Far too serious for any Gush and Bore jokes

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The Independent Online

Amid all the jokes about Mickey Mouse, this is a trying time for US democracy. Even the 1960 election between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon produced a more clear-cut result than we will see this time (whichever way Florida goes). Al Gore and George Bush have the capability, and at present the stubbornness, to push their claims beyond breaking point. Of course, Mr Gore has every right to insist on a full count of all valid votes before admitting defeat. The Bush camp is presumptuous to try to force a concession from Mr Gore before it is clear who has won. But Mr Gore should not pursue the issue beyond that. The unpleasant partisanship from people who one had expected to behave better, notably Jim Baker, Warren Christopher and George Mitchell, has reminded us that these men are politicians first and statesmen second.

Amid all the jokes about Mickey Mouse, this is a trying time for US democracy. Even the 1960 election between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon produced a more clear-cut result than we will see this time (whichever way Florida goes). Al Gore and George Bush have the capability, and at present the stubbornness, to push their claims beyond breaking point. Of course, Mr Gore has every right to insist on a full count of all valid votes before admitting defeat. The Bush camp is presumptuous to try to force a concession from Mr Gore before it is clear who has won. But Mr Gore should not pursue the issue beyond that. The unpleasant partisanship from people who one had expected to behave better, notably Jim Baker, Warren Christopher and George Mitchell, has reminded us that these men are politicians first and statesmen second.

The financial markets have reacted badly to the confusion. The Dow Jones has lost 11 per cent of its value since Tuesday. As ever, London's market is not far behind. Thus the uncertainty affects all of our pensions, mortgages and jobs.

The concentration on the Palm Beach ballot-paper is a distraction. This paper, accepted in advance by the Democrats, was deeply flawed. Some voters were confused. But these things happen in democracy, and misled voters must blame themselves. If irate Floridians insist on a fresh ballot, there are clear signs that a can of worms will be opened, forcing Republican-inspired recounts. It is more than likely that the final tally will hand the popular vote to Mr Gore, but the White House to Mr Bush. That's politics. If Democrats had really wanted to change the electoral college, they have had eight years of Clinton's presidency to say so. Anyway, the surest way to have retained the White House would have been to restore the right of presidents to serve more than two terms: Mr Clinton would surely have walked this election. "You don't have to get snippy," Mr Gore warned Mr Bush in their phone conversation on Wednesday. He should heed his own advice.

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