WASHINGTON — The people in the panda suits had come to support Al Gore. The guy in the prison costume was marching against him. And across the street in the vice president's residence, the Democratic nominee may have looked on and wondered what the heck was going on.
Such was the protest scene on Massachusetts Avenue this Saturday. The costumes, the sign-waving, the bull-horning. It was a bit like attending a junior high pep rally. The panda people proudly held aloft their "Pandas for Gore" signs, which brought cries of mock outrage from the Bush supporters.
"Of course you're for Gore. You're from China," said one protester, in a reference to the 1996 campaign-finance scandals.
But as funny as the whole thing was, it was more than a little disappointing. Because, listening to the rhetoric flying back and forth across the street that separated the two sides, it became clear that many did not really know what was going on in Florida - and this was before the US Supreme Court's hold-everything ruling in the afternoon.
The protesters, like the rest of America, have been witnesses to what in essence has been a 33-day political mini-series. But as an onlooker listened to the chants it became clear that not everyone has been able to follow the plot.
One Bush protester, for example, held a sign claiming the Florida Supreme Court had overrode its own vote-count deadline when it called for the statewide recount on Friday. This is, of course, debatable.
A Gore supporter maintained that thousands of Democrats' ballots were thrown out in Seminole County. This, too, is wrong. The county did fill in some information on Republican ballot applications, but there was no proof that thousands of Democrat ballots were ever thrown out.
It's really no one's fault that there is confusion at this point. The front page of the Saturday New York Times featured a graphic that tried to clear up where everything was heading, and through no fault of its own wound up with a chart that looked frighteningly like a political version of Candyland - all lines and arrows with numerous possible outcomes.
But the legal teams of Bush and Gore have been studies in contradiction and hypocrisy that have done little to help clarify the situation.
Gore's people have rested their entire case on counting all the votes that exist. That, Al Gore says, is why he refused to join last week's Seminole County case, which was aimed at disqualifying Bush ballots.
But last week the vice president, while not endorsing the case, said he found it "very interesting." And never did he say he was opposed to the case, only that he refused to join it.
Bush's team has been worse. They openly joined the Seminole case, saying all those (Republican) voters had done nothing wrong and had a right to be heard. Those votes, Bush's people said, should not be lost on a "hyper-technicality." Yet those same lawyers argue that the votes that lurk in the stacks of undervotes around the state should not be counted partly because of a technicality.
Why? Those voters also did nothing wrong. Shouldn't their votes count? Yes, and one way or another they will. That's why the US Supreme Court's stay is so troubling. Various organizations have asked to count the votes if the county canvassing boards are not allowed to count them. Imagine the outrage if we put one guy in the White House and find out later that the other guy actually won?
And that is why today is a critical day in this post-election mess.
The one thing that can help the confusion now is a ruling from the US Supreme Court that the statewide recounts are valid. It may not fix everything. It will not necessarily tell us who the next president will be.
If I read my Candyland board correctly, there is still a possible congressional showdown and another Supreme Court case looming.
Even if the court rules that the recount should go forward, we should be prepared for four years of protests. But at least we may actually know who won Florida.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society