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The Vote, 2000

(I wrote this in late November, before the US election was finalized.)

This past November (2000) has seen three elections in our area. Well, actually 2 49/50 of an election since the U.S. presidential race was still in doubt, at least in Florida. The first was the U.S. election, the highlights being, at least for those of us living near New York State, the election of Hilary Rodham Clinton and the non-election, so far, of a president. I'll return to that momentarily. Next came the municipal elections here in Ontario. While I know that, from one perspective at least, local elections are very important, more important, perhaps, than national elections; from another perspective, mine, they are boring and trivial in the grand scheme of things. We don't have party affiliations (at least not openly) at the local level, so, unless you know the candidate because he's(or she's) your next door neighbour or a school chum, you have little idea of who he is or what he stands for. You certainly can't use the campaign rhetoric as a basis for making an informed decision.

Finally, we had the "national" election which, to no one's surprise or delight, returned the Liberals to power under Jean Chretien (I always have to double check how I spell that word - it so reminds me of another French word). This election was a foregone conclusion. And for once, the incredibly short campaign period was ample for us all to know that despite a possible record number of political "parties" to choose from, there was no one worthy of support.

I'll reserve for another column the reasons why I don't like the Liberal party and why I hardly ever give them my support, even though they probably come the closest to my own political philosophy. At our house, three of the four possible voters did vote. Two supported the status quo (or so they told me) and one, ever the rebel, voted for someone else, anyone else. Well, almost anyone else.

The two national elections, to large measure, also reflected the two national cultures: The American election was exciting, a real horse race which was marred, in typical American fashion, by suits and counter suits and a cadre of lawyers gumming up the works. The Canadian election was a typical boring Canadian affair with no excitement, no mystery, and, thankfully, no lawyers except those running for office.

A few years ago, I thought that Gore was the obvious and qualified choice to succeed Clinton in the White House. I've no doubt that he's at least as well qualified as Bush. But he comes across as somewhat overbearing and stiff. To be blunt, Bush has more sex appeal and more charisma. Has there ever been a charismatic leader with a name like "Al", or even "Fred"? I do think that our names have some impact on our personalities - but that's yet another column.

In short, though I distrust some of Bush's platform, I find him more appealing. It's partly because I think it's neat to have a father and then a son in the White House. It's partly because he comes across as more friendly and less reserved. I find myself wanting him to win - and wanting him to take the "high road". After a hard, tough campaign, it's not easy to admit defeat. It's particularly difficult when the difference between winning and losing is less than 1,000 votes out of perhaps 100,000,000 cast. And it has to be frustrating when you know that the votes may not have been recorded or counted properly. But the fact is, a fair count now is impossible. We can't interpret what a voter intended. And after being handled several times, we can't trust that the ballots still have all their original "chads" attached. To me, there are only three choices: 1. Declare the election over as things now stand at the end of November. 2. Recount ALL the ballots, not just the relatively few that are in doubt. (Unfortunately, as I earlier indicated, the integrity of some ballots is in question.) 3. Run the election all over again. Nothing else seems to be fair. If Gore can pick up votes from the supposedly heavily Democratic districts under dispute, Bush might have an equal number of votes inaccurately counted in all the other districts in Florida.

Everybody wants his or her vote to be properly recorded and properly counted. But we, as voters, have some obligations. We have the obligation to make sure we follow instructions and vote in the correct manner. Of course, the election officials have responsibilities and must share a lot of the blame. The punch card system doesn't seem to work. There must be a better way. Whatever the better way is, it's too late for this election. And while we all agree in theory that every body's vote should be properly recorded and counted, again, it's too late for this election. So it's time to move on. It's time for Al Gore to bite the bullet and swallow his pride. It's time to be a "big man" and concede. The punch card system is flawed and the Electoral College is probably outdated. But this election was run using both. So, winning the popular vote doesn't matter. Recounting ballots that have been compromised isn't fair. Prolonging the battle serves no purpose and is counter-productive.

It's harder to concede defeat in an American election than in a Canadian one - at least usually. In the U.S. the loser fades off into oblivion, for the better part of three years, anyway. In Canada, the loser still usually has his own seat in Parliament, so is still able to participate in government and have his voice heard. In this respect, at least, the parliamentary system is probably better. In Canada, too, an election this close would probably mean that no one party had a clear majority of seats. As a result, the loser could still wield considerable influence and even power, perhaps even forcing an early election. (A meaningful early election, not a cheap trick to capitalize on current popularity and the unpreparedness of others.) The U.S. is stuck with whomever becomes president for four years. And the loser is left out in the cold.

As an outsider looking in, I can philosophically appreciate Gore's argument that all votes should be counted, but he still comes off as a sore loser desperately trying to win at any cost. It doesn't become him. It doesn't become the presidency. Concede to Bush and spend the next four years actively promoting a much needed reform in the electoral process. That's the democratic way, make it also the Democratic way.

In counter point to all the cheap tricks, sleazy campaigning and legal wrangling, it is such a pleasure to watch a presidential president at work each week on The West Wing. If only real politicians could rise above petty politics once in a while. If only they could appreciate fine music, get personally excited about some scientific exploit, appreciate that the general public does have some intgelligence (if given a chance to use it), and do something because it's the right thing to do, politics be damned. Only in Hollywood, eh? Pity.


Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Fred Oldfield. All rights reserved.

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