I’d hate to be Al Gore Jr. He finds himself today in the same position as an Olympic swimmer stripped of a gold medal because he took over-the-counter nosedrops containing some banned substance. You know you won; the whole world knows you won; but someone else cops the gold.
I once lost a college tennis match when I neglected to call a ball out on my match point. A favorite English professor was jogging on the adjacent track, and I was thinking about running off the court and shouting, ``It’s a great day to die," the refrain from Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man, which Iwas then studying in his class. That loss still occasionally pains me thirty years later. I suspect losing the presidency due to butterfly ballots or whatever will rankle a bit longer and more intensely.
Nor would I much care to be George W. Bush – the guy who receives the gold when the winner is stripped of it. He’ll forever have an asterisk by his name: Wins the presidency despite losing the popular vote, despite losing the states with a majority of the United States population; and quite possibly without even receiving a plurality of the votes in the decisive state of Florida.
Not that this seems to bother Bush greatly. He has not shown any great curiosity as to whom more Floridians actually voted for, or whether there was systematic intimidation of minority voters at the polls that could have tipped the balance.
Yet for all the undoubted importance of the outcome to the principals and their assorted hangers-on, the American public are treating the outcome with the same interest – no more, no less – than a double overtime Super Bowl (not involving one’s favorite team). Americans seem pretty confident that nothing to important hinges on the ultimate result.
Living in Israel, one can only envy their relative indifference. It must be nice knowing that whoever wins, he is not likely to introduce a foreign army into the heart of Washington D.C. or return the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial to Indian tribes with prior claims on the land.
Israel has had some of its own experience with tied elections. But no one could claim that it made no difference who won. Only because of wasted votes cast by West Bank settlers for Rabbi Moshe Levinger in 1992 was Yitzchak Rabin and not Yitzchak Shamir called upon to form a government, as head of the largest party.
Thus the entire Oslo process was initiated by a government for which less than 50% of the population had voted. The failure of Rabin and his ministers to acknowledge the problem of embarking on a process from which there could be no return – or at least no easy return – on the basis of an electoral quirk has plagued the process from its inception. The Labor Party repeatedly stressed that 50% plus one was sufficient for them, and failed to make any effort at achieving a more broad-based consensus.
The legitimacy of the process in the public’s eye was further undermined when Knesset approval of Oslo II was secured by purchasing the votes of two nonentities elected on the list of the right-wing Gesher party with promises of deputy ministerships and other goodies.
That lack of legitimacy no doubt contributed to the trauma of the Rabin assassination.
Yet however tenuous the initial support for Oslo, once commenced the process picked up momentun. The logic of Oslo dictated that Israel, as the more powerful party, would find itself on an endless treadmill of concessions. Palestinian compliance with its undertakings has never been an issue, while Israel has been repeatedly pressured to be more forthcoming and generous in trading land not for peace but for time. Even the Netanyahu government was unable to escape the logic of Oslo, despite occasional bluster to the contrary.
Ironically, the only one who could have ended the process was Yasser Arafat, just as only Hafez al Assad could have prevented us from returning the Golan Heights lock, stock and barrel.
Thank G-d for big favors.