News & Politics

The Right-Wing Election 2000 Scandal Machine

What would have happened in Election 2000 if the Democrats had a scandal-mongering machine like the Republicans?
What if.

These words will sum up the election of 2000. What if Theresa LePore, a Democratic elections official, had looked at the ballot she designed for Palm Beach County and had thought, "Hmmm, maybe this is a little confusing"?

What if the Democrats who organized an extensive get-out-the-vote effort in Florida's Duval County had not told their supporters to punch every page of the ballot -- when doing so invalidated the ballot?

What if House Republican majority whip Tom Delay was not an evil genius? After a non-decisive Election Day, the Gore camp rolled out the lawyers, as did the Bush team; Delay mobilized two hundred or so Republican staffers and dispatched his khaki-clad footsoldiers to Miami. They swarmed the county office where a recount was under way, screamed and yell, and created a disruptive and tense atmosphere in which the local election canvassing board then decided to cease the recount. In a wonderful piece of investigative journalism, Washington Post columnist Al Kamen -- who pens a gossipy who's-doing-what-in-official-Washington feature -- printed a photo of the GOP mob in Miami and asked his readers to identify the angry demonstrators. Of the twelve protesters pictured, ten were present or recent House Republican aides. The guy leading the pack: Tom Pyle, a policy analyst for Delay.

What if there had been no Republican shocktroops? Perhaps the Miami-Dade recount would have proceeded. And then? Well, these are the sort of questions that may well keep Al Gore awake at night for the next four -- maybe forty -- years.

All pundits and political junkies will have their favorite what-if. Here is mine. Two days before the election, a London newspaper, The Mail, ran an item noting that Governor Jeb Bush's 16-year-old-son John (aka "Jebby") had been busted by the police a month earlier for having had sex with a bare-to-the-waist 17-year-old girl in a Jeep Cherokee parked at a Tallahassee shopping mall. Two security officers had come upon the scene -- the action was occurring at 10:00 pm -- and they called in the police.

The issue was not that George W. Bush's nephew was engaged in truly a youthful indiscretion. But according to Artie Brown, one of the two security guards, Jebby spoke to his father-the-governor and then said, "My dad will fix it." And maybe Jeb Bush did. Jebby was never charged. There was a police report filed that noted that the cops had investigated a possible crime of "sexual misconduct." But Sergeant Oscar Brannon, who filed the report, said charges were not pursued because the lustful couple had not been in public view. Brown, though, contradicted that assessment. And in his report, Brannon did note that shortly after he arrived at the parking lot, "I became aware of the political ties" of the male suspect.

The important question is, did Governor Jeb Bush use his clout to protect a son caught not acting in accordance with Republican family values? This is not an insignificant query, for had Big Jeb intervened in any manner it would be an abuse of office.

The police report was leaked to the major newspapers of Florida. None went with the story. So on the final weekend of the campaign -- when George W. was working the Sunshine State hard -- the only mention of this potential trouble appeared across the Atlantic.

Ponder how those last days might have played out had this news emerged -- particuarly after the electorate had been treated to revelations regarding George W. Bush's 1976 drunk-driving arrest. Would Bush's appearances in Florida have been dominated by questions regarding the possible interference of his brother in a police matter? Might Jeb have been distracted and forced to take time away from his efforts to win Florida for his brother? What if? Certainly, such a ruckus could have cost the Bush clan 538 votes.

This very special what-if came to mind the other day when a reporter for George magazine called. His assignment: to determine how the left-of-center media will treat a President George W. Bush. I thought this was a no-brainer. Left-of-center journalists will have a field day investigating Bush's appointments and searching for evidence his policies were catering to the needs of the corporate contributors who helped him amass a $100 million campaign bankroll.

This was not the answer this fellow was looking for. Who will, he wanted to know, keep digging into Bush's past, looking for the personal sleaze, and obsessively and tirelessly pursue the dark stories? That is, who will be the left equivalent of The American Spectator, Judicial Watch, FreeRepublic.com, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge? For better or worse, the left does not possess as robust a scandal-industrial-complex. There's no liberal Drudge who can immediately leak to millions an embarrassing item such as a governor possibly messing with police to cover up a sexual misdeed of a child. No liberal Limbaugh to whip up outrage over the silence of the mainstream media. No liberal Judicial Watch to file a lawsuit, frivolous or otherwise, accusing that governor of obstructing justice. Had something similar to the Jebby incident happened on the Gore/Democratic side, the megaphones of the right would have been pushing the story overtime in the days before the election. The Bush brothers, though, received a pass.

Another example: Weeks before the election, porn-bad-boy Larry Flynt was on CNN's "Crossfire" and, out of the blue, he claimed he had evidence George W. Bush had impregnated a Texas woman and arranged for her abortion in the early 1970s, when abortion was illegal. Flynt did not -- and could not -- produce his proof, and CNN removed the transcript of the show from its website. That was arguably a responsible act of censorship. (I talked to investigators who looked into this for Flynt, and they were not able to confirm the account of their main source.) There was a rush of email traffic among lefties concerning this allegation. But Flynt's charge did not affect the election Zeitgeist. If an equally damaging-but-unproven allegation had been leveled at Gore, it seems likely the conservative scandal-machine would have kept it alive and put it into wider dissemination.

Hillary Clinton was right: there was a right-wing conspiracy. In fact, various conservative groups, lawyers and activists had created an infrastructure (private and public) to follow every lead of Clinton wrongdoing. The "elves" -- a collection of conservative lawyers -- helped facilitate Monicagate. A millionaire named Richard Mellon Scaife funded assorted anti-Clinton investigations.

But Hillary was wrong in two regards: the conspiracy was not that vast and it had not manufactured the Monica mess on its own. The conspirators had been toiling hard and were in place when Clinton handed them the ammunition.

As far as I can tell, many conservatives think the left and the Democratic Party have their acts together, cooperate extensively to push a progressive agenda, are routinely assisted by their allies in the all-liberal media, stop at nothing to destroy enemies and obtain power, and are even capable of masterminding election theft in broad public view.

I wish.

Look at what Bush has gotten away with: an unacknowledged flip-flop regarding his position on abortion, lying about the DUI arrest, assorted business deals that stink, disingenuousness regarding drug use, an unexplained absence during his Vietnam War-era National Guard duty. If he had been a Democrat -- oh, what the scandalmongers of the right would have done with such material. If only, what if.

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