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Western Press Review: The U.S. Election And Clinton's Visit To Hanoi

By Erica Hurtt

Prague, 17 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators today continue to analyze the unfolding U.S. election saga. There are also comments on U.S. President Bill Clinton's historic four-day visit to Vietnam.


New York Times commentator William Bradford Reynolds examines the fairness of a hand recount -- as opposed to a machine recount -- of Florida's disputed election returns for the presidency. He takes the view that any hand recount inevitably introduce human bias into the process. Reynolds writes: "The real mischief in Florida is that the recounts are dependent almost entirely on subjective judgment. In each of the counties selected, the local election officials -- many of whom are, you guessed it, Democrats -- now seek to divine each voter's true intention when his or her vote was cast."

He adds, "As the permutations of what constitutes a legitimate vote become more murky, one thing becomes surprisingly clear: Ballots need an impartial counter -- which means humans should not be involved. Machines are, if nothing else, wholly unbiased, and if they record votes incorrectly, it is indisputably not because of party influence."


Washington Post analyst Marjorie Williams looks more closely at Vice President Al Gore's offer to end legal action in return for an agreement by his opponent, Texas governor George W. Bush, to a hand recount of the votes in Florida. Williams writes that Gore's offer was "without doubt, a highly political pitch." She writes: "It came days after it should have, after Gore's surrogates had muddied the waters with threats that they might expand litigation into questions beyond the counting of votes that had already been cast."

But, she continues, "it was -- and is -- still the right thing to do. All along, it has been clear to anyone who stopped to think about it that this entire muddle could be resolved only by the two camps' agreeing to a common, and commonsensical, definition of what would constitute victory in this unprecedented new form of electoral overtime."

Williams says Bush's refusal to the proposal puts him "well on his way to winning the battle but losing the country."


An editorial appearing in today's Los Angeles Times by Ronald Brownstein and Doyle McManus says despite soothing words about national unity from both candidates, the courts will have the final say in the election's result. The writers say, "Each side has placed virtually all its chips on a single bet." [The] Texas governor [George W. Bush] wagers that the state official's block on hand recounts will be upheld. The vice president [Al Gore] gambles that he can find a judge to overturn the ruling."

The analysts add, "The almost-inevitable result is a series of collisions in three different courts."

Amid the recount debate and threats of court action, some analysts look at the media's role in the drama:


Moscow Times commentator Tom Rosentiel writes, "Add to the press's defeat in the U.S. presidential election the latest embarrassment: The election night call declaring Texas Governor George W. Bush the winner did not come from the news media polling group Voters News Service. It came first from the political desk of the Fox News Channel, which was being run by Bush's first cousin, John Ellis."

Rosentiel says the error "fostered the idea among Bush supporters that the election could be 'stolen' from Bush on a technicality. And it fostered the idea among Gore supporters that the vice president was finessed into conceding to Bush before the vote count actually indicated the Texas governor has won the race."

Rosentiel says the "notion that the press is an independent institution ... is eroding. The Ellis incident is indicative of a larger problem of the public's confusion between politics and journalism."

The implications of U.S. President Bill Clinton's four-day visit to Vietnam also evoke comment:


A Financial Times editorial says it is tempting, but wrong to believe Clinton's trip to Hanoi means Vietnam will "fling open the window to market forces." The writer says: "The visit shows a welcome readiness to engage each other a quarter of century after the war. But Mr. Clinton, the first U.S. leader to visit a unified Vietnam, should not be dazzled by the Japanese scooters that will buzz around his motorcade in Hanoi. They are mere show."

The editorial points out that Vietnam's Politburo has allowed "low-risk, superficial economic reform, the minimum needed to attract a first round of foreign investors." But the writer says, "its leaders are far from accepting the more radical economic freedoms needed for Vietnam to sustain growth."


Washington Times analyst Le Van Tien takes the same viewpoint on the need for Clinton to push for economic reforms in Vietnam. The writer says one of the main purposes of Clinton's visit is to celebrate a bilateral trade agreement signed between the countries last July. He says the agreement was greeted with enthusiasm by nearly everyone except the Vietnamese Communist party.

The writer points out: "Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1995, many Politburo members have lived in fear that the Vietnamese people will seize the opportunity to join with the Americans and take away the party's power." He adds the "Politburo has put a uniquely communist gloss on the capitalist notion that enterprises must compete or die. If they succeed, they will replicate the martial arts stratagem in which the losing fighter, unable to save his life, devotes his last few moments to making sure his opponent dies too."