A 'most improbable scenerio' has come to pass

 

Am I some kind of a smart guy?

Loyal readers may recall that I recently pointed out on these pages that even in very close elections one candidate always piled up a pretty hefty majority in the Electoral College, rendering the votes of any one state meaningless in the great scheme of things (HCN, 10/23/00: In presidential politics, the West has a bad hand).

What I said, actually, was that "even the closest presidential races aren't so close in the Electoral College," and that while "one could put together a scenario in which (a few) electoral votes are pivotal ... a most improbable scenario it would be."

Okay, okay. So the answer to the above question is - "No." I'm some kind of a dope.

But I'm in good company. At least I didn't prematurely announce a winner to the world, but then I'm only some kind of a dope, not a teevee news anchorman. But I'm intrepid, as I'm about to demonstrate; for at the moment, you, dear reader, have the advantage over me. By the time you read this, you may - repeat, may - know who will be the 43rd president of these United States. At the time I write this, I don't, though I am going to proceed on the assumption that George Bush will still be ahead in Florida after all the votes are counted and re-counted.

I will also proceed on the assumption that whatever voting irregularities occurred in the Sunshine State will not cross the threshold required to justify the intervention of the courts.

Would I bet my next month's mortgage payment on either of these assumptions? Not on your tintype, Edgar. But though I do not for a moment believe that 2,500 - or 25 - Jewish retirees in Palm Beach County meant to vote for Pat Buchanan, I suspect that, absent some evidence that officials deliberately sought to make that ballot as confusing as possible, the courts will stay out of the matter.

Does this raise the possibility that many voters - not just partisan Democrats but rank-and-file folks - will question the legitimacy of a Bush presidency? It does, especially because at this writing (late-counted absentee ballots could reverse this) Al Gore has the popular plurality. Indeed, Gore and Ralph Nader together - that is to say, the left-of-center public policy direction - have a small popular majority. But at this point the prudent observer (and even we dopes do learn from our mistakes) should go no further than to say that it raises the possibility.

It also segues into this probability: that a Bush presidency will begin ... well, not exactly crippled or tainted, but not politically hale and hearty, either. Yes, the putative president-elect is a charming fellow, and he is likely to behave in an appealing enough manner over these next few weeks to assuage some of the public anxiety about the election. He did get almost as many votes as Gore, sweeping much of the country, including almost all the South and the entire Rocky Mountain West. New Mexico was still teeter-tottering as we went to press.

Still, he would be well-advised to tread softly at first, especially because his party barely kept its majorities in both houses of Congress. If the new president wants to get much done, he will need at least some support from members of the other party. Picking fights is not the way to get such support.

So while vice-presidential nominee Dick Cheney discussed the possibility of Bush overturning President Clinton's recent designations under the Antiquities Act, a Bush administration is unlikely to pursue that course. Bush might even keep Mike Dombeck on as Forest Service Chief for a while, though not for long.

In fact, the election was so close that the Forest Service has enough political leeway to go ahead with its proposal to lock in the roadless status of some 43 million acres of the national forests. Bush could seek to rescind that decision. But to do so would be to pick a fight not just with the opposition but with a majority of the people that did not vote for him. If nothing else, the squeaker probably guarantees Clinton's land legacy.

Probably. Because there will be other pressures on Bush, and behind these pressures will be men and women to whom he is indebted, counseling a less moderate course.

First, there is the West itself. To look at the county-by-county electoral map is to see an almost unbroken mass of Republican red in the eight Rocky Mountain states and the inland counties of the West Coast states. Most of it is darkish red, meaning Bush got more than 60 percent of the vote. In Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Idaho, there are only a few specks of Democratic blue.

This gives Republican leaders and their friends in those states a seat at the table of any Republican administration. Some of these friends are the movers and shakers of the natural-resource industries. The new president will not have to give this faction everything it wants. He will have to give it something. That's the way democracy is supposed to work.

Nor would the Republicans have to worry about political retribution from the region. In most of the West, the Democratic parties are all but impotent, able to carve out a congressional seat here and there, perhaps to make trouble on a specific issue from time to time, but not much of a threat otherwise. When this year began, Montana Democrats were licking their chops over their chances to retake the governor's office and the state's one House seat. They didn't come close in either one.

There will be national pressures, too. A tiny majority may not temper the ardor of House leaders such as Tom DeLay and Dick Armey, not known for their temperance. Along with the conservative consultant class and their talk-radio appendages, they might urge a go-for-broke strategy. The new president, like all new presidents, will be tugged-at from at least two directions. Whoever he may be.

Jon Margolis watched the election returns from his home in Vermont.

Copyright HCN and Jon Margolis

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Friends of the San Juans (Friends), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is seeking an experienced, passionate, and charismatic environmental leader to continue its strong community leadership...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT, ARIZONA CHAPTER
    What We Can Achieve Together: Arizona's Director of Development (DoD) is responsible for directing all aspects of one or more development functions, which will secure...
  • CAPACITY BUILDING PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Capacity Building Program Manager works directly with the business unit's Arizona Healthy Cities Program Director to advance the Healthy...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND OFFICE MANAGER - FRIENDS OF THE INYO
    Friends of the Inyo - Donor database management & reporting, IT/HR, and office administrative support. PT or FT. Partly remote OK but some in-office time...
  • NORTHERN NEW MEXICO PROJECT MANAGER
    New Mexico Land Conservancy is seeking a qualified Northern New Mexico Project Manager to provide expertise, leadership and support to the organization by planning, cultivating,...
  • GRAPHIC AND DIGITAL DESIGNER
    Application deadline: December 17, 2022 Expected start date: January 16, 2023 Location: Amazon Watch headquarters in Oakland, CA Amazon Watch is a dynamic nonprofit organization...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eugene, Ore. nonprofit Long Tom Watershed Council is seeking a highly collaborative individual to lead a talented, dedicated team of professionals. Full-time: $77,000 - $90,000...
  • GIS SPECIALIST
    What We Can Achieve Together: The GIS Specialist provides technical and scientific support for Geographic Information System (GIS) technology, data management, and visualization internally and...
  • LOWER SAN PEDRO PROGRAM MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Lower San Pedro Program Manager directs some or all aspects of protection, science, stewardship and community relations for the...
  • FOREST RESTORATION SPATIAL DATA MANAGER
    What We Can Achieve Together: The Forest Restoration Spatial Data Manager fills an integral role in leading the design and development of, as well as...
  • WATER PROJECTS MANAGER, SOUTHERN AZ
    What We Can Achieve Together: Working hybrid in Tucson, AZ or remote from Sierra Vista, AZ or other southern Arizona locations, the Water Projects Manager,...
  • SENIOR STAFF THERAPIST/PSYCHOLOGIST: NATIVE AMERICAN STUDENT SPECIALIST
    Counseling Services is a department strategically integrated with Health Services within the Division of Student Services and Enrollment Management. Our Mission at the Counseling Center...
  • THE NATURE CONSERVANCY IS HIRING A LOCAL INITIATIVES COORDINATOR
    The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming seeks a Local Initiatives Coordinator to join our team. We're looking for a great communicator to develop, manage and advance...
  • LAND AND WATER PROTECTION MANAGER - NORTHERN ARIZONA
    We're Looking for You: Are you looking for a career to help people and nature? Guided by science, TNC creates innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our...
  • SENIOR CLIMATE CONSERVATION ASSOCIATE
    The Greater Yellowstone Coalition (GYC) seeks a Senior Climate Conservation Associate (SCCA) to play a key role in major campaigns to protect the lands, waters,...
  • CORTEZ COLORADO LOT FOR SALE
    Historic tree-lined Montezuma Ave. Zoned Neighborhood Business. Build your dream house or business right in the heart of town. $74,000. Southwest Realty
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • STRAWBALE HOME BESIDE MONTEZUMA WELL NAT'L MONUMENT
    Straw Bale Home beside Montezuma Well National Monument. Our property looks out at Arizona fabled Mogollon Rim and is a short walk to perennial Beaver...
  • ATTORNEY AD
    Criminal Defense, Code Enforcement, Water Rights, Mental Health Defense, Resentencing.
  • LUNATEC HYDRATION SPRAY BOTTLE
    A must for campers and outdoor enthusiasts. Cools, cleans and hydrates with mist, stream and shower patterns. Hundreds of uses.