THE BATTLE OVER ELECTION SPIN: HOW GORE CAN FIGHT HIS PORTRAYAL AS A SORE LOSER

By JULIE HILDEN

Monday, Nov. 27, 2000

In the post-election fight for public sympathy, the Bush forces have proved themselves the sultans of spin. Many Americans, including many Democrats, are starting to believe the hype that Gore is a sore loser who, as Bush supporters have claimed, will keep counting votes every which way to Sunday until he wins. This portrayal, I will argue, is quite unfair. Unfortunately, some of the Gore team’s actions have done little to dispel it.

Gore As Three-Time Loser? Not Exactly.

The Bush team mantra goes this way: Gore lost the election in Florida, and thus the Presidential election. Then he lost the Florida automatic recount. Then he lost the overseas ballots battle. But he’s just going to keep trying until finally he somehow wins. In short, he’s a sore loser and it would be best for the country if he were to just concede.

One problem with the Bush argument is that Gore lost the initial Florida election by numbers so statistically insignificant that state law itself recognized their unreliability by mandating an automatic recount — and the automatic recount yielded a similarly tiny difference between the candidates.

There’s no reason to have much confidence in these tiny vote counts, and if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that we should not tolerate a significant risk that an election has been won based on luck.

Another problem with the Bush argument is that Gore did not trigger the automatic recount, nor did he trigger the separate counting of overseas ballots. And while the overseas ballots did increase Bush’s lead, again the difference is comparatively tiny and too likely to be erroneous for anyone to be comfortable with the result.

What Gore Could Have Done to Reverse the Bush Spin

Nevertheless, despite these weaknesses of the Bush argument, the Bush campaign has successfully spun the election as a twice — or thrice — told tale, of which America should be weary. Some Republicans have even donned buttons that replace "Gore-Lieberman" with "Sore-Loserman." Why has this spin been so successful, despite the logical weakness of the underlying argument? The answer is: Partly because of missteps by Vice President Gore and partially due to events outside Gore’s control.

It’s not Gore’s fault that many Americans went to sleep on Election Night (or, rather, Election Morning) thinking Bush had won — or that the networks’ vote count service was so unreliable in this close election as to drive Gore to believe he should graciously concede.

But it is Gore’s fault that he failed to insist on a statewide hand recount — monitored by representatives from both parties — as the only remedy that could confer legitimacy. He should have advocated this position publicly, starting the day after the election, and never let up. Instead, he offered this solution to Bush (who he must have known would never accept) once we were far down the road into lawsuits and recounts.

Granted, Gore might have lost in such a recount and might win with the other tactics he is now employing (though it looks increasingly unlikely). But adopting a proposal because it makes sense, not because of the results it will yield, is what it means to be principled — and principle is what we’ve lately yearned for, and seen little of, in our politicians.

But instead of pushing for the statewide hand recount that would be best for the country and for the new President, whoever he may be, Gore hired lawyers and began furiously generating legal strategies. ( I guess all the dead lawyer jokes out there aren’t told at the lawyer-filled dinner parties in D.C. that he attends.)

Moreover, Gore failed to draw a clear line between litigation that tries to further popular sovereignty and litigation that tries to defeat it on a technicality. He should have made clear his lawyers were also lawyers for the voters.

If Gore had drawn this clear line, he might have still pursued remedies in Palm Beach County, where the voters’ intent was frustrated. And he might still have legally fought for the acceptance by the Secretary of State of hand recounts in those counties whose representatives, on behalf of voters, wanted to have them. Again, however, pushing publicly for a statewide hand recount would have been better. It’s not clear that having manual recounts in only three counties, all of them Democratic, does anything to improve the accuracy of the statewide count, other than to unfairly skew it towards the Democrats — though it is likely to improve, at least, the accuracy of the counts in those counties, and Republicans counties could, of course, have recounted too if they’d chosen to do so.

What Gore Still Can Do To Reverse the Spin

Will Gore ever be able to reverse the "Sore-Loserman" stigma? Only with equally powerful reverse spin. Like a car stuck in the snow, Gore needs a powerful force to get him out of his current trap. An impassioned speech that abandons all anti-voter tactics and calls upon the country to demand a statewide hand recount is Gore’s last and best hope.

Gore should also call upon President Clinton to support him — as Gore, to his great detriment, was not humble enough to do in the campaign. So far, Clinton has stayed out of this struggle, but he can still speak authoritatively and persuasively now in favor of a statewide hand recount - albeit as a Democrat, but also as a President and leader.

If such a recount happens, and happens quickly, we’ll all be the better for it. Let’s hope Gore has not so severely mortgaged his credibility that he cannot persuade us to opt for it.

Julie Hilden, a FindLaw columnist, practiced law at the Washington, D.C. firm of Williams & Connolly from 1996-99. Currently a freelance writer, she is the author of the memoir The Bad Daughter (1998).

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