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.
The presidential debates this year were a failure by the standard we use to measure our public entertainments: their ratings were abysmally low. It was not really the candidates' fault. Boredom with elections is one of the luxuries of our time. Not only have long prosperity and a seemingly unthreatened peace lulled us into political somnolence; many people believe that the government in general and the president in particular have had nothing to do with America's good fortune.
Technology alone has supposedly given us the new economy, and the collapse of the Soviet Union has seemingly removed the perils of war. So why pay close attention to what the candidates say?
The final indignity of the Clinton presidency may bring yet another piece of good fortune to the man who just won the White House while getting fewer votes than his opponent. Although the Independent Counsel Act is defunct and will therefore never cause the least trouble for George W. Bush, the office created under the act to investigate Bill Clinton still survives and continues to trouble him. Indeed, Robert Ray, Kenneth Starr's successor, has been extremely busy of late and shows every sign of intending to indict Clinton for perjury in the Monica Lewinsky case after the president steps down.
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."
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.