The Washington Times

No, it’s not over. If it were going to be over with the Florida certification of George W. Bush as the winner, then it would probably have been over long before. The situation is this: Democrats have become convinced beyond the possibility of second thought that Al Gore rightfully won Florida.

Therefore, they would now consider it a breach of faith on their candidate’s part if he failed to proceed with as vigorous a contest as possible. Republicans should abandon whatever hopes they might have for an end to this in accordance with the “good sportsmanship” model they have been urging on Democrats. Democrats aren’t going to be “good losers” until such time as they are certain that the victory they believe they deserve is well and truly beyond their grasp.

It’s important to understand this. Republicans see the Gore campaign’s contesting the results in Florida and the flurry of lawsuits there as a “power grab” – a naked, unprincipled effort to rewrite the rules and keep rewriting until Democrats get the result they like.

That’s just not right. The point is that Democrats, in their heart of hearts, believe they are trying to vindicate principle. They are trying to right the wrong done by the multifaceted failure of the state of Florida to allocate its Electoral College votes to the man whom most Floridians went to the polls to vote for, Al Gore. It may, at the end of the day, be necessary for Democrats to accept that their efforts have ended in failure, if Mr. Bush becomes president. But we are far from the end of the day, and until that time, the only thing to do is to keep fighting for what is right. The distinction between the motivation of a Machiavelli and the motivation of a Joan of Arc is important, because each dictates different behavior. Machiavelli will do anything or say anything to advance his interests, about which he is perfectly rational. Joan has a mission, pure and simple, one that cannot be denied or compromised.

Machiavelli might decide, for example, that the political cost of continuing to press his claim was too high weighed against the likelihood of prevailing. Machiavelli might conclude that it would be better to retreat and fight another day. Machiavelli would take the worries of his pragmatic political patrons (i.e., his contributors) very seriously. Machiavelli would scrutinize public opinion for signs of danger and be sure to stop before doing lasting harm to his standing.

Joan, on the other hand, is going to liberate France. Anyone who stands in her way is going to be either converted or vanquished. Joan doesn’t do polls; she hears voices. And Joan sees no other way than to do what’s right, regardless of the consequences. You can burn her if you want, but that doesn’t change what’s right.

There’s a lot more Joan than Machiavelli in the Democratic camp in this fight. That is why it is not going to end any time soon. Republicans complain that Democrats are unprincipled, and the Republicans believe it. This amounts, however, to little more than a GOP exercise in self-deception of an essentially soothing kind. The problem isn’t that the Democrats are unprincipled. It’s that the Democrats are principled, and therefore all the more determined.

A couple years ago in this space, I wrote that the only rational explanation for why the House of Representatives voted to impeach Bill Clinton was principle. None of the other explanations – for example, hatred of the president, or political threats by hard-liners against moderates, or the conservative leadership’s cynical elimination of the option of a “censure” vote – was sufficient to explain their willingness to go forward despite public opinion polls telling them not to, despite their unprecedented loss of seats in the sixth-year midterm election, despite the turmoil in their leadership.

Only principle – the conviction that Mr. Clinton needed to be removed from office for obstruction and lying under oath – could explain the outcome. Yes, many Republicans loathed Mr. Clinton, and some no doubt feared reprisal from an angry GOP base if they decided to vote against impeachment. Some would surely have liked to duck the issue with a censure vote. But none of this was a sufficient explanation for the fact that a majority said yes, not no – and that in doing so, many acknowledged that they might well be sealing their political doom.

We may have a chance to put this matter to the test in the case of Mr. Gore and Florida. Do he and his supporters press on, regardless? Looks to me like they are going to. They believe.