Before the election, I wrote in this column that "several possible squeaker scenarios could produce some strange political dynamics after November 7" [TAP, November 6, 2000]. Of course, I had no idea just how strange the outcome would be, though I started off with the possibility of "one candidate winning the electoral college and another winning the popular vote" and speculated that the Senate might end up tied 50-50. But where I really went wrong was in saying that if the popular vote went one way and the electoral college another, there could be a "crisis of presidential legitimacy."
A year ago in these pages, I described the 2000 contest as a "parliamentary election." With both the House and Senate so near the tipping point, the legislature and executive are genuinely at stake at the same time, as they typically are, though in a different way, in parliamentary systems. Indeed, with the Supreme Court so closely divided, all three branches are in play. The 2000 election could give Republicans control of the entire federal government for the first time since 1932, and it could give Democrats the same span of control without crushing economic and fiscal pressures for the first time since the 1960s.
Nothing about the 2000 election matters nearly as much as the ugly means by which it was brought to an end. Throughout our history, with the terrible exception of 1860, every party has been able to live with the victory of an opposing candidate for president. One reason is our confidence in a legal system that is supposed to stand apart from politics and limit the consequences of political defeat. The presidency of George W. Bush may not be the republic's happiest era, but it will be endurable. What is not so easily endured is the Supreme Court's betrayal of our trust.
The next president should not arrive at the White House under the suspicion that his claim to office is illegitimate. Even without knowing the final recount in Florida, we do know that more than enough ballots to change the outcome were thrown out in Palm Beach County because of a confused ballot design and that many black voters claim to have been blocked from voting elsewhere in the state.