'Had 'Em All The Way!'

NEW YORK (AP)--The New York Mets announced today that they are going to court to get an additional inning added to the end of Game 5 of the World Series. "We meant to hit those pitches from the Yankee pitchers," said the Mets batting coach. "We were confused by the irregularities of the pitches we received and believe we have been denied our right to hit." Another portion of the Mets legal claim stated that, based on on-base percentage, the Mets had actually won the World Series, regardless of the final scores of games. "It's clear that we were slightly on base more often than the Yankees," said a Mets spokesman. "The World Series crown is rightly ours."

Years ago, when the Pittsburgh Pirates would win a wild one--say, scoring four in the bottom of the ninth of a 14-13 seesaw thriller--their bumptious broadcaster, Bob Prince, would exclaim, "Had 'em all the way!" There will be no such bravado from whomever it is that the last dimpled chad turns into the 43d president.

It is too late for an ending that most Americans will consider fair, or even satisfactory. The election has become a mechanism for undermining what elections are supposed to confer--legitimacy. The election revealed a nation evenly divided as to which party should govern, but not polarized between two vastly different ideas of what government should do. But now the nation is polarized, boiling with anger not about policy but process, anger fueled by rhetorical excesses.

When Gore's consigliere, William Daley, called Palm Beach County's butterfly ballot "an injustice unparalleled in our history," slavery had perhaps slipped his mind. Jesse Jackson said in Palm Beach, "This is a replay of Selma, Alabama, all over again," and he clinched victory in the crassness competition by saying that the voting problems were particularly horrific because some confused voters were Holocaust survivors.

Al Gore was insufferably unctuous last week when, referring to the hot rhetoric, he urged both sides to desist from what only his side was doing. Two of his hired larynxes, Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, were notably adolescent with their ad hominem attacks on Florida's elected Secretary of State ("hack," "crony," "lackey," "commissar"). One wonders: when did the Democratic Party become hospitable to--even addicted to--such people? There is the Clinton legacy: neither Hubert Humphrey nor Scoop Jackson nor Sam Nunn would have tolerated for two seconds the presence on their staffs of guttersnipes given to such talk.

Talk about hitting the ground running. Hillary Clinton had been senator-elect for less than 72 hours when she proposed changing the Constitution. The electoral-vote system should, she said, be scrapped. Now, it is understandable, if careless, of the nation's interests for a senator from New York, as opposed to one from (to pick a state not quite randomly) Arkansas, to favor that, for this reason:

The electoral-vote system, like Congress itself, expresses federalism and the great compromise that enabled the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to succeed. It was the compromise between large and small states. States are represented in the Senate, population is represented in the House. All states get a number of electoral votes equal to their House members and--here is where the system gives small states electoral weight disproportionate to their population--their two senators.

Which is one reason why abolition of the Electoral College is unlikely. Thirty-four senators can prevent a constitutional amendment from being sent to the states for ratification, and many more than 17 states benefit from the electoral-vote system. Just 13 state legislatures can kill ratification, and 13 states have just three (the minimum) or four electoral votes.

And what a weird moment--during Florida's electoral meltdown--Hillary Clinton chose to express her pent-up longing for direct popular election of presidents. Suppose all the popular votes in this year's election had been poured, as it were (and as she wants), into one vast national bucket. In any close election, such pouring would be an incentive for both parties to launch battalions of lawyers into a coast-to-coast frenzy of litigation--about ballot design, alleged machine malfunctions, voting hours, and so on and on.

The lawyers' targets would not be only locales in one or a few close states. In a single closely divided national popular vote, a candidate could hope to wipe out a deficit of, say, 200,000 votes by swarms of challenges to the results in who-knows-how-many of the nation's 170,000 precincts. In any election anything like this year's, election season would be just a prelude to a litigation season that could leave the result murky for months, and would leave the winner with only an attenuated legitimacy in the eyes of 49 percent of the voters.

Under the electoral-votes system, we have 50 state elections, and even in extremely close national outcomes, most states (this year probably 45--all but Florida, Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Oregon) are won by margins too large to require a recount or to offer the loser a realistic hope of erasing his deficit by challenges. Controversies are quarantined within the particular states. If there were direct popular-vote election of presidents now, and if the nation had, as 14 states do, a "closeness threshold" for triggering automatic recounts in close elections, we would be settling down to an interminable recount of those 170,000 precincts.

Hillary Clinton's foray into constitutional revision illustrates how useful she is going to be for advocates of many good causes. Imagine you are testifying to the Wyoming (or Utah, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma... ) Legislature against ratification of an amendment abolishing the Electoral College. You conclude by saying: "And by the way, Hillary Clinton of NEW YORK wants it abolished." Then you jump aside, lest you get trampled in the rush to save it.