Unless Al Gore secretly appealed to the World Court last night, it’s really over.

After 36 days of overtime, challenged calls and lightning-fast lead changes, Election 2000 is in the record books. The post-election contest was harder to follow than a cricket match, and you needed a Yale law degree to keep score, but the post-game wrap-up is devastatingly simple:

Gore lost. George W. Bush won. And the lawyers, as usual, got everybody’s money.

Another big winner of the Florida recount, as you can see from the covers of the Big Three newsweeklies, was the U.S. Constitution. It’s not only become the focus of a tedious but invaluable national civics lesson, its hallowed parchment serves as the cover art this week for Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

This rare triple play of editorial simultaneity, which probably should be investigated by the Justice Department for possible anti-trust implications, shows how serious the Florida follies really were.

As usual, Time, Newsweek and U.S. News couldn’t keep up with the fierce courtroom action.

Poor U.S. News.
As usual, its contents are as dated as last year’s classified ads. It has a Friday night go-to-bed time, which meant it missed the U.S. Supreme Court’s emergency stay of the hand recount in Florida on Saturday.

Time and Newsweek, which can go to the printers as late as Sunday, did much better. What the U.S. Supreme Court did Tuesday to quash Al Gore’s White House dream renders much of their hard work stale, but there are several highlights.

best work is done by Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff, who give national readers a few piles of dirt on the local feuds and vendettas they say have been really driving the legal proceedings in Florida. Forget all that high talk about the rule of law and conflicting constitutional principles, they say in “Settling Old Scores in the Swamp.” It’s all been about cheap personal spats, dirty class warfare and a long and bitter struggle between a state supreme court packed with liberal, activist Democrats and a Florida legislature controlled by socially conservative Republicans.

In Time, lead writer

Nancy Gibbs
again shows off her fine writing as she demonstrates her faith in the trusty U.S. Constitution to provide a final answer. “The Constitution is not a delicate artifact,” she writes in “The Nightmare Before Christmas?” “It sits in a helium-filled case over at the National Archives in one of those soundproof, heatproof and humidity-controlled reliquaries designed to protect its every word and wrinkle.

“Every once in a while, we get to take the Constitution out for a spin. And when we do, we learn again that it wasn’t built for speed — it was built to last, for the ages of ages. So in a time of severe impatience, it is teaching us, among other things, to be steadfast.

“The Founders, astride an age of enlightenment and revolution, did not want power transferred quickly or easily or often. They knew much more about taking power by force than we ever will — and the risks of anarchy that go with it.”

Another highlight in Time is

Andrew Ferguson’s
column, “Who Are You Calling Angry?” Ferguson, one of the funniest conservative political writers around, is more serious than usual in defending his ideological brethren from charges they have gone off their rockers with rage at Al Gore’s historic attempt to “overturn the certified result of a presidential election.”

“Life is messy,” Ferguson says, offering as Exhibit No. 1 Florida’s inability to cast, count and certify 6 million votes for president without causing a constitutional crisis. But “people lucky enough to live in democracies have devised a method to draw some kind of certainty from life’s irregularities,” he says, and they’re called laws.

Laws are written down and are supposed to be “neutral, objective principles to which everyone can appeal.” If they turn out to be dumb or unfair, they can be changed — but only in the proper ways by the proper people: elected legislators, not judges.

This, as all serious students of the Florida Follies should now know, is called the rule of law. It ain’t perfect. It ain’t always fair or nonpartisan. Some days your candidate gets the 5-4 court decision, sometimes the 4-3 decision gets you.

As Ferguson says, and as the U.S. Supreme Court essentially decided Tuesday night, under the laws in place in Florida on Nov. 7, “George Bush won Florida. This is not to say that he won in the sense of cosmic certainty, under the aspect of eternity, in the sight of an all-knowing being. Cosmic certainty is denied to human beings. In its place — a poor substitute, I admit — they have laws.”

Not to mention lawyers.

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