Margin of Lawyer

Most blogosphere attention to Mark Steyn‘s latest piece will, rightly, fall on his threat to hang it up if Bush loses.

Were America to elect John Kerry president, it would be seen around the world as a repudiation not just of Bush and of Iraq but of the broader war. It would be a declaration by the people of American unexceptionalism — that they are a slightly butcher Belgium; they would be signing on to the wisdom of conventional transnationalism. Having failed to read correctly the mood of my own backyard, I could hardly continue to pass myself off as a plausible interpreter of the great geopolitical forces at play.

It would be a shame, however, to let this great line go without comment:

So my hunch that that first Harris poll is the correct one is only that — a hunch that Bush is ahead outside the margin of error. Unfortunately, on election day, he also has to be ahead outside the margin of lawyer, which is a tougher call. The Democrats already have thousands of chad-chasers circling the courthouses in Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and even New Hampshire, alas. It’s important for Bush to win big enough both to compensate for Democrat fraud and to deter litigation.


Out on the street, meanwhile, angry white men have burgled Republican offices in Spokane, Washington; lobbed cinder blocks through Republican offices in Flagstaff, Arizona; shot up Republican offices in Knoxville, Tennessee; assaulted female Republican students handing out flyers at the Gophers football game in Minnesota; and are currently bullying early voting Republicans at polling booths in Florida. If this campaign went on another two months, they̢۪d be seizing GOP county chairmen and beheading them on video. As it is, if Bush wins by a few hundred in Ohio or New Mexico, these fellows don̢۪t seem inclined to take it lying down.

There have been illegalities and improprieties on both sides of the aisle in this heated race. Presumably, there always are and we’re just noticing it because of the closeness of this race and the remaining bitterness over 2000. Still, the leadership of the Democratic Party continues to hold as an article of faith, all evidence to the contrary, that the last election was stolen from them and willing to do almost anything make sure they win this time. While a lot of Republicans are worried about illegal voting and other shenanigans, I don’t have a sense that they are unprepared to accept a Kerry victory as legitimate if that’s how it comes out. Conversely, I get the sense that all too many Democrats actually believe the rhetoric of their party hacks: Kerry will win if all the votes are counted and, thus, if Kerry loses, it is by definition illegitimate.

I’m not sure our electoral system will survive if it goes to the courts again–especially if the results of the original vote count are overturned, which didn’t happen in 2000. A Republic depends on the consent of the governed. If a large plurality loses confidence that the election outcome reflects the will of the people, we’re in trouble. Getting rid of the Electoral College might help, if the sense that close margins in a given state would be less important and we’d minimize the chance of a popular vote winner losing the election, but it would invite other problems. Indeed, in a close election, we could be subject to precinct-by-precinct lawsuits, fraud, and intimidation.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    Removing the electoral college to support the “will of the people”? The only “people” supported will be those who live in metropolitan areas. L.A., D.C., New York, Chicago, will influence policy for the entire country. Many issues that are vital to them, are pointless to rural voters.

    We already see such trends in the blue states, and the desire of the media to hijack this election with their propaganda.

    Dems are for popular democracy now, only because it may have benefitted them in the last election, and will possibly be an issue in this election. If the populace was for Bush we would hear nothing of this.

    Removing the electoral college will be the end of America as we know it. We don’t need to change the system for the benefit of one party. We need to look at why the two-party system has produced two candidates, neither of which can be fully supported by a majority of Americans.

  2. James Joyner says:

    LJD: People in urban areas are citizens, too. The rational for weighing competing state interests made sense in the day when states where largely sovereign entities cooperating only in military and economic affairs. Under the current system, though, only the people in the swing states matter. California, New York, Texas, and most states are irrelevant background noise.

    The popular vote/Electoral vote mismatch is rare enough that it doesn’t worry me all that much. What concerns me is litigating the state-by-state races every time it’s close. If a court ever changes the outcome of a presidential election, the system as we know it will collapse.

  3. Bithead says:

    I suppose Steyn here, to be speaking of the will of the people, and his ability to judge such matters. He needs to consider, however;

    The lawyers are being brought in by the Democrats specifically because they operate *outside* of the will of the people. The heavy voter fraud already being reported being foisted off on the peopel as ‘voter rihgts’ issues, are to a man being brought by Democrats because they’re operating outside the will of the poeple, and thereby give Democrats a shot at winning unfairly what they could NEVER do in a fair election fight; win offices.

    They know this, else they’d not be doing it this way.

    In the light of this, it strikes me that Steyn’s not being fair to himself.

    If, as he (properly) suggests, this coes down to not the margin of error, but the margin of lawyer, his ability to read “the great geopolitical forces at play”, are not suspect.

    What is most profoundly questionable, is the activities of the Democrats trying to subvert the vote away form the will of the people.

    And Steyn can’t be held accountable for that.

  4. Bithead says:

    damned typos, anyway…

  5. Abakan says:

    I’m a contrarian on this issue. The 2000 election was the benchmark for all to follow. We must get back on track now. For me, that doesn’t mean letting it go from this point forward. It means challenge and reform. Let’s get it over with now. Unleash the lawyers and let them go where they may. Use this uglyness as fodder for real reform and a real war against voter fraud.

    Just for the record, I’m a Democrat who will register as a Democrat and vote for George Bush.

  6. McGehee says:

    Abakan, I have said, and continue to believe, that your party can’t be salvaged. But I hope that you and others like you can prove me wrong.

  7. LJD says:

    There was no attempt to classify urbanites as less than citizens. However, they do tend to vote democratric…

    There has been a shift under way, for some time, where Federal Government tramples on the rights of States. This intrusion goes far beyond simple matters of Constitutionality. A Federal government in this role, driven by urban politics, is usually very bad for middle America. (Look at the distribution of red and blue states.

    Contesting two elections in a row on the basis of popular vote vs. electoral vote is two too many. Why would we not expect the same in 2008? What is expected to happen in the next 4 years to de-polarize our country?

    Consider my last point regarding the two-party system. We are in a serious deadlock. It started in Congress, and over the last 8 years, has transferred to the elections.

    The electoral college isn’t what’s broken. It’s the MONEY that drives campaigns to give us only two choices. That, and our elected officials striving to legislate things that I believe go WAY beyond the scope of government. The general malaise of the voting public is evidence that it has failed.

  8. LJD says:

    It SEEMS only the people in the swing states matter BECAUSE OF the votes cast by the others. All votes DO matter.