It is clear after nearly 15 years that bitter Democrats will always believe that the 2000 Presidential election was “stolen,” just as the losing parties in 1824, 1876 and 1988 claimed those elections were stolen. (In 1876, the election was stolen.) But as the cliche goes, while they have a right to their opinion, they do not have a right to their own facts. I understand why Democrats flogged this myth during the first term of the Bush Presidency—it was irresponsible, dishonest and divisive, and helped make political discourse the vile swill it is today, but I understand it. However, history should not be permanently warped by strategic lies.
The 2000 Election Big Lie turned up again today, in an indignant letter to the Washington Post. George Will had written a column condemning third party Presidential candidates for warping elections, using Ralph Nader’s quixotic 2000 run as an example and claiming that Nader cost Gore the White House. Will was wrong. Nader ran on his usual “pox on both parties” platform, and nobody knows how his voters would have split if he hadn’t run, or how many of them would have voted at all. Nader’s lawyer, Oliver Hall, protested against Will’s analysis in a letter to the editor, properly pointing out that a chaos-theory illustrating confluence of factors led to Gore’s narrow electoral college loss, not the least of which was that Gore was an inept candidate. (The person most responsible for Gore’s defeat, of course, was Bill Clinton.)
That correct interpretation, however, runs counter to the Big Lie, so partisan reader Bill Yue reiterated it today. His letter claimed that “the removal of any one of those elements ” mentioned by Hall would “likely have put Gore in the White House,” “for example, if the Supreme Court had allowed the recount to continue.”
Legal scholars and commentators disagree regarding the decision in that case, which became necessary after the Florida Supreme Court decided to ignore the state’s laws to allow the recount to continue. That is a separate question, however, from whether an endless recount would have led to a different winner. One very likely scenario, much discussed at the time, was that no final tally would have been dispositive, since the margin of error was larger than the difference between the vote totals of the candidates. That would have thrown the election into the Republican-dominated House, with Bush being the certain victor.
After the election, a consortium of newspapers announced a project to do the recount anyway, using various interpretations of “over-” and “under-” votes, including the infamous “hanging chad” dilemma. They undertook this because they fully expected to prove that a Supreme Court sanctioned recount would have ended with Gore as President-elect. These were nearly unanimously papers that had endorsed Al and been highly critical of the Court’s ruling.
The results disappointed them, and put the lie to the Big Lie. Bush won most of the recounts, though not all. The results were inconsistent enough to support the view that the final decision would have gone to the House, and that we would have ended up with the dysfunctional team of Bush and Lieberman, since the Democratic Senate would have chosen the Vice President. Sure, it’s moral luck. The recount could have shown that the Supreme Court took the election away from Gore, but it didn’t. The Big Lie that the election was stolen was definitively disproved.
Democrats can plausibly argue that Bush’s election was a fluke, because it was. They can argue that the Electoral College makes no sense, but everyone (well, everyone with a basic civic education and a knowledge of history) knew that was the system before a single vote was cast or a chad hung. Democrats would not have been whining about it if Gore had lost the popular vote but won anyway. They can even argue that the Supreme Court’s majority ignored the law to elect their personal choice as President, though I think that’s a slur and dead wrong. That would only mean that the conservatives on the court attempted to steal the election, but even accepting that biased view of events, the fact is that they didn’t. You can’t steal what you would get anyway.
The myth that Bush was fraudulently elected is harmful to the nation and democracy, and should be slapped down every time it surfaces. I know the Post typically doesn’t rebut letters, but this wasn’t an opinion, it’s a false fact that spreads ignorance, misinformation, and cynicism. Either the Post, which was part of the group that performed the multiple unofficial recounts post-election, should have set the record straight, or it shouldn’t have printed the letter at all. Big Lies are not healthy for any society, and this one is especially insidious, as it makes the false case that our elections are shams.
Meanwhile, Democrats and progressives are increasingly depending on the Big Lie tactic to attract supporters and votes. There are a lot of Big Lies, from this to “Bush lied” to “77 cents” to “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot” to “One in five women” to “Obama reduced the deficit.” It is not a smart way to seek power, but more importantly, it’s an unethical one.