Consensus at last

July 21, 2004

THERE ARE bad ideas, half-baked schemes and bonehead notions aplenty around Washington at any given time. But rarely does a proposition so reek of everything antithetical to how Americans see themselves that Congress rises up in bipartisan accord to give it a swift kick out the door.

That distinction is very likely to be bestowed by the House today on a proposal floated by the Bush administration to prepare for the possibility of delaying the November presidential election in the event of a terrorist attack.

At a minimum, this Chicken Little approach effectively cedes control of American elections to those who threaten disruption. Beyond that, the mere suggestion of a delay in presidential balloting for the first time in the nation's history has dangerous implications for the republic.

Surely, President Bush wouldn't use a national calamity to cling to power beyond his current term without voter approval. Granting any president such authority, though, is an invitation to tyranny.

Little wonder House leaders of both parties and the rank and file by droves were lining up last night in support of a resolution declaring that terrorists will never cause the postponement of a presidential election, and that no single individual or agency should be given the authority to order such a delay.

"We will not shrink in the face of terrorist threats," said Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican. "Elections are postponed in countries where they have dictators."

The postponement flap was sparked by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. He reportedly asked the Justice Department to explore the prospect of a delay after his warnings of possible terrorist attacks prompted a query about "contingency needs" from a new federal agency created to help local officials run federal elections.

It was yet another example of the well-meaning but bungling way in which Mr. Ridge undermines confidence when he should be instilling it.

Sure, an assault against the nation on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, would wreak havoc on Election Day.

But any security plans should be aimed at ensuring that somehow the balloting goes forward - no matter what.

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