The Longest Night: Polemics and Perspectives on Election 2000

By Arthur J. Jacobson; Michel Rosenfeld | Go to book overview

10
ANATOMY OF A CONSTITUTIONAL COUP
Bruce Ackerman

It was a curious time for a crisis. An extraordinary boom had provided the rich with fabulous wealth and America with full employment. The disappearance of the Red menace gave the nation an effortless cultural primacy. The air force had even established that wars could be won without casualties. What was there to worry about? Certainly Al Gore and George W. Bush weren't calling on Americans to ask any large questions. Both pushed their ideologues of the Left and the Right off the airwaves (at least during prime time). After one of the most boring campaigns in history, Americans were sleepwalking their way to the ballot box. Crisis hit after it was supposed to be all over.

Call it a crisis of the written Constitution, caused by the enormous historical gap that has opened up between the Constitution of 1787 and the living Constitution of the twenty-first century. During the thirty-five days following the election, the written and living Constitutions interacted in unpredictable and awkward ways that challenged America's commitments to democracy and the rule of law.

The challenge proved too great for the country's political and legal elite. Succumbing to the crudest partisan temptations, the Republicans managed to get their man into the White House but at grave cost to the nation's ideals and institutions. It will take a decade or more to measure the longterm damage of this electoral crisis to the presidency and the Supreme Court—but especially in the case of the Court, Bush v. Gore will cast a very long shadow.

According to the living Constitution, the American president is the leading symbol of the nation, the bearer of a democratic mandate, the engine of domestic change and international commitment. This commanding office is largely a creation of the twentieth century, the work of leaders such

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