An Injection of Lawyers Will Harm the Nation

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LM Otero/AP

A Bush supporter covers her ears to muffle the chanting of Gore supporters

That's it, boys — bring on the lawyers. Let them descend from the hills after the battle (in the late Murray Kempton's phrase) in order to shoot the wounded.

Bring back the Dream Team. Reassemble the legal samurai who pettifogged Bill Clinton through the Monica Lewinsky mess. Frog-march the presidency through months of exhausting litigation. It will tear the nation apart. The stock market may head south and keep going. But hey.

Once the sepsis of lawyers enters the bloodstream, then the body politic may abandon hope. Just as there is no mortal's life that can be said to be without sin, so hardly one vote in one precinct of America is beyond the challenge of legal ingenuity. Democrats don't like the butterfly ballots of Palm Beach County, Florida? How about the homeless with their Democratic bribes of Lucky Strikes in Milwaukee, Wisconsin? How about those illegal aliens in California? Two can play the game. Let's have a look, your honor, at California, Washington, New Mexico, Iowa.... We nuke Moscow and Minsk, they nuke Chicago and L.A. Let the months and years roll on. The little pathogens with law degrees can Jarndyce & Jarndyce this thing 'til the last dog dies and the shutters fall off the windows of the empty, long-abandoned White House.

The yammering classes keep comparing this situation to 1960, and keep citing Richard Nixon's supposedly selfless decision not to challenge John Kennedy's almost invisible and highly dubious margin of victory in Cook County, Illinois. Selfless maybe. Some said it was the prospect of counter-challenges to Republican votes in downstate Illinois that deterred Nixon — along with knowledge that if he challenged the result, it would both tear the nation apart and forever end his political career.

I think it is worth following Nixon farther down the line — worth watching the development of what became the mindset behind Watergate. For it is exactly the same attitude that I notice in the back rooms of Al Gore's mind — the mentality that in this game you have to be tough and ruthless, and win at any cost. Screw them before they screw you. Disillusioned idealism becomes a gangster.

Baby boomers from the antiwar neighborhoods are especially susceptible to this ruthless amorality. Convinced long since of their unassailable idealism and virtue — Didn't they end the war in Vietnam? Didn't they win the battles for civil rights and women's rights? — they are ignorant of their own capacity for evil. The thought would not occur to them. It is an impossibility. They, evil? Ironically, theirs is much the same dangerous innocence for which the prophetic novelist Graham Greene ("The Quiet American") arraigned Americans in Indochina in the mid-1950s, well before they had entered into their fiasco there.

Is Al Gore any more guilty of this litigious ruthlessness than George W. Bush is? I instinctively think so, but not, I think, because my judgment is partisan. (Seeing that the race in New York, where I vote, was going to Gore by a huge margin, I did not waste my vote on either Bush or Gore, but gave it to a third party candidate, as a dissenting gesture that now, of course, looks lame). I doubt that if George W. Bush sat down to play a game of seven-card stud, deuces wild, he would, after the cards were dealt, bring in lawyers to claim that treys and one-eyed jacks were also wild, and that the game was really night baseball.

In any case, let the votes be counted. Let all lawyering stop. Send the bastards home. Now. Let's agree to accept the result, whichever way it goes. Let the loser take it like a man.