Words, Words, Words

November 21, 2000

I spent $35 on a software productivity package this weekend. Mind you, this is an after-the-fact interpretation. What I thought I was doing was throwing away more free time on a computer game. Turns out there's a computer version of Iron Dragon, the fantasy variant of a railroad board game called Empire Builder. I hardly ever get a chance to play the train games with my family, so I thought this would be a good way to have fun and hone my skills to ruthlessly crush them over the holidays. After all, they've been drilling on computer Boggle, which I used to have a slight edge on.

But it turns out the AI for the game is kind of slow, and in a six-player game it can take a while before it's my turn again. So what do I do while I'm waiting to move? Pop into another window and read newsgroups, mostly, but when I'm done with that I can write a journal entry, a paragraph or so at a time.

And now, since the Republicans are making it easy to despise them, I have an election rant.

First off, I'd like to make the point that Bush and Gore are not just alike in the way they've been handling this. The worst that can fairly be said about Gore is that he's scrupulously followed the rules, like challenging absentee ballots that arrived after Election Day without a postmark. (The Republicans call this trying to disenfranchise the military. Probably some innocent people are disenfranchised when the military decides postal regulations are for other people and doesn't bother dating their mail. Probably some cheaters who found out the day after the election that it was really really close are disenfranchised too. Sucks, doesn't it?) The Republicans have been trying to throw a lot of mud at him and the recount process, but none of it sticks unless you're ignorant of the facts or dumb as dirt. For example, complaining about chads falling on the floor during the recount and claiming election supervisors are "twisting and bending" the ballots. News flash: loose chads fall off, and chads that aren't loose don't. There is no way even Houdini could make a chad pop out of an unpunched ballot to produce a vote for Al Gore just by twisting the ballot around, and I'll give $5 to anyone who can show me otherwise. Among the most despicable of the Republican charges was that some ballots had a chad taped over the hole for Bush, and a hole punched for Al Gore. If you read the inside pages of the paper, you'll find that this is true, and moreover these were absentee ballots that came out of the envelope that way. It's perfectly legitimate for a voter to correct his mistake (since he can't just ask a poll worker for another absentee ballot, not that this would do him any good in Florida anyway), but the Bush apologistas leave out vital context to create the impression that something shady is going on. A detached or indented chad is strong evidence that a voter pushed at a hole with a metal stylus with the intent to cast a vote; indeed, I would say it was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt, had not Texas's Death Row so sadly debased that standard. To pretend that this is "subjective" is transparent sophistry on the part of people who can only believe that no honest argument can prevail.

The fact is that Gore respects the will of the people, and Bush doesn't. When Al Gore thought he'd narrowly lost Florida, he called Bush to concede, even though he'd won the popular vote nationwide. (One would hope he'll pull fewer all-nighters as President, if this is how lack of sleep affects his judgement. But let that pass.) We know that Bush was ready to challenge the result in court if he'd won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College. Chalk up a virtue point for Gore. We're seeing the Bush will not accept a narrow loss in Florida gracefully. Chalk up another virtue point for Gore. Al Gore's position throughout has been that the votes in Florida should be counted as accurately as possible. George W. Bush has been using partisan political muscle to try to shut the recount down. That's a third virtue point for Gore, and we haven't even gotten to the hypocrisy factor.

The sheer chutzpah of Bush's spokespeople is astonishing. How could anyone claim that Palm Beach County is "Buchanan country"? Or that a manual recount is less reliable than thirty-year-old punch card readers? For that matter, how can they claim to believe he deserves to be the winner, when a ballot screw-up in one county cost Gore over 20,000 votes? (Even someone ignorant of user interface theory should realize that you don't get that many mistakes because people are stupid, yet there are people smug enough to posit that the health of the species would be greatly improved if everyone who miscast a ballot were immediately devoured by wolves. These same people, when asked how to get from point A to point B, would never say, "Well, I'd start by driving past the correct exit" or "I think I'd walk into that plate-glass window", and yet I am somehow sure that at least once in their lives they will do just that. There is a difference between solving a problem put before you out of context and noticing that a problem exists.) [Note that there may be no legal way to count those ballots. That does not eliminate their moral force.]

And the media are disgusting. To pretend that there is a moral equivalence between the two sides is bad enough; to run a constant drumbeat of news stories (or, rather, opinion pieces masquerading as legitimate news analysis) about the danger of waiting to call the election until all the votes have been counted is nothing less than a despicable attempt to help the Republican party steal the election. We live in a nation of laws; despite everything George W. Bush has to say against it, this is a good thing.

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