Legends of the Fall

Legends of the Fall

“WHEN THE legend becomes fact,” says Edmond O’Brien in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, “print the legend.” The process of printing the legend about the 2000 presidential election has now been well under way for some time; it might be useful to remind ourselves of some soon-to-be-forgotten facts.

In the February 8 issue of the New York Review of Books, which arrived in mailboxes just in time for the inauguration, there was a Basic Books ad for a book called Smashmouth: Two Years in the Gutter with Al Gore and George W. Bush, by Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, heralded as “The Definitive Look at All of Campaign 2000.” The first paragraph of the ad’s text, from one of commercial publishing’s supposedly serious players, informed us that “Now that we’ve finally chosen our next leader, it’s time to go back and figure out what happened.” But of course this is exactly what did not happen, so that before we can even begin to “go back” we already have to endorse one of the first great lies of this century. For if one thing is absolutely clear, it’s that “we” did not “choose” our next leader, he was chosen for us, by various people who were in no way part of the constituted democratic process for choosing him.

Like a Conquered Province
THE EVIDENCE is actually pretty clear about whom we did “choose.” The popular vote was close, so close that in any case it verges on exaggeration to say that anyone chose anybody. But if we do believe in the absolute power of a 50 percent + n majority, then that majority (of the votes cast for either Bush or Gore) was certainly on the side of Al Gore, who won the election by approximately half a million votes.

On the other hand, perhaps the author of the ad meant that the Electoral College “chose” our next leader; that is, after all, the constitutionally mandated way of choosing a president. Only the Electoral College didn’t “choose” Bush either. The electoral vote count is also quite clear: Gore won 267 electoral votes. Bush won 246 electoral votes. And in even the closest of the states for which those votes were tallied, the popular vote count withstood challenge and was accepted as accurate (or accurate enough) by everyone. But nobody knows or ever will know who won the twenty-five electoral votes of Florida. That is to say, as well as winning the popular vote, Al Gore was a clear winner of the electoral vote, so far as that vote is available to us. As to who actually “won” Florida’s popular and thus electoral vote (the inverted commas should properly delight the heart of every postmodernist), we can say only that one potential vote count showed Bush to be the winner, but this count was incomplete, and was deliberately cut short by various Bush supporters who had the power—though not the legitimate authority—to do so. Conversely, several potential counts, in w...