Transcript

176:

Two Nations, One President
Transcript

Originally aired 01.26.2001

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Prologue.

Ira Glass

So we have a new president. But after the recount mess in Florida this fall and the Supreme Court decision that ended the election, some people are having a hard time moving on. Why? Why can't they just let it go? Eric Potter drove to the inauguration to protest with his wife and kids, though he has never protested anything before.

Eric Potter

Never before.

Ira Glass

And what about this is different?

Eric Potter

The Constitution has been subverted and people don't seem to care.

Ira Glass

Were you Gore supporters during the election?

Eric Potter

Not strongly.

Ira Glass

Are you still mad?

Eric Potter

Extremely. If he's the rightful winner, I don't have a problem with him in the White House. But I don't believe he's the rightful winner, and we will never know that. We should count all the votes, and that hasn't happened yet.

Ira Glass

Republicans simply do not understand this. They think the Democrats were being divisive and unreasonable during the recounts and it's just galling that they won't let it go now.

Woman

Get over it. I mean, there's nothing that they can do. Get over it.

Ira Glass

Do you think there's any fair basis to anything they're saying about the Florida recounts?

Woman

No, it was such a farce, the whole thing was. Counting, recounting, counting, recounting. We could have gone and recounted all of the United States. And states that Bush just barely lost, we could have gone and recounted those.

Ira Glass

There have always been people at the extremes of the political parties who are really bitter, who are just furious at the other side. But as this election dragged on for weeks this fall, it seemed like more and more people got caught up in those kinds of feelings. And now where are those feelings supposed to go?

On inauguration day, 40% of Americans still thought that George Bush had not been legitimately elected as president. That's a lot of people. I think they're so divisive that even saying it's a lot of people out loud is seen as divisive. When I interviewed Democrats, the thing that most of them say is that it's not that they want to throw George Bush out of office at this point. Feelings do not run that high. It's more like they still have these moments of surprise when they happen to see him in the newspaper or on television. Like, right. He's President. It's real.

On the other side, a Republican named Chris Robling, a former election commissioner here in Chicago, says that since Florida, he feels a little chill between him and his Democrat friends. Democrats can be so arrogant when it comes to Republicans. They can look down on them, and it's only gotten worse. He took a tape recorder and talked to his friend Kathleen about it.

Chris Robling

How does this affect your view of somebody like me? That I'm a Republican and that I was for this guy and that I was for what happened in Florida?

Kathleen

You told me you weren't for what happened in Florida, you said you were ashamed of how he got elected.

Chris Robling

I'm for the fact that he ultimately won.

Kathleen

Of course you are. Republicans were for power at all costs. That's a creepy, nasty, vicious attitude.

Chris Robling

So am I creepy, nasty, and vicious?

Kathleen

Yes. I have thought that about you since I found out you were really a Republican. Yeah, there's a really creepy side to you. There is, I'm sorry. I'll probably have fewer and fewer Republican friends because I don't seem to be able to get over it.

Ira Glass

From WBEZ Chicago and Public Radio International, it's This American Life. I'm Ira Glass. Today on our radio program, moving on after the election. Democrats trying to, Republicans urging them to. Urging them with such vehemence that you get the feeling that they're not entirely over the Florida debacle either. Our show today in five acts.

Act One, You're Not the President of Me, in which we examine the non-intersecting realities of the two sides in the political spectrum right now. Act Two, a Brief History of Republican Time. Writer David Brock gives us the inside story of how we got to this point of bitterness exactly. And it is not pretty, my friends.

Act Three, Bedroom Politics, in which a happily married couple suddenly gets politics-- different politics-- making it hard for them to move on now. Act Four, Let Us Reason Together, in which we try to get each side to understand the other in the Supreme Court Case Bush v. Gore.

Act Five, What Would You Know Who Do? A chat with an African-American minister in Florida who is trying not to be mad about the election because it is against his religion. Stay with us.

Act One. You're Not The President Of Me.

Ira Glass

Act One, You're Not the President of Me. Back when president Clinton was being impeached, at least Republicans and Democrats agreed on the basic facts-- he fooled around with an intern and he lied about it. The only dispute was over whether this was an important violation of the law. In Florida-- and who thought it would ever be possible for anyone to say this-- in Florida, things were much more bitter. Partly because the two sides did not even agree on the basic facts of what was happening. It was two entirely different pictures of the world with very little overlap.

Here is Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, a self-described liberal, telling the story of the recount with David Horowitz of Salon Magazine, a self-described conservative. Jonathan Chait starts.

Jonathan Chait

Statistically, you can prove without a doubt that Al Gore would have won Florida if it were not for faulty machines. Now from there, you can argue--

Ira Glass

Wait wait wait, how can you do that?

Jonathan Chait

Well, there are several ways to do it. The best is the way the Miami Herald did it, which is they did a precinct-by-precinct analysis and simply looked at how many non-votes there were in each precinct. And then they found that Gore would have won by 20,000 votes.

Ira Glass

So for each precinct you say OK, all these people whose votes we do know, they split this way. This many for Gore, this many for Bush. Let's just ascribe to the uncounted ballots the same proportions, and then you get your number.

Jonathan Chait

That's exactly right. So if you do that, you know that Gore wins. And this is indisputable. This is statistically as sound as anything can be.

David Horowitz

The only reason that there's this big hoopla on the left is because Al Gore set out to steal the election after it was over. There's this line about, let's count every vote. Al Gore didn't want to count every vote. What about the Republican counties in Florida? There were six times as many as there were Democratic counties that didn't get their votes counted.

By focusing on four counties in Florida, which are overwhelmingly Democratic, where Democrats controlled the judging process and the whole process, that's just a prescription. A prescription for a kind of civil war. Because what could Republicans do? They had to stop the Democrats from manufacturing a vote.

Jonathan Chait

If you acknowledge that Gore would have won if it were not for faulty voting machines which, again, is indisputable, then the worst thing you could say about Gore is that he's trying to steal what was already rightfully his. Now, it may be the case that the physical evidence for resolving that problem in Florida is not strong enough. It may be the case that dimpled chads aren't clear enough marks of a voter's intent.

But I guess I would have two answers to that. First of all, you might as well try. Number two, anyone who's actually seen a ballot in Florida-- which I have-- would, I think, conclude that a dimpled chad is an attempt at a vote. We've had a few these ballots floating around our office and we've tried to play with them. And none of us has been able to create a dimpled chad unless there's something blocking the ballot.

Now the reason that's important, people might forget, is that the democratic theory of why you have dimpled ballots is that something blocks the ballot. Either it's misaligned in the machine or all the chads that fell through in the machine built up to the point where it's blocking the hole and you can't punch the chad cleanly through because something's behind it.

The Republican theory is that voters were putting their stylus down on the Gore hole and then changing their mind by the thousands. But if you look at one of these ballots, you realize it really can't be done. If you're able to punch through, you can't create a dimple. So the fact of the dimple being there is evidence of an inability to punch through to the chad.

David Horowitz

When the votes were counted, these people bent the ballots, popped the chads, and they just attempted it in front of the whole nation and it didn't work.

Ira Glass

Do you think there could have been a way to get a fair count of these dimpled chads?

David Horowitz

No. The only fair account is the machine count with all its unfairnesses, if that's not too paradoxical. Machines, so they make mistakes, it tends to be distributed evenly or, at least, blindly. There's no way to hand count and make it fair, because it's subjective.

Well, I think people should just let it go. The election is over. You can't, in a country of 300 million people, adjudicate this ad infinitum. You just can't run a country that way. There is no actual count. That's what people have to understand.

Jonathan Chait

I really think this is the worst thing I've ever seen happen in politics, as long as I've been following it. I guess I regard Bush as illegitimate. I think about it every time Bush says something like, even though I won by a narrow margin. Well what if you lost? What if it was a negative 500,000 margin?

David Horowitz

Stop with the saying this is an illegitimate president. He got 49 million votes or something. It was a very close election, it could have gone either way. And start participating in a constructive process to bring the sides together.

Ira Glass

David Horowitz, his new book is called The Art of Political War, and Jonathan Chait of The New Republic.

Hearing them side by side reminds me of a conversation I had at the inauguration last week with a World War II vet, a Republican donor from Michigan named Robert Brown, who I ran into right by the reviewing stands at the White House.

Ira Glass

So you don't understand their arguments at all?

Robert Brown

No, I don't understand them at all. I don't think they were valid at all. I'm sure they wonder, as I wonder, I wonder what goes through their mind to think as they do, and they wonder what goes through my mind.

Ira Glass

Do you think politics are getting more bitter?

Robert Brown

Oh yes. Terribly so.

Ira Glass

And is that a bad thing? Is that worrisome?

Robert Brown

Very worrisome to me. I don't know where it's going to end. Fortunately, I don't have to see too much more of it. You do. You'll have to see a lot of it.

Ira Glass

Now there's a reassuring thought.

Robert Brown

And maybe you can learn to live with it. I'm not sure I can learn to live with it. But I guess every cloud has a silver lining. And at my age, I don't have to live with it too much longer.

Ira Glass

That's right. The one comfort in dying someday is knowing you never have to watch Crossfire again.

Act Two. A Brief History Of Republican Time.

Ira Glass

Indeed it is, Act Two, A Brief History of Republican Time. So how did we get to this point where politics is so bitter? David Brock has a particular view of this. He used to be a right-wing journalistic hitman. First, he wrote an investigative book about Anita Hill. Then he was the very first reporter to mention Paula Jones by name in a story, which led, you could say, to her going public and suing Clinton, which led to him lying in a deposition-- lies which later became grounds for his impeachment. Brock published an apology to Clinton. He is uniquely situated to give a first-hand history of recent politics.

David Brock

The vein-popping conservative backlash Americans witnessed after the 2000 election is rooted in the war over judicial nominees that began in the late 1980s when Presidents Reagan and Bush tried to roll back decades of socially progressive court decisions by confirming conservative judges to the bench. In Republican eyes, the Robert Bork nomination was the same as the Clarence Thomas hearings. Attacks, lies and misrepresentations. They vowed revenge. Newt Gingrich was in on the tone-setting war from the start. Writing shortly after Bork's defeat, he promised to fight the Democrats quote, "with the scale and duration and savagery that is true only of civil wars."

Gingrich and the people around him were not conservatives in the original sense of the word. They were radicals who consciously adopted the street fighting political style of the '60s for their own ends. In the early '90s, Gingrich's posse hung out at the Capitol Hill row house of Grover Norquist, an anti-tax lobbyist whom The New Republic once called the Che Guevara of the Republican revolution.

At Norquist parties, where conservatives convene to drink kegs and grouse about the latest liberal outrages, I ran into former Reagan and Bush speechwriter Peggy Noonan, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, conservative pundit Laura Ingraham, Wall Street Journal editorial writer John Fund, and many of the figures you saw kicking and screaming on TV about the stolen election.

The integrity of ballots was the last thing I ever thought this crowd would get worked up over. Norquist kept a pet boa constrictor named Lysander Spooner, after a turn-of-the-century anarchist. A majestic portrait of Lenin graced Norquist's living room wall. Incongruously for such a right wing crowd, Peter Paul and Mary tunes played on the stereo. I asked Norquist about this once and he told me it was OK, since the '60s left wing was being destroyed.

After the Cold War, Gingrich and company candidly recognized that the Cold War's demonizing, us-versus-them worldview could still be useful. They just turned it against their domestic enemy. Now it was the Democrats they called unprincipled, immoral, and un-American. The shift from one enemy to another culminated at the Republican National Convention in 1992 in Houston, where RNC Chairman Rich Bond stood on the convention floor and said, of the Clintons and their supporters, we are America. Those other people are not.

Republicans have never forgotten that in 1992, the ballots cast for Ross Perot combined with those cast for George Bush constituted a majority of the electorate. In their minds, the will of the people clearly favored conservative leadership. On election night in 1992, then-Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole went on national television and denounced the Clinton-Gore ticket, which had won with 43% of the vote, as illegitimate.

That made it possible to say and do anything to stop them. And boy, did we try. The American Spectator, for example, spent $2.4 million looking for dirt on the Clintons, including sending me to Arkansas to chase down outlandish stories linking Clinton to drug running and murder. I'd come back telling them the stories weren't true. They'd figure out a way to publish them anyway.

Riding a wave of anti-Clinton sentiment, the Gingrich revolution swept into power in 1994. In came a generation of right-wing rabble-rousers whose politics seemed based as much on raw emotion and invective as conservative ideals. The radical right wasn't pretending to be outraged at Clinton for dramatic effect; the rage was real, even when they knew they were stretching the facts to make their case. Beginning with the famous election night party that Laura Ingraham and I threw to celebrate the 1994 election, my house in Georgetown became the center of social life for the revolution.

The highlight of my dinner parties was always a dramatic reading from Gennifer Flowers's steamy book, Passion and Betrayal. Here's a typical passage.

"Yes, I found Bill Clinton incredibly sexy. I can still remember the way he had of staring at me. He did more than just mentally undress me. He was visually seducing me, and he made sure I knew it."

When Gingrich's extreme anti-government agenda fell flat, furious Republicans fought back. GOP congressional investigation staffers, together with friends of mine who worked for Kenneth Starr, quickly generated charges, counter-charges, conspiracy theories, and rumors designed to depict the Clintons as criminals. After I introduced Paula Jones to the world in the pages of the American Spectator, I was one of the right wing's golden boys and I was in the thick of it all. We were on a mission.

Among Clinton's foes, tempers boiled over as the promised indictments failed to materialize and Clinton won reelection handily. Tired of running down dead ends, I bailed out soon afterward. But the right never stopped believing that the Clinton-Gore administration was a depraved, criminal syndicate.

In the fall of 1997, months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, I attended a dinner given by the American Spectator. The subject of discussion that evening was how to build support for an impeachment resolution, introduced by representative Bob Barr of Georgia. John Fund from the Wall Street Journal said it was quote, "not a matter of law but of political will."

The Republicans saw their subsequent failure to remove Clinton from office as a historic defeat, but they didn't blame themselves. In their minds, they had simply been outmaneuvered by the oily Clinton-Gore spin machine, tricky lawyers, and the liberal-leaning media. And they would do everything they could to ensure that nothing like this ever happened again.

This is the political backdrop for Florida's recent drama. And it explains why Republicans so quickly concluded that Florida Democrats were colluding with Gore to steal the election, and why they were so adamant about drawing their line in the sand. It also explains why, during the recount, polls showed that 75% of Democrats would have accepted Bush as president, but barely 60% of Republicans would accept Gore.

During the disputed recount and in the months since, when the mainstream press talks about what happened in Florida, the story it tells, the story that's become the accepted version of events, is that the Democrats and Republicans behave the same as each other. That their actions were morally equivalent. I don't think that's true. Inside the courts, they might have fought with equal fierceness and self-interest, but outside the courtroom Bush and his allies showed a willingness to rely on rhetoric and tactics that the Democrats didn't.

Bush's top strategist, former Secretary of State James Baker, portrayed court decisions that went against Bush as partisan and illegitimate. Republicans charged that Gore could not pull ahead without cheating and stealing. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay decried a theft in process and George Will referred to slow motion larceny. Republican morality czar William Bennett said a Gore victory in Florida would be illegitimate. Former Senator Bob Dole suggested that Republicans might boycott a Gore inaugural.

During the controversy over military ballots, Bush spokesman Marc Racicot, the governor of Montana, all but called the Gore forces unpatriotic, saying that they had gone to war against the men and women who serve in our armed forces. There's no equivalent on the Democratic side to all this. The Gore team was under orders not to attack the Republicans or impugn the integrity of the judicial process. When Gore spokesman Chris LeHane did otherwise and called Katherine Harris commissar, the Gore staff was ordered not to let it happen again.

Perhaps most disturbing were reports of Republican violence. Democratic officials in Florida said they were kicked, chased, and shouted down by Republican protesters. In Miami Dade county, an angry mob of Republican operatives, organized through Congressman Tom DeLay's office in Washington, stormed the recount center at a critical juncture.

New York Republican Congressman John Sweeney commanded the troops to shut it down, according to the Wall Street Journal. When the demonstrators later held a Thanksgiving Day party, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney called in and joked about the disruption. Again, there was no equivalent to this on the Democratic side.

Now that the dust has settled, everyone seems to be proceeding as if none of this nastiness ever happened. I can't forget, even if I want to. Watching Bush take the oath of office as James Baker and the Supreme Court looked on, it was hard not to think of the ugliness that had got him to this point, and it's hard to believe that we've seen the last of it. George Bush ran as a different kind of Republican-- a uniter, not a divider, and certainly not a hater. Then came Florida.

Last week I couldn't help notice a photograph in the New York Times of conservative strategists planning to support the nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General. And Ashcroft doesn't exactly fit anyone's notion of unity or inclusiveness. The meeting was being run by Grover Norquist, the Gingrich protege with a pet boa constrictor. I wondered if everything I had seen on the right in the '90s was just a prelude to what's about to happen.

Ira Glass

David Brock. A version of this story appears in the issue of Talk Magazine, which is now on newsstands. Brock is writing a memoir of his years in the conservative movement and his break from it. It'll be out in the fall.

Act Three. Bedroom Politics.

Ira Glass

Act Three, Bedroom Politics. When it comes to political fighting, there is no more intimate a space than a marriage, where you have to get along, where you have to figure out how to move on and get over disagreements. Scott Rayson is a corporate lawyer and his wife Carrie is a social worker which, you might think already is a recipe for political fighting right there. But in fact, they have always voted together in 10 years of marriage. They both supported Bill Clinton. And then something changed.

Carrie Rayson

At some point over the summer, I believe we were eating dinner one night, and Scott said, you know I think I'm going to vote for Bush. And the only other time in our marriage that I have been that caught off guard was years ago. We have three little boys. And when the second one was about a year old, I started lobbying for a third child. And I would swear we'd had that conversation, that if things went well, we would try and have three children.

And finally one morning Scott sat down and took me by the shoulders and he said, I'm not sure you listen to me anymore. I'm not sure I want another baby. And it felt like the ground shifted under my feet. It was one of those marital moments where you think, oh, this could be a problem. And in the same way, he said it in the same way, he said, I'm not sure I want to have another baby. He said, I think I might vote for Bush.

Ira Glass

Was it one of these moments where you just felt like, do I know you?

Carrie Rayson

Oh, sure.

Scott Rayson

I think we watched Al Gore's speech, his acceptance speech, and our reactions to it were very different. And that's the first time it became obvious that TV was going to be a problem for us.

Ira Glass

So as election season unfolded, would you watch, for example, the debates together?

Carrie Rayson

We weren't able to do that. We watched them in separate rooms.

Ira Glass

So what room were you in and what room was he in?

Carrie Rayson

Usually I sent him down to the-- there's an old TV. We have two televisions in our house. There's a television that's down in a sub-basement that the children use as a playroom.

Ira Glass

So you would banish him to the sub-basement?

Carrie Rayson

He was banished.

Scott Rayson

Yeah, I mean there was-- maybe a self-imposed exile is a better way to put it. And I'd go down in our playroom and watch and she'd be in the kitchen watching. And you could hear the two of us talking at the TV at just the opposite times saying just the opposite things.

Ira Glass

Were there moments between you when there was just an air of tension because of politics?

Scott Rayson

Yeah, there were several times. When it really first dawned on me that we can't just accidentally be watching this coverage in separate rooms, was one night at dinner and she just slammed a plate down in front of me and she just said, so tell me why is it that you're going to vote for George Bush?

Carrie Rayson

I was still struggling to make him change his mind. And I really did work very hard. And you see, I'd been successful in the past. So it was really hard for me to accept that I couldn't convince him, in some way, that what he was doing was wrong.

Scott Rayson

My whole premise was well, the election will be over on the first Tuesday and we can get back to norm. And it didn't. It went on for another month.

Carrie Rayson

You know, in our life together, typically you meet a couple or you meet an individual. And typically, Scott and I will like that person or not be terribly impressed or interested in that person for the same reasons.

Ira Glass

You kind of agree about people.

Carrie Rayson

We agree about people, we agree about so many things.

Ira Glass

And somehow on this, you're not agreeing?

Carrie Rayson

Right. For me, it generated a lot of anger with him. And I just didn't get it.

Ira Glass

And did it get such a rise of you because you felt like it wasn't Bush, per se, because it said something about Scott?

Carrie Rayson

Yes, oh yes.

Ira Glass

And what did it say about Scott?

Carrie Rayson

That he had kind of, in front of me somehow, become conservative and I wasn't aware of it.

Ira Glass

And what does it mean to you to be conservative?

Carrie Rayson

Well, that's a good question. What it means to be conservative for me is that you look out for your best interests, first and foremost. And I don't believe that that's a good way to live. And I don't live that way.

Scott Rayson

I don't know the right word, really. I'd say I felt a little insulted by all of that. Why would she think that poorly of me, when she knows me as well as she does, over this candidate? And I just realized that I wasn't going to be able to talk to her. And that's when I just decided that it's really for the best to really just not talk about it.

Ira Glass

Carrie, I understand at some point, your husband Scott got invited to the inauguration? Could you tell me the story of that, please?

Carrie Rayson

Well what happened was Scott made what I would consider a pretty hefty contribution to the Republican party. And what we got immediately was the most outrageous mail. We got so much mail from the NRA. Really out-there mail from people about, you know, let's tar and feather Clinton. And I would just pile that up on the table every day and tell him he had more mail. So then he gets this great, huge envelope for the inauguration and all the parties and everything. and so I propped that up especially for him to see. But he would never have gone.

Ira Glass

Really? He didn't have any interest in going at all?

Carrie Rayson

No. He's not political that way. He's not involved in politics that way.

Scott Rayson

Well, I would love to have done it. I had my little inaugural invitation and was gleefully reviewing it. And she just found it disgusting. So I didn't even suggest the possibility of going.

Ira Glass

So you didn't even try to talk your wife into this?

Scott Rayson

Oh no, wouldn't even have dreamed of it. Not a chance.

Ira Glass

Does she know that you might have wanted to go at all?

Scott Rayson

No. I mean, I didn't say anything about it.

Ira Glass

It seems like the two of you have the kind of marriage where you haven't had an issue before where you just put it aside and said, OK, we're not going to talk about this anymore. And now you have one. Your first one.

Scott Rayson

Well, yeah. That's right. And I guess if you're going to have one, it's not a bad one to have.

Ira Glass

From the outside, we hear about these marriages, people with differing political views-- The Mary Matalin, James Carville marriages-- and it all sounds so lovable and cute.

Carrie Rayson

No, I don't think it's been cute. And I don't think I've been very lovable at all, and I haven't viewed him as being terribly lovable through all of this.

Scott Rayson

Well, I've seen Matalin and Carville plenty of times together on television and, I don't know if you ever saw them together during the aftermath of the election, but it looked awful. I'd never seen Carville so quiet. She just looked hostile at him.

Ira Glass

Are you worried about these next four years together with Bush in the White House?

Scott Rayson

No.

Carrie Rayson

Between the two of us? No. Because we really do-- we work through things.

Scott Rayson

I am dreading the next election. I think the midterms are going to be bad enough. But four years from now, I think it's going to be several months of being banished to the playroom. I'll have to get involved in some big deal that takes me to Botswana or something so I just go off and work for a couple months.

Ira Glass

Scott and Carrie Rayson, in Nashville, Tennessee. Coming up, a love supreme, a hate supreme, we go back once more, slowly, to a certain five-to-four court decision. And this time, we really, really, really use our brains. In a minute, for Public Radio International when our program continues.

Act Four. Let Us Reason Together.

Ira Glass

It's This American Life, I'm Ira Glass. Each week on our program, of course, we choose a theme, bring you a variety of different kinds of stories on that theme. Today, one week into the Bush presidency, we bring you stories of people trying to move on after our bitter national election recount imbroglio. I don't even know what that word means, but I feel like this is my one chance to say it.

We've arrived Act Four of our program. Act Four, Let's Reason Together. When the Supreme Court handed down the decision that ended the election, it came and went in a day. There was a flurry of commentary, some of it from people who are usually very evenhanded and calm about the court, like Jeffrey Rosen, who appears on ABC News and on NPR sometimes, who teaches law at George Washington University Law School. He was saying things like--

Jeffrey Rosen

I don't want to be hyperbolic, but it's safe to say that this is the most outrageous decision that those of us who consider ourselves moderate in the legal academy have ever seen. The most temperate scholars are literally at a loss for words to try to explain this decision, which was so ill-reasoned that it's impossible to view it as anything but political.

Ira Glass

Was it really this bad? If so, there was a feeling among those of us who put this radio show together, that we wanted to understand exactly what was wrong with this decision. And more than that, we wanted to believe that there is a reasonable case to be made for the decision. Thinking anything else is just too harsh.

So with some distance on the decision and some time, we assembled four constitutional experts-- two for and two against the decision-- to explain it. We figured if we had these lingering questions about the whole thing, a lot of people probably did. Here's what we learned. There are really just two parts to the decision. The majority first says that the recount in Florida was violating principles of basic fairness under the equal protection clause of the constitution. Then it sets out a remedy to fix that. We'll take these one at a time. First, the equal protection Argument Here's Mike McConnell, one of the leading conservative Constitutional experts in the country.

Mike Mcconnell

The argument is really quite simple and common sensical, which is if there's to be a statewide recount, it has to be done on fair and equal terms with some kind of an objective standard for deciding what counts as a vote.

Ira Glass

The Supreme Court goes into great detail about all the unfairness in the way that the Florida Supreme Court was allowing the recount to happen. The unfairnesses include which votes got recounted and which didn't, whether the people doing the recounting were properly trained and fair, whether there was a fair way to challenge a result. Some counties counted dimpled chads one way, some counted them another way. Palm Beach County switched standards. There were reports that different teams within a county sometimes used different standards.

Mike Mcconnell

The Florida Supreme Court's decision was a mishmash of standards, which almost made it impossible that there could be a fair count in Florida.

Ira Glass

In fact, even people who have big problems with the Supreme Court decision agree that there are all sorts of unfairnesses built into what the Florida court did. The question is whether these unfairnesses are so bad that one could conclude that the Florida court had actually left the realm of normal judicial interpretation, leaving aside Florida law entirely, leaving aside impartiality, and committing what the Supreme Court calls, scarily, a non-judicial act. Only then can the US Supreme Court intervene.

Jeffrey Rosen

I was not a fan of the Florida Supreme Court's decision.

Ira Glass

Again, Jeffrey Rosen.

Jeffrey Rosen

The justices had gone too far in changing the counting standards and imposing a new deadline. But even people like me, who have questions about the Florida Supreme Court, can't claim that it was lawless beyond the realm of reasonable debate. It was based on a series of judicial precedents in Florida, going back to the early 20th century.

Ira Glass

In contrast, says Rosen, the Supreme Court's decision cites a few precedents. But they either do not support the case or, sometimes, precedents seem to go against the decision in Bush versus Gore. For instance, in the past conservatives on the court have said that you have to prove that discrimination is intentional before it is a real violation of the equal protection clause.

Jeffrey Rosen

Indeed, in the affirmative action and civil rights cases and the voting rights cases too, they'd gone to great lengths to stress that voting systems that had the inadvertent effect of diluting the voting strength of African American voters but were not intended to disadvantage African Americans are not Constitutional violations. The conservatives told us again and again, in cases like the Mobile case, that you need intentional discrimination. No one is claiming here that the different counting standards-- whether imposed by the court or by the Florida legislature-- constitute intentional discrimination. I try to run through each method of interpretation. I'm literally at a loss to defend this decision.

Ira Glass

Even legal experts who support this Supreme Court decision agree that the precedents cited by the majority don't really say much that backs up the decision. Again, here's Mike McConnell.

Mike Mcconnell

I don't think that this case is decided on the basis of precedence. I think it was decided on the basis of a pretty common sensical understanding of fairness. That when you're going to have a statewide recount in a single jurisdiction, that they have to count all the votes the same way. Here's Greg Sisk from Drake Law School, another supporter of the decision.

Greg Sisk

In my view, if most people actually read this 12-page decision and looked at the listing of the problems with the unfairness of the approach that the Florida Supreme Court had set up, that we would reach a consensus-- yeah, that's not a very good way to do things. And the only thing that we'd be left to decide is, is it unconstitutional, then, to do it that way?

Ira Glass

In the end, there is simply a great divide between the people who support this decision and those who impose it. And at one level, the divide is not over the reasoning in the decision. The divide is over whether or not they see the Florida court's recount as being profoundly flawed and deeply unfair. If they do, then they conclude that there was enough of a problem to justify the very unusual step of the Supreme Court jumping in.

If they don't, then the logic of the decision dissolves. This comes up over and over when you talk to the two sides. Take two of the arguments against the decision that you've probably heard on the news at some point.

Critics said that it was grotesque for the Supreme Court to stop the Florida recount on equal protection grounds when the point of the recount was to give equal protection to the unfortunate voters who lived in districts with inferior, less-reliable voting equipment-- the punch card ballots.

Critics also said that the US Supreme Court put the Florida court into a kind of Catch-22 situation. Here's how this works. The Supreme Court first told Florida to be careful, not to change the rules of the election after election day. Don't go in, don't muck around with the law, that would be unconstitutional. So the Florida court refused to set a statewide standard for counting ballots because that might be seen as altering the law. Then the Supreme Court spun around and overturned them, saying no, you should have imposed a statewide standard in the interest of fairness.

Faced with both of these criticisms, supporters of the equal protection argument are unmoved. Because, again, in their view the bottom line is that there were just grave problems with the Florida recount that the Florida court needed to fix.

If, on election day, some voters faced worse voting equipment than others, well this recount scheme-- in their view, impossibly biased towards the Democrats in a few select areas that had been hand-picked by Gore, this scheme would not make things any fairer. And if the Florida election law was so vague that it was impossible to invent a fair, statewide standard for a recount without changing the law, then it's better to just shut down the recount. And what's the loss? After all, recounting in a biased way is no better than not recounting at all. Again, Mike McConnell.

Mike Mcconnell

There was good reason not to order a recount at all. But if there was to be recount, it ought to be a fair recount. For the Florida court to order a recount that was systematically rigged in favor of one candidate was just unjustifiable.

Ira Glass

Let's move on to the second part of the Supreme Court decision. Once the Supreme Court decided that the Florida recount violated the equal protection amendment of the Constitution, what should they do about it? Conservative legal scholar Mike McConnell says that he agrees with the court when it comes to the equal protection part of their decision. But that's it.

Mike Mcconnell

The weakness in the opinion has to do with the issue of remedy-- that if the problem with the Florida Supreme Court's decision is that in order to recount under unfair, unequal, arbitrary chaotic standards, the proper remedy would have been to send it back to the Florida court to conduct the recount under fair, consistent practical standards. It would have been better for the US Supreme Court to leave it up to the state to do that.

Pam Karlan

Normally when people are being treated unequally, the way you treat them equally is you raise everybody up to the fair level.

Ira Glass

Liberal legal expert, Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School.

Pam Karlan

So if these ballots were going to be counted in Broward, then you'd count them in Palm Beach. And instead, what the Supreme Court said was in order to solve the potential inequality, don't count any of these people's votes, even though there are large numbers of ballots that weren't counted the first time around on which it's absolutely clear what the voter's intent was. And the Supreme Court stopped that process, leaving a lot of voters as disenfranchised as if they'd never gone to the polls in the first place.

Ira Glass

The Supreme Court, of course, stopped the Florida recount on December 9 and then handed down its opinion on the 12. The opinion said that because there wasn't enough time at that point to do a fair recount, they would call it a day. The state would go to George Bush. In his dissent, Justice Breyer points out that the majority decided that there was no time for a recount without any evidence on the court record that the recount could not have been completed on time, by December 18, which is when the electoral college would meet. Breyer writes, quote, "the majority finds facts outside of the record on matters that state courts are in a far better position to address," end quote.

So what was the majority's argument for declaring it over on December 12? Well the majority doesn't say much about it at all. Except that December 12 was the date that the Florida court was shooting for as the deadline for finishing the vote. Greg Sisk thinks that this was not only reasonable, he says it was the most sensible way to do it.

Greg Sisk

First of all, the Florida Supreme Court had been saying all along, since their initial decision, had always been operating on the assumption that December 12 was the deadline. And the reason they reached that conclusion, the Florida Supreme Court did, was this. There's a federal statute that provides that if you, as a state, want to appoint electors in a way that they're not subject to challenge by Congress as having been improperly selected, you have to make your selection by December 12. And the Florida Supreme Court had assumed all along that the legislature, of course, would have wanted Florida to take advantage of that safe harbor provision.

Ira Glass

Dissenters point out that the December 12 date is an arbitrary one, and not part of Florida state law. If states miss the safe harbor deadline, they can still get their votes in. Pam Karlan.

Pam Karlan

Obviously, if you can get it done by December 12, that's the best. But it's hard to say that Florida would prefer an inaccurate count on December 12 to a more accurate count on the 15 or the 18. Or in a case like Hawaii in 1960, they didn't get their votes in until early January.

Ira Glass

Professor Sisk, I have to say after speaking with four different scholars about this decision, I sort of despair that people will see eye to eye on this.

Greg Sisk

I know, I think that's probably right. I think this is one of those cases that often one goes out the same door you came in.

Ira Glass

I wonder if the very best thing to come out of a discussion like this is that people on each side will understand that the other side has a reasonable argument and might vilify each other a little less. People are so mad at each other.

Greg Sisk

Well, this was one of those things are brought out some of the worst in terms of partisanship. One cannot imagine a more disastrous way to end an election campaign. People were more passionate in favor of their candidate after the election than they were beforehand.

Ira Glass

That is so true.

Do these discussions convince anybody of anything? Speaking completely honestly, I came to this as a Gore-leaning voter, wanting to be persuaded by the majority on the Supreme Court. And in all honesty, I have to say, I did not find their arguments convincing. But I can say now that I see why they think they're convincing. Maybe that's something.

Act Five. What Would You-know-who Do?

Ira Glass

Act Five, What Would You Know Who Do? Richard Harris, a Reverend from Belgrade, Florida says he doesn't even know how many days and weeks he spent registering voters for this fall's election.

Richard Harris

Oh god, to be honest with you, I stopped counting long ago. But we started out, actually, about a year ago. We reached out through churches, reached out through civic groups, fraternities, sororities. And we actually got out and beat the bushes. We went down where I live--

Ira Glass

When you were saying that, I was picturing guys fishing and you all just walking up to them.

Richard Harris

That too, and believe it or not, we did that. We have a marina and a pier in our community. And we did that, too. Oh yeah, we went up on the pier and we actually did that. As a matter of fact, if we happened to be going somewhere and someone was fishing off one of the canals and bridges there, we actually stop, hey, you a registered voter? They'd give us a thumbs up. We'd slow down, give us the thumbs up sign. I mean when we were in the supermarket. It became such a part of us. When we're in the supermarket or in line at the bank, or whatever. If you saw someone, we'd register them right on the spot.

Ira Glass

Do you have a count of the number of people you all registered?

Richard Harris

Personally, maybe around 1,200 or so. And I'm sure it was more than that because I stopped counting at one point.

Ira Glass

You personally registered 1,200 people?

Richard Harris

Oh yeah, definitely.

Ira Glass

Come election day, the number of African Americans who voted in Florida broke all records. It rose 50% over the last presidential race. But over the course of the day, Reverend Harris witnessed some of the problems at the polls, which have led to civil rights hearings. He saw police at a polling place asking voters for ID. He saw polling officials from poorer districts unable to get through to state officials to confirm voter IDs. There were people who were thrown off the voter roles because of a faulty list that the state of Florida bought, which incorrectly identified over 8,000 people as felons, who aren't allowed to cast ballots, according to Florida law.

Richard Harris

You could feel it. Certainly by 3 or 4 o'clock in the afternoon, you could really feel that there was something definitely wrong. It had gone wrong and you could just feel it. And by the time the polls had closed, there was just this uneasy feeling when I left to go home to watch the results. Something you can't put your hand on at the time, that's how I felt. Something is not right, it's just not right.

Ira Glass

Can I ask you honestly? As somebody who's trying to stay positive about this entire experience, did you have moments, as a man watching the election results and what happened in the weeks after, where you felt yourself just getting angrier and angrier at the Republicans? And angry, perhaps, in a way that you didn't feel entirely comfortable with as a man of God?

Richard Harris

Actually, what I really felt was a questioning of my spirituality, to be honest with you. How can I sit back and just let this go like this? How can I accept these people as decent and human when I'm looking at them and I'm beginning to see-- tell you what bothers me. I listened to this on the testimony on the Ashcroft confirmation on my way up here to Atlanta.

That's what bothers me. When you try to ram Ashcroft down our throats, knowing he's controversial, knowing there's a great majority in this country, the public, who does not want him to be there, who is really frightened by the possibility that he will be confirmed. Then it says to me if you're going to be a president of compassion, as you have identified yourself-- you can't just say, I'm a compassionate president and then you've got your staff who's not. That's not going to work.

Ira Glass

I have a friend who watched Bush become president, and she wanted Gore to become, and saw the way it had happened. And she was remembering how, in 1992, I think it was, Dick Armey, Republican, stood up on Capitol Hill and referred to Clinton as "Your president." And she said she just doesn't want to become that. She just doesn't want to hate. And she says it's hard not to.

Richard Harris

I tell you what, she's absolutely right. I was at a basketball game last night at a college. And I'm going to be totally honest with you, when the National Anthem was playing, I sat down. I didn't get up. I couldn't. Something just held me down. It was very interesting and coincidental that the flag was directly-- there was a Confederate flag on one side, the state of Georgia flag on one side off to my left a little bit, but directly over my head was an American flag. So everybody in the gym turned around and looked. And I'm sitting right up under the flag, not moving. But something was-- I just couldn't get up.

Ira Glass

And what was that something?

Richard Harris

To be honest with you, the only other time I felt like this was when I was beaten-- in segregation, the colored and white water fountain. And I stopped for a long time. Because what that flag symbolized for me at that particular point in time, this was not my country. And with no real rights. And that's the feeling that I'm getting now, that we have no real worth in their eyes.

And that's what bothers me. And I have to pray real hard and ask God for forgiveness, not to dislike to the point where it turns into hatred of other people who were diametrically opposed to what's right. I figure what's right, anyway. And some of the sinister things they did, I have to forgive them. I have to. I have no choice. I have to forgive them so we can move on and the healing can start.

Ira Glass

And how's that going?

Richard Harris

I'm almost at the point where I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. You remember that?

Ira Glass

Sure.

Richard Harris

That's where I am right now. If you want to know what my secret prayer is-- my secret prayer is no longer a secret once I tell you this-- is that President-Elect Bush will have a change of heart and will see that he has been given an opportunity to mend a lot of fences, to make a real difference, that he can really change some things in this country for the better. And really prove to people and say, I just did that to get elected. And then really go ahead and do something for the good of the country. That's my prayer. That's my prayer.

Ira Glass

Reverend Richard Harris.

Ira Glass

Our program was produced today by Starlee Kine and myself, with Blue Chevigny, Jonathan Goldstein, Julie Snyder and Alex Bloomberg. Production help from Todd Bachmann and Erin Yankee, our production trainee. This is her last show with us. Erin, we are sorry to see you go. Musical help from John Connors and Chris Lygan.

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS]

This American Life is distributed by Public Radio International.

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WBEZ management oversight by Torey Malatia, who says regardless of party affiliation--

Kathleen

There's a really creepy side to you. There is, I'm sorry.

Ira Glass

I'm Ira Glass. Back next week with more stories of This American Life.

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