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14 November 2000

The Daily update: Needs a chill pill

Synopsis: Times like these call for cool clear sense. George Will has been tried—and found lacking.

Homer: The Iliad
Translated by Robert Fagles, Viking, 1990

Slow-Motion Larceny
George Will, The Washington Post, 11/14/00

Our Internationally-Acclaimed Task Force on Classical Allusions was pondering the remarkable events down in Florida. And then, of course! The team had it at last! It was noble Nestor whom the times evoked! You remember—noble Nestor, the seasoned charioteer, adviser to lord god Agamemnon, king of men? Who can forget his cool clear sense when the headstrong Diomedes, lord god of the war cry, challenged the king of men in counsel? We think Professor Fagles has it just about right in his 1990 translation. The professor deftly described what occurred when the young warrior boldly challenged his leader:

And all the Achaeans shouted their assent,
stirred by the stallion-breaking Diomedes' challenge.
But Nestor the old driver rose and spoke at once...
"It's my turn now, Diomedes.
I think I can claim to have some years on you.
So I must speak up and drive the matter home.
And no one will heap contempt on what I say,
not even mighty Agamemnon. Lost to the clan,
lost to the hearth, lost to the old ways, that one
who lusts for all the horrors of war with his own people"...

Seeing the risk of the ranks being split, the clear speaker of Pylos had leaped to his feet. The sage old driver advised all the Argives. "Tonight's the night that rips our ranks to shreds or pulls us through," he coolly said.

And now we find ourselves in a tricky spot, roiled by the oddness in Florida. The times call out for cool clear sense—but one scribe is having big problems. It's the most furious pundit of all, George F. Will, whom we had to upbraid in yesterday's posting (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/13/00). Today's the day that is ripping our ranks—but Will starts today's column thus:

WILL (paragraph 1): In his campaign to follow to the presidency a man defined by moral turpitude, Al Gore promised, "You ain't seen nothing yet." Now we know want he meant. Credit him with a promise kept.

Here we go again, dear readers. Will resumes Sunday's name-calling tirade, accusing Bill Daley of "the manufacture of votes," and accusing Gore of "moral turpitude" and "slow-motion larceny." According to the excitable tribune, "the election probably will soon be stolen" unless the hand-count of ballots quickly stops.

You'd expect a man who calls such names to have done his research carefully. But sadly, Will doesn't seem to have a clue about events down in Florida. He doesn't even seem to know whose votes are actually being hand-counted. His name-calling extends to the voters too, and he gives this wholly erroneous account of whose votes are now under review:

WILL: [Vote counters] are surmising the intent of unknown voters who incompetently punched ballots—in Palm Beach County, about 19,000 such voters. What must be the thoughts of the more than 431,000 county voters who mastered the less-than-Einsteinian challenge of marking their ballots correctly?

Will doesn't seem to understand whose votes are being counted. The "Palm Beach 19,000" double-punched their ballots; their ballots are not now under review. Instead, officials are reviewing those ballots whose "chads" didn't fall off when they were single-punched. That routinely occurs in punch-card voting; it has nothing to do with who voted "correctly." It has nothing to do with who made "proper use of a ballot," although Will doesn't seem to know:

WILL (4): The Gore campaign's mantra is that on Election Day their man won the votes cast but not the votes counted. However, that formulation erases a distinction crucial to the integrity of elections. A vote is not simply anything done by anyone handed a ballot. A vote results only from the proper use of a ballot.

But again, people who punched their ballot, but failed to knock off their chad, did nothing that wasn't "proper." Under Florida law and under Florida precedent, such votes have been counted many times in the past. Florida law contemplates the manual count of such votes. But Will seems not to know it:

WILL (4, continuing directly): Gore's postelection strategy has been to make more and more elastic the standards governing proper use of a ballot. The goal is to give wide latitude to the conscious or unconscious bias of ballot counters.

But again—in asking for a manual count, the Gore campaign seeks to use a procedure that has been widely used in Florida before. And the people whose votes are being hand-counted did in fact make "proper use of a ballot."

Does Will know what the hand count is meant to do? There's no sign of that in this column. People who call public figures names surely ought to be clear on their facts. But for the second time in recent days, Will doesn't seem to be real clear on even the most basic matters.

We're in a tough spot down in Florida, friends. Chance events have dealt a tough hand. But some—not possessing that cool clear sense—are now "lusting," as noble Nestor said, "for the horrors of war with their own people." The angry angry George F. Will is calling names and splitting the ranks. Diomedes had an excuse—he was young. But what's the excuse for the name-calling Will? And what's the excuse for the Washington Post in printing these extremely weak columns?

Visit our incomparable archives: Our team of graybeards first mentioned Nestor more than two years ago. For our first review of the seasoned driver, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/2/98.

Meanwhile, who could forget how the troops behaved when Nestor spelled out his plans and his tactics?

The troops hung on his words and took his orders.
Out they rushed, the sentries in armor, forming under the son of Nestor, captain Thrasymedes...

So we might gather, even today, for one who offered some good sound advice. What a shame that the name-calling Will has been badly undone by the challenge!


Oh please? Oh pretty please? (11/14/00)

Et tu, Talbot? From Day One, elite opinion wanted the confusion over and Bush to be seated. This AP report is now running on Salon. And no, we're not making this up:

Poll encourages Gore concession
By Katherine Pfleger

Nov. 14, 2000 | WASHINGTON (AP)—More than two of three voters think Texas Gov. George W. Bush should become president if he prevails in Florida, even by the slimmest of margins, a new poll says.

A victory in the Sunshine State would give either Bush or Vice President Al Gore the coveted 25 electoral votes necessary to win the White House.

Should Bush be declared the winner in Florida after recounts of presidential ballots there, more than two-thirds of voters also say Vice President Al Gore should concede and not contest the outcome in court, says the poll released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. The survey did not ask the same question about Gore.