Wednesday, April 21, 2010

illegitimate presidents

One reason for the deep polarization of American politics in recent years, in my view, is the widespread view that the winning presidential candidate has been viewed as fundamentally illegitimate by the losing party. Democrats cite Al Gore's half-million vote lead over George W. Bush and the 5-4 vote by the Supreme Court in favor of the Republican. Republicans note that Bill Clinton received only 43% of the popular vote in 1992 and then argue that he should have been thrown out of office for lying. Now comes new evidence of how deeply rooted these beliefs were.

Jonathan Chait in The New Republic, in an article currently behind a subscription firewall that may be opened to all later, reports an interview a decade ago with "a very high-ranking Republican member of Congress" who asserted that Bill Clinton stole the 1996 election with ballot stuffing and other dirty tricks. In fact, of course, Clinton won 8.2 million more popular votes than Bob Dole and 70% of the electoral college votes.

In 2004, of course, Democrats complained that Bush won a second term only because of voting irregularities in Ohio that should have been resolved in favor of John Kerry.

If these hard feelings didn't do enough to poison our politics, the 2008 election, convincingly won by Barack Obama with 52.9% of the popular vote, now is doubted by the "birthers" who dispute his U.S. citizenship. This has got to stop. The "birthers" are wrong factually and legally, and responsible officials should stop lending sympathy to those charges.

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