The Indianapolis News
November 13, 2000
By Alan Dowd
George W. Bush will be sworn in as the 43rd president on January 20, and the people of Florida will have the distinction and burden of being the deciding factor. What happens in the courts and on the airwaves between now and then says more about Al Gore than it does about the citizens of the Sunshine State.
There is already strong indication that the automatic recount process was tainted not by parochial politics, but by another Al Gore smear campaign. Indeed, the long hours following Election Day have marked nothing more than the continuation of Mr. Gore’s unfortunate divide-and-conquer campaign strategy.
It was a campaign that saw him drive a wedge between blacks and whites, calling the election a choice between good and evil at a predominantly black church in the final hours of the race. He tore through the sinew connecting generations, claiming that Mr. Bush would destroy Medicare and end the Social Security program. He pitted rural against urban, immigrant against immigrant, rich against poor. And in a state so beautifully rich in diversity and so wonderfully representative of 21st century America, it should come as no surprise that the politics of fear and division--and now smear--have taken a toll, cutting a deep but narrow gash across Florida.
By dispatching a fleet of 75 lawyers to Florida’s 67 counties, Mr. Gore is attempting to de-legitimize the Bush victory. Sadly, even if he concedes the election, Mr. Gore’s campaign machinery and surrogates will continue this effort in order to weaken Mr. Bush. But in doing so, they are attacking much more than George W. Bush--they’re smearing and impugning the entire state of Florida.
Indeed, this is a double-smear of Florida’s citizens: First, by implying that the voting process was confusing, which no one claimed in previous elections, Mr. Gore and his lawyers are essentially saying that a large number of Florida voters are not intelligent enough to vote. While this is unfortunate, it should come as no surprise. This line of argument fits perfectly within Mr. Gore’s big-government philosophy--a view that holds no one accountable for their mistakes and no one responsible for their decisions. And it’s yet another manifestation of his condescending, “I know best” way of dealing with people.
Second, by hyper-emphasizing the need for fairness and sending his own monitors to Florida, Mr. Gore is in effect saying that the laws and elected officials of Florida cannot be trusted to govern the people of Florida. Thus, he dispatches former Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the Sunshine State as if it were some banana republic or nascent Third World democracy. (The Bush campaign sent James Baker only after Gore dropped the Christopher bombshell.)
According to Mr. Gore, Florida is corrupt unless it chooses him. It strains the imagination to consider a similar reaction by Mr. Bush had, say, Tennessee or Arkansas gone Gore’s way.
The people of Florida are neither corrupt nor unintelligent. It’s sad that Mr. Gore’s pre-election divisiveness and post-election gracelessness force such a statement to be written.
The good news is that George W. Bush, unlike his opponent, is a unifier. And he has a record to prove it.
In many ways, George W. Bush is made for this moment. Texas, like Florida and indeed the nation, is a diverse land. Sprawling urban areas blend almost naturally into rolling farmlands. High-tech commerce and industry thrive, as do small businesses and family farms. Its communities are a tapestry of new immigrants, old immigrants, and family lineages stretching back to Sam Houston and George Washington. It’s a state of both blue-collars and blue-bloods, of Democrats and Independents and Republicans--the home of Ross Perot and LBJ and the elder Bush.
Gov. Bush’s message of unity and compassion is more than rhetoric. It truly captures the man who will lead America at this historic moment. His was a campaign that reached out to all races and all ages and left no one behind. His presidency will do no less.
By a razor-thin margin, the people of Florida–like the people of America–chose the unifier over the divider. Mr. Gore should heed what they have said, and Florida should never forget what he has said.