This was the wisdom handed down from Mount Beltway, and the paeon voters were told to move along, nothing more to see here.
But it presented a unique historical situation, one which the press truly failed to assess or even acknowledge at the time: a president took office with a substantial portion of the electorate -- nearly half, in fact -- not believing him to have been legitimately elected.
Consider, by way of evidence, a poll taken by the Washington Post on the eve of Bush's inauguration. It included the following question:
- 20. Do you consider Bush to have been legitimately elected as president, or not?
The answer, as of Jan. 15, 2001: 58 percent yes, 40 percent no.
Now, if you look at it as merely a matter of having a majority, then obviously Bush wins, right? But the problem is that legitimacy isn't a matter of having a majority of support; in America, win or lose, the public typically has accorded the actual winners of our elections the right to hold that office by overwhelming majorities. A similarly large minority of people may not have liked seeing Ronald Reagan win election, but there was never any doubt he had won legitimately.
It was anger over this theft of the election -- and the certainty that the man about to occupy the White House was there by stealing people's votes, denying the right of people to have their vote counted -- that inspired the mass protests of Bush's inauguration, the likes of which no one had seen since Nixon's day. Again, it was a phenomenon largely unacknowledged by the press at the time, but at least Michael Moore was able to make good use of portraying it in Fahrenheit 9/11. (The Onion had it right: "Our Long National Nightmare of Peace and Prosperity Is Finally Over".)
Well, get over it, we were told. Time and again. Sage heads nodded at this advice.
Guess what. We still are not over it.
In today's New York Times reportage on its latest poll was tucked away this little nugget:
- Voters' anxiety appears to be a legacy of the disputed election of 2000: Half of the respondents in this poll said they did not think Bush legitimately won, compared with 45 percent who said they considered the outcome legitimate.
This caught my attention, because it meant that the belief that Bush was not elected legitimately had actually increased substantially in the ensuing three-plus years.
But if you visit the poll results themselves you'll find that this is just another instance of sloppy NYT reporting. The question, No. 66, asked: "Regardless of what you think about George Bush now, looking back to 2000, would you say George W. Bush legitimately won the 2000 presidential election, or not?" The actual answers are the converse of those reported in the Nagourney story (see the results for 10/28-10/30): 50 percent believe he won legitimately, and 45 percent say he did not.
Again, the issue isn't the fact that a majority sides with his legitimacy. What's remarkable is that the size of the voting public that believes he is not serving legitimately remains so large.
It's remarkable, really, to have a president serving under those conditions. It's even more remarkable for the fact to have gone largely ignored by the press and the punditry for nearly four years.
Obviously, when you live on Mount Beltway, it's easy to countenance the degradation of basic democratic institutions. But fortunately, there remains a large chunk of the citizenry that isn't buying their mountainous heavings of bourgeois bullshit.
Get over it? We're about to.