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Western Press Review: U.S. Election Commentary Continues

Prague, 16 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Western commentators were finding still more details to discuss in the U.S. election tangle today.


Die Welt's Martin Halusa writes from Florida's Palm Beach county an analysis of, as he puts it, "How a good idea turned into a disaster." Halusa tells the story of a well-intentioned civil servant, a Democrat, who may have scuttled the election hopes of Vice President Al Gore.

He writes: "Theresa LePore has become the unluckiest woman in the United States. It is probably her fault -- despite the fact that she herself is a Democrat -- that Vice President Al Gore has not already [figuratively] moved into the White House."

The Die Welt writer says: "LePore, 45 years old, is chief supervisor of elections in the constituency of Palm Beach County, 100 kms north of Miami. Her intention had been to make it easier for citizens, particularly the elderly, to cast their votes in the presidential elections. One in four of the county's citizens is over the age of 65 and therefore possibly has difficulty reading. "LePore arranged for a ballot paper on which the print was far larger than on papers anywhere else in the country. The candidates' names were not printed as one long list one after the other, but rather in two rows beside each other. Voters could then use a pin to puncture a hole in the middle of the paper to demonstrate their choice."

Halusa writes that the nontraditional design turned out to be confusing and that "The result [was that] LePore -- a reserved, modest and unprepossessing public employee -- [became] one of the most despised figures in the country."


The British Financial Times carries a commentary by Gerard Baker, who writes that what appears to be a mess in Florida actually is a magnificent display of U.S. democratic greatness. Baker says: "To most observers overseas, and even to some in the United States, the spectacle unfolding in Florida's courtrooms, country halls and television studios is a tragi-comic illumination of the flaws at the heart of America's modern democracy, an ugly farce straight out of the pages of a Tom Wolfe novel."

"But," the columnist writes: "there is another way to regard the events of the last week. Look beyond, for a moment, the admittedly unappealing spectacles of those twin scourges of U.S. life -- lawyering and politicking -- and gaze instead at the magnificent process of a democratic nation peaceably, painstakingly coming to grips with an election that has resulted in a great national puzzle."


To one prominent "observer in the United States," political scientist, author, and social critic, Francis Fukuyama, the U.S. election results -- or lack thereof -- demonstrate a division in U.S. political thinking that turns out to be too subtle for politics. Fukuyama, author of "The End of History," comments in The Wall Street Journal Europe: "It's clear that [U.S. citizens] are not divided over foreign policy, management of the economy, crime, welfare or other traditional issues that used to separate left and right. Both candidates tried to grab hold of the electorate through tried and true political appeals that had worked in earlier elections. But the real issues in American politics have become cultural ones [that is, morality, health, education, gay rights, and the role of government] that can be addressed only indirectly through politics and pubic policy. As a result, people had to vote their intuitions as to how the candidates stood on them, with many evidently not making up their minds until they stepped into the voting booth."


The Washington Post says today in an editorial that Vice President Al Gore's suggestion for solving the Florida standoff is sensible and creative and that George W. Bush's rejection of the plan is mistaken and unsound. The newspaper says: "Gore offered a sensible way out of the legal and electoral quagmire in Florida yesterday when he pledged to abide by the results and not to sue if a complete hand recount was carried out in three critical Florida counties. Mr. Gore also said he would abide by a statewide hand count if [Bush] preferred that approach. Mr. Bush's swift rejection of the proposal was a disappointment on civic grounds, a political mistake and unsound as to his reasoning that a manual recount would be arbitrary and chaotic. It is the continued lack of agreement that is producing chaos."


Conservative columnist William Safire, writing in a New York Times commentary, prophesies that the election decision will end in the U.S. Supreme Court -- and that the nation will accept the result. Safire says: "Now let's peer through the pettifog."

Safire writes: "Does the closeness of the campaign's finish ordain political paralysis? Not at all." The columnist concludes: "Gore's call last night for a summit is premature. Bush will take up his offer but probably only after the Supremes have spoken. Though Bush and Gore are locked in a fight to the finish, it is only the finish of a campaign."


David Broder of The Washington Post writes today that presidential campaign politics now have metamorphosed into presidential campaign public relations, and that Gore -- at least for now -- has the lead in that arena. Broder quotes an unnamed Republican veteran as saying: "The Bush people missed the boat. As soon as the Gore people asked for recounts in Democratic counties [in Florida], [the Bush camp] should have asked for the same thing in Republican counties, rather than trying to stop the Democrats."

Broder writes: "No one can be certain how long the public will wait to know the identity of its next president." Broder says that some politicians call Gore's offer of a full recount generous. "Bush aides said, however," Broder writes, "that the offer of a statewide hand count was less generous than it seemed. Looking at precinct returns even in counties carried by Bush, they said, more spoiled or uncounted ballots may have been cast by Democrats than by Republican."