Back in the Carter years, during the debate over the future of the Panama Canal, Republican Senator S. I. Hayakawa of California put the matter succinctly. He didn't think we ought to give the canal to Panama because "we stole it fair and square."
Democrats from coast to coast feel that is just what the Republicans have done in Election 2000. Bush stole it fair and square. Republicans, who seem to have become lathered up into what can only be termed an out-and-out frenzy, think this is just fine and aren't about to let the Democrats take it back.
Here Gore is more than 300,000 ahead in the popular vote nationwide, but he may lose in Florida by a few hundred votes (against 40,000 or so Gore-leaning ballots that were set aside in two counties due to confusing ballot design, including a few thousand from Jews who accidentally cast votes for Buchanan). Gore is right to say that if the state of Florida would simply count its votes, he would be declared the winner.
You can almost hear Jeb's sigh of relief. They stole it fair and square.
It isn't simply the sting of an avoidable loss that dismays Democrats. Rather it is the recognition that Clinton's almost 60 percent job approval rating, even against a 25 percent personal approval rating, didn't happen by some accident.
What wasn't said during the campaign -- certainly not with any force or clarity by Gore -- was that Bill Clinton put together and kept together one of the most effective administrations in memory.
Critics look at the eight years of peace and prosperity and tend to write off the importance that Clinton's government was to that accomplishment. They shouldn't.
Certainly the stock market didn't, nor doesn't. And nor should we so easily assume that deficit spending would have simply, almost by accident, gone away.
It is true that Clinton, almost single-handedly, moved his party to the center, and, by so doing, tapped into the Republican's more moderate agenda. I have in mind Clinton's role in freeing up trade and reforming welfare.
There is this record, but I have in mind more the kind of administration Clinton assembled. For one thing, it was a very stable administration. It stayed together, for the most part, for eight years, through thick and thin. He has appointed 28 cabinet members in eight years. By comparison, Bush I appointed 21 in four.
Even more importantly, however, was the quality of that administration. In the end, it should be said that Clinton surrounded himself with good people.
From William Perry and William Cohen at Defense, to Madeleine Albright at State, from Bruce Babbitt at Interior to Bill Richardson, from Richard Riley at Education to Janet Reno at Justice, the Clinton team worked effectively and with distinction.
I haven't yet mentioned Robert Rubin. Clinton's first treasury secretary has been favorably compared to Alexander Hamilton. His presence was critical to Clinton's success, and, it might be said, that when he left he managed even to arrange for a transition to Lawrence Summers that left barely a ripple.
There wasn't a Sam Pierce or James Watt in the bunch. Nor was Clinton's team distracted by giant egos; no Henry Kissingers, just competent people doing their jobs.
And consider Clinton's two Supreme Court appointments: Ruth Ginsberg and Stephen Breyer. No ideologues here. No marginally qualified candidates (aka Clarence Thomas). Clinton gave us two capable and well-qualified justices, whom he nominated over objections from his party's left wing.
It is an understatement to say that Bill Clinton will leave a most uneven legacy. Al Gore, during the campaign, never did figure out what to do with that legacy. Claim the accomplishments and he ran the risk of also claiming that 25 percent personal approval rating. In the end, his inability to solve this problem may well have cost him an election that was always his to lose. Democrats didn't want to lose this election, didn't want to lose Gore, but, I suggest, most especially didn't want to lose the executive branch, for the very reasons listed above.
This election is about more than personal egos; it's about who will make appointments to the cabinet and thereby set the direction of the executive branch. So Gore's contesting of the election has higher stakes than whose prescription drug plan will prevail -- it's about how every little nook and cranny of the federal government will behave for the next four years. For example, now that Slade Gorton appears to be out of work, word on the street is that he may become Bush's Secretary of the Interior. If Ralph Nader thought there was no difference between Gore and Bush, he hasn't considered what a Gorton stewardship of the environment could mean.
And doesn't it begin to appear that Bush II will look a whole lot like Bush I? Have you noticed in the post-election frenzy that we are seeing all the old Bush hands come out -- all retreads, and 10 years older, too?
As the dust begins to settle, no doubt the Democrats want those Naderites who brought on Bush II to be aware of what they wrought: They can tell them for certain that a Bush administration won't take on timber, oil and mining and all the rest. Not in the least. They should know that offices such as the National Marine Fisheries will be less about science and more about what pleases irrigators. Nor will there be any more designations of public lands, no more Hanford Reaches. And once Secretary Babbitt leaves office, we will have seen our last ugly, offensive tower come down next to a Civil War Battlefield. I refer to the so-called National Tower at Gettysburg that finally, after a quarter century of efforts by preservationists, came down in a pile of dust.
The egregious developer who put it up in the first place could say only that what Babbitt did was a "slap in the face to private enterprise."
No more slaps like that.
The trenches, where the federal government's executive branch has its biggest muscle, will be filled by Bush -- even if he wins by one vote. All of the governor's promises about working together aside, his laundry list of shared objectives aside, what he will do is put together a cabinet and a government that will be decidedly different from the one that we have seen work so effectively these past eight years.
That is what the Democrats know they lost.
That is what they believe was stolen.
Fair and square.