Mad as Hell

Science, evolution, and politics explained.
Nov. 24 2000 10:37 PM

Mad as Hell

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When this presidential election is over, let the record show the following:

Robert Wright Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Follow him on Twitter.

1) Republicans were the first party to resort to mob behavior—the storming of the Miami-Dade vote-counting room that Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot today affectionately called a "bourgeois riot."

2) This bullying was quite possibly decisive. The "riot" itself—coupled with word that 1,000 Cuban-American Republicans were on their way to join the ranks—seems to have intimidated Miami-Dade's eternally dithering canvassing board into canceling its manual vote recount, converting Gore's chances of winning the election from solid to slim.

You might think that conservatives would be slightly abashed about winning a presidential election through physical intimidation. After all, for two weeks they had been paying hourly tribute to the "rule of law." But no—as ever, conservative pundits seem deaf to all irony involving themselves. In the very column in which Gigot celebrates the Miami "riot," he writes, "GOP lawyers also pointed out that the law—recall that quaint concept—required that any recount include all ballots." Quaint indeed.

There has been much comment about the asymmetrical animus of the last few weeks. While liberals watch the drama with rapt attention, conservatives watch with barely contained outrage. Commentators such as Gigot have described this contrast with quiet pride. They seem to take it as final proof that justice is on George W. Bush's side. (And they wield it, too, as a kind of threat: A Gore presidency would mean an ungovernable nation!)

But I have another explanation for the anger gap between conservatives and liberals: Conservatives are an angrier group than liberals. It's conservatives, after all, who have Rush Limbaugh. Liberals sometimes mourn the absence of a left-wing Limbaugh, as if this void signified a spiritual energy crisis. I personally think it's a sign of mental health.

Similarly, some liberals were no doubt upset by a New York Times poll shortly after the election which showed that, while virtually all Bush voters considered their man the legitimate winner, a much smaller majority of Gore voters was sure Gore had won. Again, though, I take this as a healthy sign—a sign not of some lack of Democratic commitment but of Democratic open-mindedness.

Yes, yes, I'm aware of how many Democrats are as incapable as many Republicans of seeing an opponent's point of view, of putting themselves in the shoes of The Other. The extremes of any ideology will always be a bit off-kilter. But the fact is that it is Republicans, not Democrats, who depend on a sizeable bloc of voters whose defining characteristic is heated intolerance of people different from themselves (e.g., homosexuals).

The post-election conservative outrage isn't confined to the grass roots. Throughout the take-no-prisoners chess game of the past two weeks, the Bush and Gore camps have evinced clearly different sensibilities. Bush, Baker, et al., exuding indignation if not contempt, have viewed the game as an attempted theft. Gore, Daley, et al., have viewed it as, well, as a take-no-prisoners chess game: Each team tries to use the law to its advantage, and whoever wins gets to be president. 

Incidentally, that's what the rule of law is. The rule of law doesn't mean that truth and justice always prevail. It doesn't presuppose that the people who administer and interpret the law will be devoid of bias, partisan or otherwise. The "rule of law" just means that when disputes between people arise, there is an algorithm for settling them—an algorithm that, no matter how imperfect in practice, is at least peaceful. At bottom, the rule of law just means that disagreements won't be settled by violence or intimidation, as this election now arguably has been. (The Miami-Dade uprising began, according to Gigot, when "street-smart New York Rep. John Sweeney, a visiting GOP monitor, told an aide to 'Shut it down,' and semi-spontaneous combustion took over." Then, according to the New York Times, the protest "turned violent" as "several people were trampled, punched or kicked when protesters tried to rush the doors.")

Gigot seems sure that this use of intimidation was justified. He sees it as evidence that Gore's shameless post-election ploys "finally convinced enough Republicans to fight like Democrats." Um, could we please have an example of Democrats fighting in this manner? The closest Gigot comes is this reference: "True, [the Miami-Dade revolt] wasn't exactly Chicago 1968, but these are Republicans."

It's interesting that Gigot has to reach back 32 years for an example, and that his example is a terrible one (the most disruptive Chicago protestors weren't Democrats—they were trying to disrupt a Democratic convention). But it's not surprising. Though Democrats do a lot of peaceful protesting, examples of them behaving like the Republicans did this week in Miami-Dade County are pretty rare. (Seattle, 1999? Nope. The demonstrators who got physical are no doubt Nader voters, assuming they voted at all—and good riddance to them.)

In the days after this year's election, I was in Europe, where I took a certain amount of kidding about America's electoral mess. Foreigners, of course, are especially amused that the world's famously litigious superpower has put its fate in the hands of lawyers. But I didn't feel at all embarrassed; what foreigners were seeing on television was the strength of our system: The rule of law, naturally, involves lawyers. But footage of Miami's "bourgeois riot" is something I truly am ashamed for the world to see.  

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