For thirty-seven days after the disputed presidential election of 2000, we watched great theater, as George W Bush and Al Gore slugged it out in the swamp. You may think you've read it all before, but now Newsweek's David A. Kaplan goes behind the scenes of the sanctimony and machinations. In his critically acclaimed bestseller, The Silicon Boys, Kaplan took us inside Silicon Valley. In The Accidental President, he does the same for this epic moment in American history -- a harmonic convergence of politics and law, media and culture.
With his mordant wit and incisive storytelling, Kaplan tells us how -- contrary to popular belief -- the Supreme Court's ruling for Bush was not a foregone conclusion and why the dissenting justices thought, until the last second, they could lure the one equivocating colleague they'd derisively nicknamed "Flipper." We're in the room when Gore decides that, more than any great lawyer, the one person he needs in Recountland is . . . Erin Brockovich. We learn which Bush partisan covertly marionetted the strings behind Katherine Harris. And we're treated to sketches of the characters they called Secret Squirrel and the Fine-Looking Man and of the political operative who jumped from a moving train.
Through it all -- butterflies and boils; concessions, recantations, and fraternal recriminations; lawyers, more lawyers, and 181 invocations of the phrase "uncharted waters" -- Kaplan paints a picture of an extraordinary episode for the country. There are few heroes in this tale. No person or institution comes out looking very good. "Rule of law" simply meant trying to figure out a way around the law -- realpolitik by any other name.
The outcome of Bush versus Gore was a colossal fortuity, an election gone bad, made worse by an inconceivable coincidence of accidents. A lucky tactical call here, a confusing ballot there -- amid all the folly and hypocrisy, these are what landed Bush in the White House. Different turns might have cast destiny the other way. Bush is our nation's first accidental president, just as Gore would have been. Bush may thrive or stumble in office. But either way, few will forget how he got there after November 7, 2000.
This is the definitive story of those thirty-seven days and why they matter.