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Rothenberg One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.

Stuart Rothenberg: Lawyers, politicians and other hypocrites in Florida's presidential race

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Like many other Americans, I've spent the last few weeks watching all of the wrangling over the presidential election. And the longer I watch, the more cynical I get about lawyers, politicians and, yes, even judges. What I see are a bunch of self-serving apologists who can't even acknowledge the weaknesses of their own party's positions or the strength of their opponents' arguments.

I have yet to see even one example of intellectual honesty, let alone anything resembling the search for truth. All I've seen are Republicans and Democrats -- and lawyers for both parties -- repeating public relations slogans and platitudes.

A few cases in point:

--Over the weekend, Tim Russert asked Florida Democratic House Leader Lois Frankel about a federal statute allowing the Florida Legislature to appoint electors. Her answer had nothing -- absolutely nothing -- to do with the question. Later, she suggested that if the state Legislature were to appoint electors, it should appoint them proportionately, knowing full well that Florida doesn't split it's electoral votes the way Maine and Nebraska do, and that splitting them would give the presidency to Vice President Al Gore, her party's nominee.

--Russert asked Montana Gov. Marc Racicot, a Republican, whether the GOP crowd in Miami went a little over the line in their vocal protests, and whether it wouldn't have been better if they had tempered their public display. Racicot couldn't even admit that much, even though the crowd's behavior was obviously inappropriate. (Of course, the Democrats' indignation was blatantly hypocritical given the party's unwillingness to criticize comparable behavior by Jesse Jackson.)

--When a CNN anchor asked Gore attorney David Boies about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to consider the Bush argument about the Florida Supreme Court's decision, Boies said he was glad the U.S. Supreme Court took jurisdiction because it would bring closure. In fact, Boies argued against the U.S. Supreme Court taking the case.

--Finally, the Bush team dropped a lawsuit over military ballots because, they said, county election commissioners started counting those ballots. The Bush legal team then brought suit in particular counties to force them to count additional military ballots. The lawyers explained the change as necessary because some counties had decided to count the additional military ballots, and there was no need to continue to litigate against them.

Well, anyone who watched the original hearing knows full well that the judge made it quite clear that the Republicans hadn't come close to making their case. He telegraphed his decision, so the Bush team figured it would try a different tactic that might produce better results.

There are dozens of other examples of hypocrisy and politicization that anyone who has watched TV over the past few weeks could identify.

The big losers in all this, apart from the American people? I vote for the lawyers. They have exposed themselves for what they really are: a bunch of smooth-talking used car salesmen who can take any words and twist them around so that they mean exactly opposite what they were intended to mean or exactly opposite what they meant five minutes earlier.

I'll admit that my feelings about lawyers are also infecting my feelings about the courts. I have no problems with the courts dealing with contracts, copyrights, real estate issues and the like, but when they get into political matters, judges start thinking (and acting) like politicians. Put me down as someone who isn't real comfortable with the idea of Tom DeLay or Jerry Nadler as judges.

Though nobody has come close to the lawyers for sheer hypocrisy and blather, I'd nominate one current and one former governor of New York for honorable mention. Gov. George Pataki and former Gov. Mario Cuomo have been partisan windbags who have added nothing to viewers' understanding or appreciation of the presidential logjam in Florida.

I'll tell you what I think really happened in the Sunshine State. The election was a virtual tie. Neither Bush nor Gore can claim a victory with certainty, and neither can claim a mandate in the state or nationally.

Did more people who went to the polls on Election Day in Florida intend to vote for Gore? Probably. I think Pat Buchanan may well have drawn some votes that were intended for the vice president because of confusion over the butterfly ballot.

But we don't declare election winners on the basis of what the voters intended. We count the votes, and the person who gets the most votes wins. The voters, after all, have the responsibility to cast their votes correctly. And, as the ballots warned, voters had the responsibility to check their ballots to make certain the "chads" were punched out.

Now that Bush has been certified as the winner in Florida, Gore has a more difficult task. Yes, Democrats have potentially legitimate claims about Republican actions involving some absentee ballots. But Republicans have potentially legitimate complaints about the multiple methods that Broward and Palm Beach county boards used in evaluating ballots.

Bush now has a significant advantage. His win in Florida has been certified, the U.S. Supreme Court may rule that the Florida Supreme Court violated a federal statute or the U.S. Constitution, and the Florida Legislature remains the Texas governor's ace-in-the-hole. Gore has options, but they are few. Still, the way this election year has gone, anyone would be foolish to make a flat-out prediction. Just, please, tell the lawyers to be quiet.


Monday, November 27, 2000



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