UK Commentators See Attempted 'Coups' in US Electoral Drama

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Britain's media, reflecting on the American electoral standoff, are seeking lessons for Britain's political scene.

From suggestions of an attempted "legal coup" on Democrat Al Gore's part to accusations of arrogance by Republican George W. Bush, commentators sporting their own political biases are treating British readers to a broad range of opinions on the affair.

Writing in the Sunday Times this week, Andrew Sullivan argues that the Democrats' conduct since the election has violated "almost every principle of common sense, constitutional law and due process."

Describing in detail the Gore camp's strategies, including claiming racial discrimination and changing the rules on the acceptability of "dimpled chads," he concludes that the vice-president is "a man who will do anything to win: trash the constitution, get his lawyers to peddle falsehoods in court, change counting rules in mid-stream, gerry-rig recounts to favor him, intimidate anyone who stands in his way."

Sullivan said he had once regarded Gore as a man "of serious purpose and honest intent." What had happened since the election, however, was "enough to make any fair-minded person realize that Gore is a danger to the country and to the constitution. He's beginning to make Richard Nixon look magnanimous and Bill Clinton look honest."

From the left, meanwhile, the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland has a very different take on events.

Behind the Bush camp's handling of the crisis, he writes this week, lies an "ugly fact about the American right" - Republicans believe themselves to be the natural party of government.

The British Conservative Party, he adds, suffers from the same delusion. Although both Republicans and Conservatives have been out of power in recent years, both assume that their return to government is a restoration of the natural order.

"Fundamentally, Republicans don't believe that a Democrat like Gore belongs in power - no matter how many votes he gets.

"The assumption, all too visible on the faces of Baker, Bush and would-be vice president and 'transition' boss, Dick Cheney, is that they are Republicans and should therefore run the country - and who the hell is this man Gore to hold them up?"

Freedland, too, invokes the c-word, this time seeing Gore as victim, not perpetrator: The American right, he says, "has resorted to the tactics of a virtual coup d'etat to install its candidate - and restore what it regards as the rightful order of things."

The BBC's U.S. affairs analyst, Gordon Corera, takes a more dispassionate view.

"The problem facing America at the moment is that the vice-president is absolutely convinced that he should have won the election and be made president, while the Republicans are absolutely determined to stop him stealing (as they put it) a presidency they have legitimately and legally won."

But despite this impasse, Corera sees Gore rapidly losing ground once Bush declared himself the winner on Sunday.

"Politics is often a test of wills more than anything else, but now as the balance of forces tilts against him, the pressure is all on Al Gore."

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow