Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year's Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation's confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.
- Justice Stevens, United States Supreme Court, December 2000

Well, alright, so I am not an American, so what do I care?

Then again... the outcome of the U.S. presidential election does have a significant impact over here in Canada. So yes, I do care because whatever the result, I'm likely to feel the consequences of it. But I also care because the U.S., while not necessarily that "shining beacon of democracy" that some Cold War era propaganda pamphlets proclaimed, is nevertheless one of the most successful experiments in humankind's history as an attempt to put together a society that works for everyone. This more than 200 year old democracy that was able to reinvent itself and re-emerge from one crisis after another with its core values stronger than ever before is a treasure that the whole world must value.

So what is happening? A presidential election in which the outcome is so close, the result hinges on only one hundredth of one percent of voters in just one of the 50 states. Such a close outcome would put every democracy to the test. The minuscule difference enormously magnifies every problem, every minor irregularity during the voting process, anomalies that would normally be ignored, be it uncounted votes, unpunched holes, or misleading ballots. We all know of course that nothing is perfect; this includes vote counts. In every election, there is a small margin of error. But usually the difference in the outcome is much larger than that margin of error, so we need not care. Not this time!

For all I know, a full and accurate count in Florida may indeed give Bush the victory he seeks. In reality, we'll never know the truth; by any realistic measure, the result is within the margin of error. In other words, there's no counting process, human or machine, that would produce a credible result. So what does a candidate do who believes he lost because of a technicality?

In many countries, this would be more than enough to precipitate a major crisis. Troops in the streets, a state of emergency, proclamations and counter-proclamations until the winner manages to gain the support of the interior armed forces of the country and declares himself head of state while imprisoning his opponent. Or worse yet, support may split between the two candidates, plunging a country into a bloody civil war.

Not so in America. The fight isn't in the streets; it is in the courtrooms. The fight isn't against the Law Of The Land but entirely in accordance with it. The outcome isn't in question: in due time, the U.S. will have a new president, lawfully elected, occupying the White House.

This is why I feel so discouraged by both the tactics and the moral outrage of supporters of the winning candidate, George W. Bush. In the weeks since the U.S. election, his tactics weren't in accordance with the law, but contrary to it. He tried to obstruct, sometimes successfully, the lawful vote counting. He launched a highly successful public relations campaign in which he portrayed hand vote counting as irregular (it isn't), against the law (it isn't), unfair (it isn't) and more accurate than machine counting (it isn't.) He encouraged his supporters to ignore the spirit of the law in favor of the letter of the law when it suited his needs, such as certifying election results when it was just a matter of hours before more accurate results were to be available. His followers' contempt for the law is so deep, they even launched a vicious attack on the state supreme court of Florida, because the court's decision didn't agree with their interpretation of the law.

The idea that Bush becomes president of the U.S. doesn't worry me. The possibility that he becomes the next president because he steamrolls his way into the White House worries me very, very much. His opponents would give democracy in the U.S., and by definition the whole world, a huge disservice if they succumbed to such strong-arm tactics, if they bowed before the self-righteous indignation of Bush's followers and their cries for "finality". The court battle isn't always a pretty thing to watch, the prolonged uncertainty isn't good for anyone, and in the end the process may deny Gore a graceful "exit strategy", forever portraying him and candidate for vice-president as the "Sore-Loserman" duo. But giving up now would unleash something far worse than a gang of hungry lawyers on America; an era in which the candidate who wins isn't the one with the most votes or electors, but the one with the loudest voice and the most amount of hypocrisy.