Someone Do a Nixon

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On November 17th, if Bush's recount holds, maybe one of these guys ought to give up.

Certainly that's what this Palm Beach madness is about for the Gore camp: a small fire, just waiting to be fanned by Elian Gonzales' lawyer into a blaze that might, in these Constitutionally conscious times, have to burn all the way to the Supreme Court. Is it just a Gore bluff, in the legalese he's learned these last eight years, to get Bush to swerve and concede first?

Meanwhile Bush is heard to be assembling his crew, including Secretary of Drape-Measuring. Acting like it's his father's old place, and he's all set to move in as soon as they can clear out the squatters and give it that good scrubbing, while his minions fight Palm Beach with snarls and jokes. If these are men imagining themselves making a noble sacrifice for his cherished republic, they're hiding it very well.

Should anybody be worried that each of these seething men have about 4.7 million people firmly behind them (it's not like the military overwhelmingly supports one of them, or anything). If they started fighting, would the other, no-show half of eligible voters have the alertness to step in and break it up? Then again, only Orwell could imagine us following into civil war two men who had been on Oprah.

Not to worry. They're shrinking again. On Election Night still a good time to draw our civic attention one of them started to swell, into a President. Then he shrank again, and the other one got big. Then they were both sort of big, for a while. Now they're back on the trail, just candidates. They have no followers, just supporters and the perfunctorily interested.

And speaking of that, enough of this nonsense about the popular vote and the will of the people. The Gore camp is calling it by 150,000 when maybe 2.5 million votes remain uncounted. The Bush camp acts like it would throw the United States wide open just to keep Palm Beach closed. The two candidates haven't been running a popular-vote race since the debate -- if they wanted to speak to all of us, they wouldn't have spent the last two weeks hopping back and forth between Dearborn, Daytona, Minneapolis and Milwaukee and given the same speech at every event.

These are two men who really wanted the job. How badly? To let Palm Beach vote again, this time as a tainted jury? Ridiculous. There's no solution but a shrug and a redesign. But it certainly is the kind of hair-rending situation Have mercy! Their poor hearts were with Gore! that could be put rather persuasively to an elector whose faith is shaky. That would qualify as a Profile in Courage, for some - just like the Fathers imagined, a good man of conscience! For others, that human element of weak flesh is an abomination.

Or a constitutional crisis, even though the rules are all right there in the Constitution. The Supreme Court treatment for Palm Beach, if necessary. In case of a faithless elector, a weird and twisted path through the legislature, but still a path. Is it a crisis when we look the document in the eye and tell it what we really think? Well, there's even stuff in there about adapting the darn thing, but of course we'd need faithless congressmen for that.

Time also, then, to reexamine some popular assumptions how interested America is in these things. If nobody cares about politics, what crisis could there possibly be? Do we moan loudly about a sleeping electorate but secretly fear waking them up? It's the year 2000, and lately we've been making history at a furious pace. Why not have it out, and see what we're made of? A good constitutional crisis might be just what this place needs. If we can stand a national argument about OJ, surely we can stand one about America and if it gets boring, we can always change the channel.

But see, neither of these guys are after anything that close to the bone. They just want to be president. Besides, we're in a hurry: Times are good, we're the most powerful nation in the world and the leader of the free parts, and you know how much the markets hate to kept waiting.

Somebody just do a Nixon and let's all go home.