Recount

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“Recount”, the HBO movie about the Florida presidential election fiasco of 2000, was good television: well made, well cast, and well acted (with an especially vivid, albeit cruel, portrayal of Katherine Harris by Laura Dern). Highly watchable.

Much as I enjoyed it, the predictable, inevitable, anti-Republican bias did become a little wearing. The movie encouraged you to think that for the Democrats it was all a matter of “counting every vote”—and who but a villain could object to that? Also, of course, you were invited to think that so long as this had been done Gore would have won. But this is still unclear, is it not? (Don’t answer that.) The treatment of the Florida Supreme Court’s pro-Gore decisions (wise, bold, disinterested) and the subsequent pro-Bush rulings of the Supreme Court (politically motivated, indefensible) was also tendentious and misleading. Two columns by Stuart Taylor (here and here) helped me refresh my memory of that aspect of the matter.

ABC’s Jake Tapper, who was a consultant on the film, notes that its “emotional core…makes it, probably, lean a little left. Not intellectually, but emotionally.” Oh sure. Probably, just a little, but not intellectually. (The title of Tapper’s book on the episode, which the film draws on, conveys its scrupulous intellectual detachment: “Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency”.)

Mainly, though, as I watched I was thinking, “only in America”. Much as I admire this country, could anywhere else take something so simple and make it so complicated and controversial? I mean, a full-scale constitutional crisis, arising out of an inability to count votes? Imagine, if you can stay awake while doing so, a movie about a close result in a British election. In my own land, a recount in a close vote means counting the ballots (crosses on slips of paper) once or twice more: it takes a few hours, and it’s over. In the meantime, there is little to see, though I’m sure many of the vote-counters have fascinating inner lives. However you look at it, thin material for lawyers or scriptwriters.

But the great thing is, the United States learns from its mistakes. Eight years on there is no chance of a candidate accusing another of suppressing votes to steal an election. Least of all in Florida.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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