Struggle worth envying

In this Thanksgiving week, under the shadow of the struggle for the presidency, what was there to be thankful about? Precisely that - a struggle for power that many nations could envy because it has been conducted so peacefully.

Well, almost peacefully. In Palm Beach, Fla., there was some pushing and shoving when a couple of dozen people carrying Bush-Cheney signs clashed with marches led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. The Bush-Cheney people chanted, "Jesse, go home!" Nobody was arrested, and that was it.

Which is quite remarkable when you think about it and look around the world at the violence that often attends a contest for leadership. Just in the past couple of weeks, several citizens were killed in election fights in Thailand. During voting for parliament in Egypt, five were killed as police fired into opposition supporters and attacked crowds with clubs and tear gas.

In Mozambique, some 38 were killed in election clashes, and the government declared last Monday a national day of mourning. In Nicaragua, two were killed and 18 injured in fighting during municipal elections. In Zanzibar, hundreds of opposition supporters, incensed over late delivery of ballots, clashed with police and scores were injured.

That is just some of the recent electoral violence. Go back a little in time, and you have your aborted coup in Russia to unseat President Mikhail Gorbachev and the uprising against President Boris Yeltsin that led to an artillery assault on the parliament in Moscow. Or the mass movement to oust Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, which left the Belgrade parliament building and other seats of power in flames. Or going further back, conspiracies to topple elected governments in Guatemala and Chile.

So in our country, they've been fighting over the presidential succession in the courts and on the television tube. A lot of injured feelings, but no bones broken.

The focus this week was on the Florida Supreme Court, which determined legality in the presidential recount contest, but could not confer either finality or legitimacy.

Lying ahead are appeals and litigation of both central and tangential issues. The public was being treated to a cram course in extrajudicial options allowed by the Constitution. The Florida legislature, heavily Republican, could intervene. Or, if all else failed, there could be an election in Congress. That would offer mind-blowing theoretical scenarios like Speaker Dennis Hastert or Senate President Pro Tem Strom Thurmond as interim president.

As the struggle wears on, the time available for orderly transition is reduced.

The premise of the Gore challenge of Florida's electoral vote remained to be established. That premise is that a recount would give the vice president an edge in Florida to match his edge in the national election.

But in the manual recounts so far, Al Gore was gaining relatively few additional votes, leaving George Bush with a significant lead - if you can call a lead of hundreds in a nationwide voting population of a hundred million "significant."

Reconsideration of rejected overseas absentee ballots would widen the Bush margin.

It seems clear that the increasingly strident post-election battle will make it difficult for the new president to establish his legitimacy in the eyes of Congress and the public. How does one govern after all the nasty language suggesting a stolen election?

In Congress, Republicans seem less inclined than Democrats to live with an outcome adverse to them. The House deputy whip, Roy Blunt, says a Gore victory would mean the process was "cynically manipulated." Former Sen. Bob Dole talks of boycotting the inaugural. Sen. Richard Dubin says Democrats could work with a President Bush, but Gore would have to reach out strenuously for Republicans willing to work with him. If there are moderate Republicans willing to join with Gore in tackling an awesome agenda of unfinished business, they have yet to identify themselves.

It's been a great fight so far, but the problems for Congress and the country stretch out far beyond the issues that the Florida Supreme Court was adjudicating this week.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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