So, How Does 'President Gore' Sound?

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Al Gore speaks to reporters outside his residence

Let's look ahead.

Will the American public accept a president elected by a recount? A recount demanded by a divided state supreme court? A president elected by some number of chads — hanging, dimpled, pregnant or otherwise?

In other words, will they accept President Gore?

The Bush p.r. mantra of "the votes have been counted and we've won every time" has been so successful that I imagine that many Americans are wondering what the Florida Supreme Court is on about.

The success of another bit of Bush propaganda has made Americans dubious about the Florida Supreme Court's remedy. And that is a Bush depiction of hand recounts as somehow underhanded, of hand recounts being even more unreliable than machines, of handcounts as being somehow unfair.

Large doses of self-interest

The problem with that charge is this: Hand recounts have been the most trusted response to close votes in this country for a century — that is, as long as machines have been around to louse things up. The law has always enshrined hand counts as a more accurate reflection of voter intent than machines.

Of course, both parties are doing what's in their own self-interest. There's no such thing as statesmanship in a close election. It just so happens that it's in the Democrats' interest to "count every ballot" and it's in the Republicans' interest to certify things as they are.

When it was in the Republicans' interest to count every ballot, as it was in the Seminole and Martin counties cases, that is precisely what they argued. Just as the Democrats took the diametrically opposite view in those cases.

But I digress.

At this point, more Americans are going to be dubious about a President Gore than a President Bush because they're inclined to feel that Gore will be installed by a bunch of folks in black robes and by a counting standard that is purely subjective, even fanciful.

Democrats have a p.r. job to do

But that, I suspect, has to do with the successful Bush p.r. machine and their shrewd assessment that in politics, as in real estate, occupancy is nine-tenths of the law and, more important, of perception. If you act like the President-elect, a lot of people will think you are the President-elect.

The Gore people must harp on the idea — as Bill Daley has already attempted to do — that the court's decision is about justice and small-"d" democracy, and not about a court with an ideological axe to grind. They must also attempt to persuade the public that manual recounts clarify rather than muddy the vote, and that they are the tried-and-true method of protecting voter intent.

And finally, if they persuade Americans that more voters emerged from Florida voting booths on November 7 believing that they voted for Al Gore than did for George Bush — and that the court's decision on Friday is merely trying to reflect that fact — then Americans may even begin to grudgingly accept and even like the sound of "President Gore."

Gentlemen and ladies, start counting.