George W. Bush is in a tough situation, but the moral choice is absolutely clear--obey the rules.

Of course, if it turns out that Bush did not get a majority of the electoral college, he must concede graciously and spare the country a crisis of an unprecedented kind.

However, if after the Florida recount Bush retains a majority of the vote, even a razor-slim one, he must fight like hell to become president.

Some have argued that, if Bush has only a slim lead in the electoral college, he should step aside "for the good of the country."

This could not be more wrong; nothing could be worse for the country. If the rule of law is to prevail, Bush is obligated to uphold the law. Some Democrats may argue a newfound belief that the electoral college is obsolete. But it is the law unless and until that law is changed.

When the possibility that Bush would carry the popular vote but not the electoral college was first bruited about, I worried that somebody in the Republican camp (my camp) would want to overturn the election results. This would have been horribly wrong, based (like the call for term limits, in my opinion) not on principle but on expediency. This would have been wrong, and a horrific wrong given the significance of the office of president. Moreover, I would argue that this would be tantamount to a coup d'etat.

As it happened, it was Al Gore who got a thin lead in the popular vote but lost the electoral college. Now, William Daley, Gore's campaign manager, has indicated that, no matter how the recount goes, the vice president's campaign will fight on. This is despicable beyond words.

We are in a worse crisis than when Kennedy was assassinated. Then we never doubted that the law would be obeyed and that there would be an orderly transition. But now, freelance hatemonger Jesse Jackson is claiming fraud and fomenting racial hatred, while respected pundit Jon Alter of Newsweek has expressed the fond hope that the people will rise up to make Gore the next president.

This is tantamount to calling for a coup d'etat. Even if some voters cast an unintentional vote for Patrick J. Buchanan, the votes are valid. The time to raise questions is before you get home. This is how elections work.

Of course, Jackson has a right to ask about voter fraud (as does Bush), but to raise such questions without hard evidence is the worst kind of demagoguery. But demagoguery is what we're becoming used to now.

If the Gore campaign challenges a valid election, it will be the last foul breath of Clintonism. That Alter, a representative of one of the most mainstream magazines in the world, dares to talk about overturning an election shows how far we have fallen from the rule of law.

It is Bush's obligation to restore the rule of law--and believe me, Jackson will vilify Bush and make him look like a racist. That's the real tragedy: In a country that has come so far toward banishing racism, Jackson and the NAACP, which put out a scurrilous ad that almost accused George Bush of being James Byrd's murderer, appeal to the worst racist instincts.

I don't envy George W. Bush. It would probably be easier to walk away and not be made a hate object by the likes of Jackson. I believe that he's tough enough to do the right thing.

It may require doing the hard right over the easy wrong, as Al Gore was once wont to put it. It most likely will mean being hated, but the law must prevail.

What a hell of a way to start a new administration.

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