Memo to Kerry: The election is over, and you lost


WASHINGTON - I don't want to hear anything else about Ohio.

My apologies to the Buckeye State, but I've had it up to here with overheated Internet postings purporting to prove that massive fraud swung the vote in the state that decided the election of 2004. If you haven't seen them, well ... I'm sorry your hard drive crashed and I hope it's fixed real soon. The rest of us have been unable to escape the nonstop conspiracy theorizing that began about 30 seconds after John Kerry conceded the election.

I thought it had petered out, but last week, the former candidate himself stoked the fire, making unusually sharp accusations of GOP malfeasance during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast in Boston.

Voting machines, said Mr. Kerry, were "distributed in uneven ways," and voters in Democratic precincts had to wait up to 11 hours to exercise the franchise while Republicans breezed on through. What he didn't say - what I have yet to hear any credible expert say - is that these irregularities made any material difference to the bottom line.

That being the case, why are we having this discussion?

I don't mean by that question to trivialize the issue of election fraud. In a nation that required a Voting Rights Act to ensure all of its citizens equal access to the ballot box, few things are more worthy of serious concern. Election fraud - whenever committed, by whomever and for whatever purpose - is a threat to our political system. If we the people lose confidence in the integrity of our elections, we lose pretty much everything.

And if I were convinced that was what moved Mr. Kerry to speak out, I'd happily support him. But it seems obvious to me after two months of conspiracy theories that what motivates Mr. Kerry and many other Democrats isn't concern over election irregularities in general, but concern over election irregularities that may have benefited the other party.

He's a politician, so maybe it's naive to expect anything else.

Still, the talk has become tiresome. In listening to party loyalists obsess over how the election was "stolen," I'm reminded of something a former colleague, a white guy from the South, once wrote about the Civil War.

"For years after the war," he said, "Southern partisans vainly refought the Civil War battles, particularly the crucial second day of Gettysburg, as if trying to get a different answer to a math problem."

There is, it seems to me, some of that going on with regard to the election. It's as if Democrats are trapped by hindsight, doomed to crunch that math problem in desperation until the numbers add up to a more palatable sum.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush was inaugurated for his second term Thursday.

It's no secret that some of us regard that as a disaster of Brobdingnagian proportions. Fine. There is no legal or moral requirement that anyone be happy about it.

But at this late date, we are required to accept it. And to accept this: Unlike in 2001, when he took the oath of office with an assist from the Supreme Court, Mr. Bush was not inaugurated this time with any taint of illegitimacy. The election was close, but not that close. Mr. Bush is the duly elected, second-term president of the United States.

That some are still working that math problem at this late date, trying to make the numbers add up differently even as Mr. Bush places his hand on the Bible, feels petty and small. Feels like sour grapes.

In these next years, we will be tested in ways we can scarcely imagine. Do the Democrats really have the luxury of time to spin conspiracy theories that won't change a thing?

If there is a smoking gun, let's see it. But until and unless there is, we have little to gain from complaints like Mr. Kerry's.

It's time to swallow the bitter pill and move on.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. His column appears Sundays in The Sun.

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