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Western Press Review: U.S. Presidential Election Dominates Commentary

By Erica Hurtt

Prague, 23 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press comments today on the ongoing U.S. presidential election.


An editorial in the Washington Post addresses the overall election situation: "Florida's protracted presidential election dispute was in simultaneous danger yesterday of being shut down prematurely or of spinning even further out of control. Either outcome would likely do harm -- would further weaken the claim of the ultimate winner to have achieved the presidency fairly. It's hard, day to day, to see how the situation could get worse -- and then it does." The editorial concludes: "This election has become an exercise, not so much in picking a president, as in damage control. It is sad to watch."


Commentary in the Financial Times reflects the same attitude that "enough is enough." The editorial says: "It was funny for a while. For a week or two, Americans sniggered at talk of pregnant chads and butterfly ballots. They guffawed derisively at the computerized television maps that turned Florida blue, then red, then yellow, like a ripening bruise. They smiled sympathetically at the thought of Jewish voters accidentally voting for a man who once described Hitler as a genius."

The analyst continues, "But this Thanksgiving Day the humor has been drained from the great 2000 presidential election debacle. The realization has dawned that this is a contest that neither of the two entrenched camps is prepared to lose and that, if things go on as they are now, it will be the country that suffers a loss far greater than any individual's failed ambition."

The editorial says that what seemed like a reasonable legal and political battle just a week ago has become a fight from which neither candidate is likely to emerge unscarred.

The decision by the Florida Supreme Court to allow recounts to continue in three Florida counties and be included in the state's certified vote tally is also a source of comment today.


A Los Angeles Times commentary argues that the Florida Supreme Court acted wisely in deciding that the rights of the voters, not the political fortunes of George W. Bush or Al Gore, must be paramount. The writer says the court set forth a time limit but "offered no wisdom in how to determine which of the disputed ballots -- the so-called dimpled and hanging-chads-- should be read."

Despite this criticism, the writer says, "It is hard to argue with such voter-centric language, though there are many bedeviling details unresolved, many lawsuits still pending. The decision, in its straightforwardness, will be the capstone to all that Americans have learned about Florida in recent weeks, including that state's habit of conducting the people's business, no matter how messy, out where the people can see it."


In a New York Times commentary, legal analyst Jeffrey Rosen says, however, the Florida Supreme Court justices went too far in allowing recounts to be certified. Rosen called the action "a bold example of judicial activism."

Rosen argues that the "Florida Supreme Court has ruled that the technical requirements of state election law are less important than vindicating the will of the voters. The court allowed manual recounts to continue in Democratic counties, and without saying so explicitly, it strongly hinted that dimpled ballots should be part of the count."

But, the legal analyst adds, "Although the Florida Supreme Court may have imagined that it could save the country from the worst partisan impulses, the justices have intervened in a political battle that neither state courts nor the United States Supreme Court can ultimately resolve."


An editorial in the Times says the Florida Supreme Court acted reasonably in permitting manual recounts to continue. But the analyst argues that dimple ballots should not determine a presidency: "The scenes in Miami-Dade County, with Democratic operatives at first deciding to proceed with their count and then apparently reversing themselves yet again, has reinforced the impression that this election is out of control and beyond all conventional logic ... If the Florida Supreme Court had hoped that it had imposed order on events, then it has proved mistaken. The lawyers and lunatics have taken over the asylum."

The writer adds on the topic of including the so-called dimple ballots: "Al Gore and his team describe this as a 'triumph for democracy.' To the outsider it resembles instead a landslide for insanity."

Analysts also commented on the actions of the U.S. presidential candidates.


Washington Post commentator David Broder says, "As rival Al Gore and George W. Bush pursue aggressive legal tactics to capture the disputed Florida votes that will make one of them president, nervousness is growing among their fellow partisans about the risks they may be running." Broder says along with strong support being voiced by campaign allies, "some caution signals are being flashed particularly about carrying on the effort beyond this weekend."


In the New York Times, analyst Bob Herbert argues that George W. Bush and the Republicans are coming "dangerously close to breaking faith with the system." Herbert criticized Bush's response to the Florida Supreme Court ruling: "It is one thing for an American to disagree with a court's ruling. That's common, which is why we have an appeals process. But Mr. Bush and his party appear to be saying that no matter what happens, no matter how the courts ultimately rule, if Al Gore is ahead in the final tally of Florida votes, they will not accept him as a legitimate president, and may well try by legislative means to bar him from the White House."

Herbert adds, "That is not the American way. That's breaking faith with the system."