Does the End Justify the Means?

November 29, 2000

More than the presidency is at stake in Florida.

In the beginning there was Robert Bork, a superbly qualified appellate judge,
nominated in 1987 by President Reagan to the U.S. Supreme Court. When hearings
were held before Sen. Joseph Biden's Judiciary Committee, liberal Democrats
commenced the scorched earth, win-at-all-costs, end-justifies-the-means tactics that
they are still using in Florida today. They intentionally misrepresented Judge Bork's
record, smeared him as a bigot and waged a national political campaign against him.
Judge Bork was voted down 58-42, and the term to bork became a part of William
Safire's Political Dictionary: "to attack viciously a candidate or appointee, especially
by misrepresentation in the media."


Four years later came Clarence Thomas, a man who had been vetted by five FBI and
Senate investigations. The liberals' tactic was the same: misrepresent his record,
trash the man, find a witness to recant her former praise and paint him as hostile to
our values and a danger to the nation. The "high-tech lynching" almost worked;
Judge Thomas was confirmed by a slender 52-48 margin.

 

Then came the Clinton-Gore administration, rich in the practice of achieving an end
regardless of the means. Billy Dale, head of Travel Office, dares stand up to the
improper firings of the White House travel staff; he is trashed in the media, the FBI
is used to harass him, and he is prosecuted by the Clinton Justice Department. Mr.
Dale is acquitted by a jury in record time, but the mission is accomplished: The
travel office is staffed by Clinton people. Nine hundred FBI files of Republicans
illegally turn up in the White House (one such file had been enough to warrant a
Nixon impeachment count). A simple misunderstanding, the Clinton lawyers said.


Vice President Al Gore makes campaign fundraising calls from the White House in
violation of federal law. In a press conference likely emblematic of a Gore
administration, he reiterates again and again that there is "no controlling legal
authority" covering his case. Mr. Gore raises $60,000 in illegal contributions at a
Buddhist temple and says it too was only a misunderstanding, solid evidence to the
contrary notwithstanding.


President Clinton defends himself in a deposition by arguing that there are differing
interpretations of what the meaning of "is" is. The president lies to us and under
oath; a federal court finds that he gave "false, misleading and evasive answers that
were designed to obstruct the judicial process." His wife blames the whole mess on a
"vast right-wing conspiracy." The embarrassing White House e-mails that will tell us
whether Mr. Gore and Mr. Clinton are lying have been erased, or are missing, or just
can't be found.


The result of all this dissembling, obfuscation and lying is that the law becomes what
you can get away with. Smear the opposition; eradicate the evidence; turn on your
own if you must; attack the opposition as biased and partisan, and argue every point 
to the bitter end regardless of the consequence to anyone but yourself. The end
justifies the means.


But America cannot be an honest and ethical society without consequences for
dishonest and unethical actions. Which brings us to Florida and the presidential
election of 2000. It will either go down as another victory for end-justifies-the-means
politics, or as the moment when truth and consequences are reintroduced to
American politics and policy.


The initial Palm Beach County results look suspiciously as if the Bush vote has been
suppressed. According to CNN, Rep. Bill McCollum, the unsuccessful Republican
candidate for U.S. Senate, ran 207,000 votes behind George W. Bush in Florida. In
fact, Mr. McCollum received more votes than Mr. Bush in only four of Florida's 67
counties (even running behind in his home county, Seminole). Three of those four
were Republican counties, and the fourth was Palm Beach. A very conservative
Republican, vilified as a House manager in the impeachment of Mr. Clinton, manages
to run 1,600 votes ahead of Mr. Bush in a liberal and heavily Democratic county? Go
figure.


After the vice president lost the initial election count in Florida he promptly failed the
first test of a potential presidency by adopting Bork-Thomas-Clinton scorched earth
policies to seek a victorious end regardless of the means.


Florida's elected secretary of state, Katherine Harris, follows statutory law requiring
vote totals to be certified by 5 p.m. Nov. 14. She is smeared by Gore staff as a
"commissar" and a "hack." Overseas military ballots are attacked one by one,
following a five-page Gore campaign memorandum on how to do it. Successive
recounts are demanded in selected counties, and the counting rules are changed as
the recount progresses, but they still don't produce enough Gore ballots. The rules
change again for yet another recount; dimpled ballots begin to be counted for Mr.
Gore if the other offices on the ballot have been voted for Democrats, but not for
Bush if they were cast for Republicans.


Bush votes with punched chads clumsily taped back in are found in Broward County.
The Democratic election commissioners examine 105 such ballots and, according to
the Associated Press, decide the voters attempted to correct a mistaken vote by
taping the chad back in. They award Mr. Gore 88 votes and Mr. Bush seven.

Meanwhile in Dade County, election officials attempt (unsuccessfully) to move the
ballot counting procedures to a private room and exclude the media.


Gore operatives begin to compile dossiers on Republican electors in other states,
likely looking for embarrassing revelations the disclosure of which might persuade
them to see reason, and switch their vote to Mr. Gore.


The Florida Supreme Court hands down an opinion based upon a concept more
compatible with Soviet ideology than Anglo-American jurisprudence: "The will of the
people, not a hyper-technical reliance on statutory provisions, should be our guiding
principle." The court extends the recount deadline--there have been multiple
recounts now--but on Thanksgiving Day Mr. Gore, anticipating still not enough votes
to win, reverses his earlier stance and says he won't abide by the count. He then 
heads back to court to convince judges to manipulate the dimples and chads in his
favor.


The national television media are struck dumb throughout. Their vast resources turn
a blind eye to the manipulation of an election. No "60 Minutes," "20/20" or objectiveanalysis
journalism; no incredulous Ed Bradley or solemn Dan Rather discussing the
Scotch-taping of chads. Their silence encourages the view that the end justifies the
means.


Surely it is time to draw the line, to stand upon principle and the rule of law. There is
no need to apologize for an honest count in Florida any more than Republican House
members should apologize for impeaching President Clinton or Marcia Clark for
prosecuting O.J. Simpson. It is time to reject firmly the miasma of the Florida
Supreme Court that some ethereal "will of the people" should replace legislatively
enacted statutes as the law of the land.


A lot is at stake here. A presidency, yes, but more important is history's indelible
lesson that in a civil society the end cannot justify the means. We have taken the
wrong fork in the road with Bork and Thomas and Clinton and Gore. We should not
tread a single step further. If we do not correct our mistake now, when? And if not in
a presidential election, where?

 

 

Mr. du Pont, a former governor of Delaware, is policy chairman of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis. His column will appear Wednesdays.

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