Posted on December 18, 2000
Before you start writing that letter to the editor about the typo in this headline, please let me explain its origin. In one of the climactic moments of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the film which inspired the theme of this publication, Valance is thwarted in his effort to bully his way into the town of Shinbone's delegation to the territorial convention. The homesteaders of Shinbone finally prevail, as the convention would vote for statehood, to the detriment of the cattle barons who wanted to keep the territory an open and lawless range. Valance, a lawless man already, had been employed by the cattlemen to persuade the townspeople, by any means necessary, to come around to their point of view.
After Shinbone's delegates have been elected, Valance not being among them, venerable Shinbone Star editor Dutton Peabody becomes filled with exuberance and terror, both of which he fuels with the jug he keeps handy through much of the film. As the Star goes to print, Peabody discovers too late that he has misprinted the headline to read, "LIBERTY VALANCE DEFEETED!" Shortly thereafter, he is confronted by Valance and his henchmen, who beat him unconscious and leave him for dead.
President-elect Bush would do well to take a lesson from that.
Throughout this campaign, which extended for well over a month beyond Election Day, Bush has endured attacks of every sort imaginable. He's had his intelligence questioned, not just by the Gore campaign, but by supposedly objective news reporters. Meanwhile, the media's most common criticism of his law school-dropout opponent was that he's "too smart for his own good."
G.W. Bush has been accused of racism and religious bigotry, based on the most strained and distorted reasoning. Vice President Gore charged that W's Supreme Court nominees would reduce black Americans to a subhuman legal status. Gore campaign stooge Jesse Jackson has warned that Bush will repeal blacks' right to vote if he remains in office until 2007. (Yes, it's that dopey internet hoax again.) The increasingly shrill and irresponsible NAACP ran a thinly-veiled Gore campaign ad which stopped just short of calling Gov. Bush an accessory to the dragging murder of James Byrd.
Bush has had to survive a campaign against him by not just his opponent, but also the national press. On election night, voting in the West was likely affected by projections which instantly chalked up states for Gore, based on razor-thin margins and dubious exit-polling data, while states which Bush led by 8 to 11 percent remained in the "too close to call" category. The impression given that Gore had been leading through most of election night has since contributed to questions over the outcome's legitimacy. For weeks after the election, pundits scratched their heads, wondering aloud who won, despite the fact that recount after recount affirmed that the winner was the Texas governor. Even after the results in Florida had been certified, the broadcast and print media were petitioned by Gore into refusing Bush the title of "President-elect." Gore was well within his legal rights to contest the results, but for that process to take place requires an acknowledgment that the results exist, and that they indicate a Bush victory.
In fact, the press called it arrogant of Bush to behave as if he had won the election, even after he had become the certified winner. They considered it presumptuous of the president-elect to deploy his transition team, and to start considering possible cabinet nominees, even with his inauguration less than two months away.
Not only did Bush win the objective mechanical recount in Florida, but he still came out ahead after the Democrats attempted to steal the election during selective hand recounts, by counting as Gore votes marks which were not even visible to the naked eye. They held ballots up to the light, and looked at them through magnifying glasses, looking for anything they might claim as a Gore vote, and still it wasn't enough, not even after the counting deadline had been illegally extended.
Gore and his supporters contested the results with a collage of frivolous lawsuits, counting on liberal judges to embarrass themselves by making absurd rulings on his behalf. The justices of the Florida Supreme Court were the only ones willing to inflict such disgrace on themselves, and the U.S. Supreme Court scolded them for it, thus ending the legal phase of the dispute.
The next day, Gore conceded. This improved his own public image, but meant virtually nothing, in light of continuing efforts to influence the electors. Democrat activist and occasional Crossfire host Bob Beckel began investigating the 271 electors committed to Bush, looking for ways in which they could be persuaded to change their votes.
In the film, when Liberty Valance announces himself as a candidate for the delegation, he warns the townspeople, "You sod-busters are a brave bunch when you're together, but don't vote any way now that you'll regret later, when you're alone." Perhaps there was no similar malice involved in organized efforts to change the electors' votes, but some of the electors sensed that there was, and who could blame them?
A group called Citizens for True Democracy (CTD), which wants to do away with the electoral college altogether, published the names, addresses and phone numbers of the electors on its website, for the purpose of encouraging people to contact them. When a site called "The Nuremberg Files" published the same information about abortionists, it was sued under a federal racketeering law. If the courts applied their reasoning in abortion-related cases to everything else (which they don't, of course), the CTD would now be considered a criminal enterprise.
Gore disavowed the actions of Beckel and the CTD, but then, he's also distanced himself from the buffoonery of Jesse Jackson, who in reality had been consulting with him on an almost daily basis.
Ultimately, the electors held to their principles, and delivered the 271 electoral votes that Bush had earned on Election Day. Until they had done so, this publication was unwilling to declare a Bush victory with total certainty, due to the unpredictability and relentless intensity of the campaign against him. Even now that this presidential campaign is finally over, Bush must beware, because it still isn't over.
Now that it is known for sure that G.W. Bush will be inaugurated on January 20, the grounds of the battle have shifted, from an effort to prevent a Bush presidency, to an attempt to destroy it. Jackson and others, already claiming that Gore should be president because he won a majority of the popular vote nationally, now plan to get access to the Florida ballots and conduct their own recount in hopes of proving that he won that state's vote as well. This recount, being unofficial, would not be held to any standards at all, and would have nobody present to question the counters' clairvoyance.
Once the Democrats manage to construct a Gore victory, they can count on all the help they want from the liberal media in declaring the Bush presidency illegitimate. Oh, sure, news analysts like to talk about new presidents getting a "honeymoon" period, during which they are relatively free of criticism, but the only evidence Republicans have ever seen of a honeymoon is the fact that Bill Clinton's pink complexion never got a ray of sun in eight years.
The real threat is if Bush lets the Democrats use this tactic to intimidate him into abandoning his principles. Already, liberals who say they want to "work with" Bush are warning that, since the election results don't give him a "mandate" for his agenda, the only way he can be a legitimate president is to compromise with them. This means, for starters, that he must break his promise to cut income taxes, as well as his pledge to appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court.
Hopefully, Bush will resist cutting a deal with the Democrats because of his own beliefs, but he should also do so for the sake of his political survival. Remember what happened to Newt Gingrich. When the end came for Gingrich, it was not because he was too "partisan." Nor was it because of his scandalous behavior, which was not discovered until after he resigned from Congress. What destroyed Gingrich was that the constant personal attacks on him by the Democrats and their allies in the press finally broke him.
As long as Gingrich was willing to absorb unfair criticisms, he was politically successful. Not only did he lead the Republicans to a majority in Congress for the first time in forty years, but he pressured President Clinton into signing 7 of the 10 items in the Contract With America into law.
By 1996, the speaker had been intimidated into passivity. Not only did the Republicans cease to pursue a conservative policy agenda, but their don't-rock-the-boat campaign strategies led to disappointing results in both '96 and '98. By then, he lost the confidence of his party, and was deposed. Notably, Speaker Gingrich had become most vulnerable after winning his historic victory.
If any other politician was slandered by his opposition as badly as Gingrich, it was Ronald Reagan. Unlike Gingrich, however, Reagan withstood those attacks with relative ease, as he was too preoccupied with the things he wanted to accomplish to bother feeling personally insulted. Reagan never obsessed over his "role in history" (Newt's version of the Legacy thing), but ironically, it is he who history will reward.
If anything, though, President G.W. Bush will be attacked even more viciously than Reagan has been. Since President Clinton has forever soiled his own memory, and blamed it on the Republicans, what Bush has to contend with is the usual media bias and Democrat dirty tricks, energized by an added element of revenge. If Bush does not anticipate the ferocity of the assault which will be immediately mounted against him, he will wind up blindsided like our fictitious friend Mr. Peabody, who woke up bleeding and delirious, in the middle of a room full of broken glass.
If all this seems a bit bleak for a victory celebration, here's something more encouraging to consider. President-elect Bush knows what happens to someone who compromises with the Democrats, because he watched his father do it. George H.W. Bush doomed his re-election chances by breaking his "no new taxes" campaign pledge. While his signing the Democrats' 1990 tax hike alienated his conservative base, it did nothing to win him support from the opposition. Far from defending the elder Bush for having signed onto their plan, the Democrats slammed him at their convention and throughout the '92 campaign, often mocking those infamous words, "read my lips." They and their allies in the press may soon discover that Dubya can play the revenge game too.
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