strike that the lifetime pols around Bush – could not see abandoning what they perceived as a tremendous advantage.

I have not done the math, but in my experience the first machine count almost always reflects the final result. It is my own belief that Governor Bush should have accepted the Gore offer to recount the whole state, and let the results stand. His professional pols could not stand that and he ended up looking as bad as the Gore people.

One final word. If Bush becomes president, I think this entire process has helped him. He has genuine skills and experience in achieving legislative successes in divided partisan legislatures that will serve him well.

The expectations from the endless stream of talking heads, from both parties, will be so diminished as to make any success seem a miracle. A substantial success would be another burning bush. (I know). The one certainty that I cling to with totally renewed faith is that we will survive and prosper whatever the outcome. I remember the same type of talking head predicting Armageddon when Nixon quit. We did fine.

(Sam Steiger, a former congressman and state legislator and current television talk show host, is mayor of Prescott.)