on March 25, 2002
Toobin offers a well-written, informative, and very entertaining account of the 36-day long post-election debacle. As a political science major and a senior at the University of California, I've chosen to write my honor's thesis on the political rituals, symbolism, and rhetoric evoke by the two camps during these 36-days. This being the case, I've had to read just about every book, important journal article, and major newspaper story concerning the events, strategies, and significance of this political fiasco. I found "Too Close To Call" to be clear, easy to read, witty, and well organized -- as one would expect from a staff writer of The New Yorker. As for those who complain that Toobin favors the political left -- he's a law school friend of Ron Klain and Jack Corrigan; was research assistant to Lawrence Tribe; and friend/Client of David Boies (p. 285) -- he probably does. However, Toobin sets out to explain how the strategies and "orientations" of both candidates contributed to their respective successes and failures, and this he does brilliantly. Further, I have yet to see an unbiased account of the 2000 post-election. The journalists, and sadly even the academics, that you expect to find on the political right, are there just as sure-idly as are those on the left. That said Toobin does a surprisingly good job of staying near the middle of the road -- where you're only suppose to find dead skunks (Baker).
on January 6, 2002
Molly Ivens once wrote GW Bush is so lucky "if they hung him the rope would break." Nothing comes closer to fulfilling that claim than the 2000 Florida presidential election. No one who has seriously considered the butterfly ballots, questionable absentee ballots, failure of state officials to follow their own laws and rules, and mechanical problems with that election would conclude a majority of Florida's voters intended to vote for Bush. Jeffrey Toobin succintly summarizes the good, the bad and the ugly of the events that led democracy away from the will of the people to the will of five Supreme Court justices.
Unlike (perhaps) the other reviewers of this book, I have hands-on experience with punch-card ballot counting machines, software and procedures. I can say without qualification if you want to be absolutely sure, you have to look at the ballots themselves. The voting machines mis-calibrate, voters and others mishandle the cards, the counting machines jam possibly losing or double-counting a ballot. Anyone who has used a copier has a sense of how much trust we should place in these devices.
Toobin briefly describes the events, legal issues, political maneuvering and, in particular, the failure of Florida's elected officials to do the jobs the citizens entrusted to them. He has criticism for many of the participants and particularly Katherine Harris, Joe Lieberman, Theresa Lapore and Sanders Sauls. If you admire any of those people, you won't like this book.
Several reviewers have given "Too Close To Call" one-star for Toobin's presumed liberal bias. He clearly argues that Floridian's INTENDED choice for President did not win. Those who already disagree with that conclusion will find no comfort here.
on January 4, 2003
Toobin is famous for his pro-Democratic sympathies, but what makes this book tolerable to conservatives (like me) is his unrelenting loathing of Gore as spineless and milquetoast, and his grudging admiration for the GOP's no-holds-barred tactics. Toobin covers the events from election night to the unofficial non-partisan tabulation released in November 2001. Although he does an excellent job of explaining the incredibly complicated series of events, Toobin makes no effort to be neutral and doesn't hold back from labeling people as spineless, incompetent, or ruthless. He explains how some judges in the lower-level Florida judiciary were in over their heads, and although Democrats, did Gore great harm, while other minor judges rose to the occasion and demonstrated impressive leadership. According to Toobin, the Palm Beach "butterfly ballot" fiasco was not nearly important as the Democrats' decision not to challenge the massive numbers of improper absentee ballots.
Toobin's theme is that while Gore focused on managing the process in a statesmanlike way, the GOP concentrated on winning at any cost. According to this author, Clinton said he would have declared victory, played the race card, fought the inclusion of the controversial military ballots, and encouraged mass protests in the streets. One wonders where such an approach would have led.
The author's harshest criticism is reserved for the US Supreme Court, where Rehnquist and his allies abused their power and behaved as unscrupulous political hacks. Even conservatives find it difficult to defend Rehnquist's action that stopped the statewide recount. Ironically, later examination of the ballots showed that the statewide recount would have ended in Bush's favor anyway, and all Rehnquist's intervention accomplished was to taint the (already dubious) legitimacy of Bush's victory.
Toobin reminds us that a non-partisan consortium that examined every ballot discovered that under any criterion of defining what constituted a valid vote, Gore would have won the election (although not under the rules imposed by the Florida Supreme Court for the statewide recount, which limited the recount to ballots already deemed questionable). In an ideal world, Gore deserved to win the Florida vote count and hence the presidency, but no voting system can hold up when an election comes down to roughly a hundred votes in a nation of a quarter-billion people. Toobin blames the ruthlessness of the Republicans and the spinelessness of Al Gore for what happened.
on March 4, 2004
A quick scan through the reviews of this book claim that Toobin "bellows" about racism (he actually spent two paragraphs on the issue, and acknowledges that it was not NEARLY as significant as many Gore supporters would claim), unfairly bashes Katherine Harris (even Fox News portrayed her as a dolt, so Toobin is not alone here), and that he generalizes about those involved (he actually details personalities of several individuals of both sides, and his generalizations are limited to his descriptions of groups of hundreds - ie "the Gore campaign).
That said, this is not an unbiased book. Toobin unquestionably sympathizes with the Gore campaign, and seems to almost root for them. This does not, however, alter his in-depth and accurate reporting of the basic facts of the case, which are laid out clearly and simply, providing a very easy and fun read. He does tend to editorialize, and doubtlessly, the charges against the Bush campaign (that their hypocrites, amorale, and underhanded) are serious compared to those he levels against the Gore campaign (too compromised by their sense of fair play and their desire for positive media attention). However, this does tend to come across as a kind of admiration for the complete devotion of the Bush soldiers, the intelligence of James Baker, and the tenacity of their lawyers.
Overall, this should not be construed as a strictly journalistic work (though it does serve as a good vehicle for learning the facts of the case), but as an entertaining and though-provoking fact-based editorial.
on January 10, 2002
This book is an excellent piece of journalism, synthesizing all of the elements of last year's election controversy into a compelling and lucid tale of how politicians once again choose to stick up for their own personal interests rather than that of American voters.
Several reviewers here have made much of bias in this book, for which I have a different take. Toobin clearly points out the grubby behavior of both of the camps (both interested in counting only the votes that may benefit them, both cynically playing the media and public opinion, both stretching the law to suit themselves) and certainly highlights both the inept and the inspired from the Florida county and judicial officials trying to complete an election in the spotlight. His broader point, I think is to show how the political shenanigans that both sides participated in shortchanged the only party to the election who really mattered here - the voter.
He is especially effective in breaking down the spin of both camps - "votes have been counted and recounted", when they were counted and only a few FL counties had done a full recount (they rechecked tallys only); "count all the votes", when that meant only doing a recount in a few counties. He is also quite good at explaining the legal issues and approaches of both camps, and in providing closure to some of the allegations of discrimination against black voters (no evidence of roadblocks, etc).
But the real value of this book is its picture of a voting process where the voter is the only unprotected and unrepresented party to the election debates and lawsuits. For those of us who make a point of voting, this is a chilling state of affairs. Democracy does not exist without voters, and those of us who participate in the most important civil duty there is should be given the greatest possible respect, and more protection that any politician. This is, I think, the larger message and point of Toobin's book - that much of the system that should have been accommodating the voter choose to invest itself in partisanship on behalf of its candidate.
I highly recommend this book - especially as background before jumping into the numerous books analyzing the legal and political consequences of this election.
on January 4, 2002
I read Alan Dershowitz' "Supreme Injustice" before reading "Too Close to Call." Big mistake. Toobin's book provides the social history of the election you need to put Dershowitz' arguments--and other accounts of the election--into perspective. Toobin has performed the incredible feat of giving us the facts without being boring, confusing, or overwhelming the reader. There may be bias here, but neither side comes out very well--Bush appearing disengaged while his team did its work; an isolated Gore trying to seem presidential while forfeiting the presidency.
It's tempting to say that we should put this squalid bit of electoral history behind us. But anyone who wants to understand the operation of the Bush administration needs to know how it got to the White House in the first place. Toobin's book is the place to start.
on May 1, 2013
As an attorney, the US Supreme Court's decision in Bush vs. Gore has rankled me since it was handed down in 2000. I learned a lot of "inside baseball" by reading this well written book.
The book confirms that this was essentially the Republican justices outvoting their Democratic counterparts on a question of interpreting Florida law, which should never have gotten beyond the Florida Supreme Court. Jeffrey Toobin reports that former clerks for conservative Justices encouraged friends in the Bush campaign to take the state law case all the way to the US Supreme Court. Then the conservative Justices acted with unseemly haste by jumping into this dispute before it was anywhere near ripe for consideration at the US Supreme Court's level.
Toobin's book is based mostly on information about the Gore legal team's strategy and approach, with much less about the Bush side. Toobin's bias seeps out in his consistent criticism of the poor fight that Gore himself put up. Despite receiving more ballots in his favor, based on the fairly obvious intent of the disputed votes, Gore was finally declared the loser of an election that he probably won. It's as if Gore let down Toobin as well as that narrow majority of voters who voted for Gore.
The perspective of the intervening 13 years until now shows that our country is even more polarized than the Justices who decided this crucial election based mainly on politics. As a lawyer, I had hoped that Justices at the US Supreme Court level would rule based on the facts and law presented to them, regardless of the political affiliation of the parties making the arguments. To render a 5-4 decision based on convoluted reasoning still makes this election difficult to stomach years later.
on October 20, 2001
This is an excellent objective recount of all that happened between election day, Nov. 7, 2000, and the final resolution of that election by the Supreme Court on Dec. 12, 2000, when by a 5-4 vote the Court ruled to stop the vote recount in Florida. It gives both an outside (what we all saw), and a behind-the-scenes (what the public couldn't see) view of the chaos, dirty tricks, legal maneuvering that went on in Florida in the days after the presidential election that put the loser of the popular vote in the White House.
This is not a partisan book. It discusses the moves, good or bad, that each side made, and it puts on the record events that should never be forgotten in this Democracy.
It details how some of those involved in this election decision allowed their partisan beliefs to taint their decisions. For instance on the Supreme Court side, a quote from the book:
"As it turned out, in the tight whirl of the Republican social establishment in Washington, O'Connor's views on the election were already well known. On the previous Monday, December 4, the day of the Supreme Court's first opinion on the election, O'Connor and her husband had attended a party for about thirty people at the home of a wealthy couple named Lee and Julie Folger. When the subject of the election controversy came up, Justice O'Conner was livid. 'You just don't know what those Gore people have been doing,' she said. 'They went into a nursing home and registered people that they shouldn't have. It was outrageous.' It was unclear where the justice had picked up this unproved accusation, which had circulated only in the more eccentric right-wing outlets, but O'Connor accounted the story with fervor."
I read the book yesterday, skipping over parts that are still fresh in my memory and too painful to read about even now. I'll eventually go back and read through them. Toobin offers a lot of details of what went on behind the scenes. He appears sympathetic to the Gore team, but not entirely uncritical of Gore. What he does clearly show, however, is the absolute ruthlessness of the Bush team: their Machevellian approach to making sure their man got into the White House. Another theme that comes through clearly is that the Democrats tried to take the high road, to their disadvantage; while the Republicans had only one goal--winning, by any means necessary. Gore was too instinctively decent to stoop to similar tactics, and his reluctance to do so caused some divisivness in his team. My one compaint is that Toobin too easily seems to dismiss the ramifications of this past election, eluding to the feeling that Bush is now our President and we should all move on. We should forget that the past election was manipulated and that our Supreme Court stepped into very shaky legal territory by ruling as they did in favor of Bush.
However, near the close of the book, Toobin makes this statement:
"But still, the election of 2000 will not go away, because in any real, moral, and democratic sense, Al Gore should have been declared the victor over George W. Bush--in the popular vote, in Florida, and in the Electoral College. No one seriously suggests that 3,407 people intended to vote for Patrick Buchanan in Palm Beach County; no one believes that thousands of black voters in Duval County had no preference in the race for President. The 680 questionable overseas absentee ballots identified in July 2001 by the New York Times assuredly, and improperly, went to Bush by a wide margin. If the simple preference of the voters behind their curtains was the rule--and it IS supposed to be the rule in a democracy--then Gore probably won the state by several thousand votes, approximately the margin of the original exit polls."
A MUST READ book for all of us, but be forewarned, it may stir up emotions and anger that you thought you'd started to put behind you. When I finished the book, I wanted to cry.
on August 14, 2016
I'm old enough to remember the 2000 election but, at the time, I didn't follow the aftermath too closely (I was interested, but not interested enough to immerse myself in it). However, since then I went to college, got degrees in political science and history, so this sort of thing is now in my wheelhouse. I don't say that to brag, I'm just trying to provide a little context/perspective so you know why I would be interested in reading this book. It isn't for everyone, admittedly. It's pretty involved and detail-oriented, but to tell this story properly, it needs to be.
I have to give Jeffrey Toobin a ton (seriously, like a metric ton) of credit for taking on this mammoth project. Oof. The amount of material he must have consumed to be able to write this book had to have been absolutely overwhelming. Hats off to him. I like Toobin a lot (he's a writer and a commentator who also wrote the book on OJ the docu-series was based on) and this book didn't change that opinion. He definitely did a good job making this story one you could understand (and follow). That's not to say it's an easy, breezy read, because it certainly is not. It's a complex story with lots of actors and events to keep track of. But it's a story that, from my point of view, people should know. Interestingly, some of the players are still actively part of the political process today (think Ted Cruz).
Why does Bush v. Gore matter? Partly because it had an undermining effect on the election process, considering the role of the courts as well as the complicated relationships involving some of the parties involved in this case. The Supreme Court chose to end the recount, on a somewhat shaky legal argument, and did so by a 5-4 vote. So, basically, the 2000 election was decided because of the vote of one Supreme Court justice (it's often misstated that the Supreme Court "chose" the winner, which it did not. Its decision stopped the counting of votes in FL, which resulted in Bush being declared the winner.). Because the 5 majority votes were votes of the "conservative" justices, the decision is widely viewed as political, and as an (undesirable) example of judicial activism vs. judicial conservatism. But, let's not get into the nuts and bolts of Bush v. Gore. I don't want to ruin it for you.
I think every political junkie should read this book. It's fascinating, frustrating and, for some, it might even be maddening. This was truly a bizarre moment in U.S. politics, and it's odd that an event which determined the outcome of a presidential election is not more widely known/understood.
on December 31, 2011
This book is a fact-based analysis of the 2000 presidential election. It helps us understand why, as Toobin puts it at the end, the outcome was "a crime against democracy." The analysis makes the reader wonder, "What would prevent it from happening again?" Thus, since the answer is uncertain and the 2012 election is approaching, the book is still quite relevant.
--John L. Hodge, author