Wed, Jan 03, 2001 - Page 9 News List

New president's first priority to prevent slide into recession

A member of the first bush administration argues that all that could be done to attain a correct result in Florida was done. And now the US is looking ahead

By John Bolton

There was a considerable amount of misreporting about what happened in Florida after the November 7 election, including misunderstandings and outright distortions that arose during the post-election contest. There has been even more misunderstanding of how events in Florida will affect the foreign policy of President-elect George W. Bush. Let me correct a few of the more egregious errors by the international media.

First, there is no evidence that any voters, particularly racial minorities, faced even the slightest discrimination, intimidation or any other impediment to the legitimate casting of their ballots in Florida. No fair-minded media reporters have found any such evidence, nor has an ongoing Justice Department investigation, conducted by the outgoing Clinton administration, found any violations of federal civil rights laws.

Second, the presidential vote in Florida was close, as it was nationwide, and Florida's electoral votes turned out to be dispositive. Accordingly, it should come as no surprise that both major presidential candidates were determined that the state's popular votes were accurately counted.

While the procedure for doing so was far from perfect, the criticisms leveled against Florida and its counties, especially in international circles, were wildly off the mark. Many criticisms centered on the lack of national voting methods and procedures, as if the election practices of a homogeneous, medium-sized European country could be readily applied to a diverse, continental power.

Moreover, such criticisms prove too much, because they necessarily question the very federal structure of the US. Yet imagine if the Electoral College system were abandoned; a close vote in Florida could have triggered recounts all around the country, making a difficult problem far worse. Ironically, by resorting to strained legal theories and hoping for rescue by activist courts, Vice President Gore made a reliable hand recount impossible. This is unfortunate, but does not in any way detract from the legitimacy of the final outcome.

So, where does this leave the new President? The critical fact is that George W. Bush and his team will direct foreign policy. The US does not have a parliamentary system, and it will not be operating under a coalition government. There is only one president, with a constitutionally defined term of four years. These structural realities mean, by definition, that the new president will have at his command all of the enormous governmental power of the US -- political, economic and military -- from noon on January 20 forward. Whatever happened before will be of no matter after Chief Justice William Rehnquist administers the oath of office to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

Some commentators argue that the close Electoral College result, and the fact that Vice President Gore received more popular votes will weaken the Bush presidency, and that it will not have a clear "mandate" to govern. No one, of course, can deny the election's closeness, but that statistic is already fading from significance. The reality of international affairs means that issues that only the president can decide will be thrust before him immediately. In short, the only "mandate" he needs after January 20 will be the one he receives when he sits behind his Oval Office desk every morning. From that point forward, it will be his performance in office that matters, not what the popular or Electoral College votes were.

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