INSIDE THE BELTWAY: This presidential election has shown how the law itself is now being manipulated

I know it seems strange, in the very midst (as this is being written) of perhaps the biggest American PR contest of all time, and that with the highest stakes, to ignore the outcome of our Presidential election. After all, it has only been 10 days.

I know it seems strange, in the very midst (as this is being written) of perhaps the biggest American PR contest of all time, and that with the highest stakes, to ignore the outcome of our Presidential election. After all, it has only been 10 days.

I know it seems strange, in the very midst (as this is being written) of perhaps the biggest American PR contest of all time, and that with the highest stakes, to ignore the outcome of our Presidential election. After all, it has only been 10 days.

But the ultimate result seems too shrouded in the mists of rhetoric and legal argument, centered for the most part on a secretary of state whose taste in clothes seems far better established than the logic of her arguments.

Indeed, much of what we have seen in Florida since Election Day seems to be an eye-opening example of a recent trend - the use of the courts, and especially of litigation, as a PR tool. More and more, especially in high-profile (i.e., media-worthy) public affairs matters, lawsuits are being brought not primarily to win a judgement or vindicate a right but simply to look good. In short, to bring credence to a party's claim that they have been wronged.

In Florida, lawsuits have been brought and appeals made (or publicly contemplated) on grounds any bar examiner could use to throw out an applicant. Indeed, the trend is growing. Major issues of political power, or simple struggles over money, are now increasingly cast in legal terms, presumably to mask the real intent of the parties involved. Or it may be to avoid seeming 'political,' now in disrepute, and to rise to a more ethical level.

Thus, a classic American struggle for political power - the prize being a few hundred votes (and, to be sure, the presidency) - is being moved from court to court with high-sounding language about 'the rule of law.'

The same attempts to sanctify a fairly grubby objective are apparent in some of the issues that will confront our new president and Congress - although the closeness of all the margins would seem to preclude any victory.

Take, for instance, the issue of tort reform. This is nothing more than an attempt by the insurance industry and some major manufacturers to reduce their liability for defective products. If cast as reform of the legal system, those objectives - sharply reducing punitive damages and restricting access to the courts by forbidding contingency fees - can be made to seem almost gallant, instead of rude efforts to exclude all but the wealthy from the right to a jury trial.

But Florida has illuminated the new PR tool - the lawsuit - as just another weapon in the hands of the spin-masters and their colleagues in the increasingly politicized media.



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