The 2000 presidential election reveals a divided American electorate. Neither Bush nor Gore received a majority of the popular vote. The electoral vote was sharply divided regionally; Gore's support came from the Northeast and the Pacific Coast, which are urbanized and cosmopolitan, and Bush's came from the states in-between, which are less urbanized and localist.
From a libertarian perspective, the election of Gore would have been marginally less desirable. In the first place, having Congress and the President belong to different parties is an obstacle to new legislation, and given the content of most federal legislation, the more obstacles to it the better.
A weightier reason is the different cultural assumptions the two represent. Gore's support came from states where religion is a private matter; Bush's from states where religion is a community matter. The Republican platform included supporting an amendment to authorize prayer in public schools—meaning religious observance commanded by the state.
When Christians held political power as Christians, the results were ugly; devastating wars between nations adhering to different religions, and nations torturing and murdering their own people who were not Christian, or were the wrong sort of Christian. One of the happiest developments in history was the United States's decision to have no established church and to treat religion as a private matter, making it the world's first post-Christian country. The Enlightenment values of Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson, and Thomas Paine led the civilized world toward a freer and happier life.
Ayn Rand said that the lowest rung in Hell should be assigned to Republicans who claimed to defend property rights while rejecting the more basic rights from which they were derived. The Republican advocacy of state-mandated prayer attacks freedom of thought; their religiously motivated opposition to abortion attacks the right to control one's own body. The prospect of more Supreme Court justices adhering to such ideas is grim. Bad as Gore and the Democratic platform are, they are lesser evils.
Even so, the chaotic electoral process in Florida exemplified the least attractive aspects of the Democratic Party. The Palm Beach ballot may have been poorly designed, but nothing stopped voters from asking for help in using it, or replacement ballots if they made mistakes. That 19,000 of them marked two Presidential candidates, which any voter knows will invalidate a ballot, makes it hard not to conclude that they didn't take voting seriously enough to make sure to do it right. Their demands to do it over now that they know it matters deserved to be rejected, as they were. And Gore's frantic clinging to any hope of salvaging the election invites the grim reflection that Richard Nixon was, by comparison, a gentleman. But claims that Gore was attacking the Constitution are unjustified. Article II, Section 2 makes the election the responsibilities of the states (which Bush's suit in federal courts conveniently ignored); Gore's suits may have been unwise, but they were filed in the jurisdiction the Constitution required.
Florida's election was handled sloppily. In a less close election, the errors would not have mattered. In this one, they did—and Florida law provided for a recount. That recount was controversial, not least because of the actions of Florida's Secretary of State and her resistance to explaining them, which made it appear that her sole motive was to prevent any change in the decision for Bush. Nor were Democrats free of partisan bias.
Despite speculation about judges' political biases, though, the courts mostly acted creditably, making prompt decisions that adhered closely to the law. That respect for law is one the remaining strengths of the America political system. The decision of the Florida Supreme Court to accept manual recounts, for example, was based on the principle that
"Although error cannot be completely eliminated in any tabulation of the ballot, our society has not yet gone so far as to place blind faith in machines. In almost all endeavors, including elections, humans routinely correct the errors of machines. In fact, any verdict on whether machine counts are accurate would require human assessment, which presupposes that human judgment is the standard of accuracy—a principle affirmed by Texas laws enacted under Bush."
The one really bad decision in all this was the final one, in which the Supreme Court stopped the recount of the disputed ballots and then ruled that it could not be restarted because there was too little time as a result of their own order— a decision, to quote Heinlein, "unparalleled in pure jug-headedness since the time Secretary Fall was convicted of receiving a bribe that Doheny was acquitted of giving him." The obvious partisan motives of the decision can only undermine the idea of the rule of law.
Ironically, the outcome or this election may have one redeeming feature for libertarians. Many commentators remarked that whichever candidate won would enter the White House with diminished legitimacy. Bush's victory leaves him less able to do harm. In exposing both sides as driven by a hunger for power to which any concern for principle takes second place, the late election has vividly demonstrated the truth of libertarian political analyses.
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