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Hyperion November 9, 2000

#10 It's time to give a Checkers speech

I was all set to bring you, the readers, a third fun-filled column on why you should vote for me. I sort of got caught up in the time-crunch of Election Day, feeding into the frenzy that I saw played out on t.v. Then I had to stop and ask myself why I had wanted to run in the first place: because I didn’t think America had a decent choice, and I thought I could do better. But I got into this race on October 17, after viewing the third presidential debate. Even apart from the media blackout I have suffered from (don’t believe me? Tell me what you have seen about my campaign on television!), this was perhaps too late an entry to expect a victory. So, I relaxed and put those issues on hold. Besides, Criminal Justice, Education, and Vending Machines are too important issues to just rush something just to have it out there. Rest assured I will write about these subjects, but it will be in a calm, thoughtful manner in the next few weeks, as I launch my campaign for 2004.

In the meantime, I had planned to write a post-election column Tuesday evening-open letters to George Bush and Al Gore. I had already pretty much written them, based upon what I thought would happen. I had Bush with 319 Electoral Votes. I made this prediction soon after the debates, but of course, I did not want to discourage people who believed in me, so I said nothing publicly. I even kept the prediction after the DUI information came out. I honestly am not sure that was a late determining factor, although something happened. I think most people had Bush winning, if closer than I thought. Exit polls showed that over 15% of Gore’s voters decided to vote in the last three days, and people who decided to vote on Tuesday broke 3 to 1 for Gore. Those numbers are significant. They bear further analysis, but right now may be too close to the event to get accurate reads. I do want to say that while I have had good success with predictions before, such as the Spice Girls and the phenomenal money the movie Titanic made, I have also had some noticeable failures. I thought the Commodores would get back together, and I thought Sarah Cook was a nice girl. So, Nostradamus can breathe easy, which I am sure he already knew. I was going to excerpt my letters to the two candidates here today, but I have elected (sorry, bad joke) to do so later.

What I decided to do instead was give my minute-by-minute thoughts of Tuesday evening on into Wednesday morning and beyond. I had again planned to wait until the election was decided, but as of Thursday at 4:19 pm, it still has not been, and if I don’t get these thoughts out soon they will be obsolete, or worse, someone else will think them up and say them.


Tuesday, November 7, 8:30 pm EST: I decided to get away from Politics for a while by going to see a re-release of a 1985 movie by immortal Japanese filmmaker, Kurosawa. The movie, “Ran”, was about an old Samurai giving up power, and the resulting battle and betrayal that followed among his successors. The best part of the movie for me was that all of these men were running around fighting each other, and in the end a woman, who certainly had no armies behind her, undid them all. Hmm…. maybe I did not get away from politics after all.

11:30 pm: Driving home, I turned on the radio, fully expecting to hear the results. This is what I hear: “Closest election in history, but first traffic and weather!” Reminds me of the old adage “politics is 99% local”. I guess news is too.

12:13 am: Wednesday morning: I am flipping around the various channels, and ABC, FOX, CBS, NBC, CNN, and PBS all have different electoral totals! Where are these people getting their numbers? It occurs to me that these Electoral Votes may just be a guess, and an uneducated one at that. Five of them have to be wrong at least; perhaps they are all wrong.

12:22 am: On the other hand, it is refreshing to see the News Networks in such disarray. They always think they know everything, and it feels good to see them squirm.

12:47 am: It looks as if no matter what happens, Washington D.C. will be very divided come January. This is good news. If I cannot be in charge to do what needs to be done, at least the two major parties will be too busy squabbling with each other to do much damage to you and me. I am reminded what a homeless guy told me once (in return for a sandwich): “I war, they [the lawmakers] pull together. If we’s attacked, they pull together. If we’s poor, they pull together. But give us peace and money, and they fight like bitches on Ricki Lake!” I could not have said it better myself.

1:08 am: One of the Talking Heads is talking about what voters “seem” to be saying. What voters seem to be saying? We cannot agree who the best quarterback of the 1980’s was (Dan Marino); how can we expect to “act as one voice”, as if we were worker ants, on Election night?

2:15 am: I recall a Calvin and Hobbes Sunday strip, where the two are hurtling through the air on their wagon while holding a philosophical discussion. As they are about to land amid the rocks and brush, Calvin wonders, “What if nothing matters? What if everything does? Which could be worse?” I now know exactly how he feels. The networks, not knowing what else to do, are pondering the sagacity of Gore picking Lieberman, who is Jewish, for Florida, which has a large Jewish population. Or for Gore, so obviously switching views on the Elian Gonzalez matter; which many people at the time thought was pandering. I often, in my bleaker moments, have thought that nothing of politics matters. Maybe it all does. Which could be worse?

2:17 am: FOX News, which is generally considered to be conservative (compared to all of the other networks, which are liberal), calls the election for George Bush. I wonder if this is because FOX is more hopeful than the others are, or the others are trying to deny reality. Maybe neither. In any rater, the other networks follow suit soon enough. One highlight: When Peter Jennings, of ABC, calls the election for George Bush, he turns his head and swears in anger. Hee hee! I am no Bush fan, but anything that pisses off Peter Jennings must be a good thing.

2:18 am: I am assuming that the night is about over (note to audience: this if foreshadowing), and I am trying to sum up the evening. Clinton is, by all accounts, obsessed with leaving a legacy. Clinton’s Legacy, when it is all said and done, may be that the American people do not know what they want. Look at the last 8 years: People were furious with Clinton in 1994, enough to elect the first Republican Congress in forty years, but then they don’t un-elect him in ’96. People want to be proud of their leader, as most were with Ronald Reagan, but they like the economy, which they attribute to Clinton, since the majority happened under his watch. Well, under that logic, the economy really took off after the Republicans took over in 1994, but it is hard to attribute credit to a group of people. Bottom line: if Clinton were even a half-decent person, this election would not have been close. More on this later.

2:42 am: One of the t.v. guys is complaining that Gore has not conceded yet, and states that the country demands it. I think he means t.v. demands it, and tonight, so he can get some sleep. It occurs to me that perhaps nothing in two thousand years has changed politics as much as television. I think I will write a column about it. Later, though. I am ready to go to sleep myself.

2:59 am: It is noted that for the first time in American history, this will be the third straight election where the victorious president received less than 50% of the vote (Clinton never did). This is interesting. I am not sure what it means. Maybe just makes the point that we do not know what we want. Or maybe, we all know what we want, but we are divided fiercely down the middle.

3:07 am: A brilliant thought pops into my head: This is the Richard Nixon election. It is so brilliant; I am going to close with it. So, you will have to keep reading.

3:34 am: I believe it is NBC who first says “Hold On. Florida is narrowing more than everyone expected.” This had better be wishful thinking. I need sleep!

3:41 am: Someone on CNN says that Oregon and Wisconsin are still in doubt, but are completely irrelevant, because of Florida. If I lived there, I would not like to hear that. I do not live there, but I do not like hearing it anyway. You may recall that before the election I wrote about the Electoral College, and what a sham it was. Maybe I should change my name to “Prophet”. Let me give you an example of why this system is whack: Let us say you have four states; three with 101 people and a fourth with 303 people (ok, they are small states, but I want people from Phoenix to be able to follow me). The first three states have one electoral vote each, and the fourth has three. The first three states each split 51-50, for candidate A. The fourth state goes to candidate B, 303-0. That means that the candidates each get three electoral votes, even though candidate B out-polls candidate A 453-153. I think that most would see this as unfair. Let me give you another reason this is messed up. In this election, Gore spent virtually no time in states like Texas and Georgia, where he knew he could not win, and Bush did not take too many trips to New York and Massachusetts either. If the vote were raw, all the candidates would be forced to visit everyone, to fight for as many votes as possible. This bears more thinking about. I heard the plan that Maine has, where the Electoral votes are split by the congressional districts, and the remaining two votes (given because of the two senate seats), are given to the overall state winner. That might be a good compromise. Something needs to be done.

3:42 am: I just found out Gore retracted his concession to Bush. Would have loved to have heard that conversation. [Note: I have read the conversation now, as reported to news services by both candidates’ supporters. It is funnier than anything I could make up. Do yourself a favor and find it.] I just thought of a great horror movie: “The Election That Would Not Die!”

4:08 am: All of the networks take it back. I had called a Bush supporter at 2:30, when the election appeared to be won for Bush, and was received warmly. When I tried to share history this time, the reception was not quite so effusive. Note to self: Do not call anyone at 4:30 in the morning when the news will not be taken well. Words to live by.

6:11 am: It appears no one will know anything soon. I am going to bed-and this time I mean it!

12:02 pm, Wednesday, November 8: I have the day off, thank the Light, and I wake up specifically to hear Rush Limbaugh. Beyond any analysis he has, I wonder if he will admit he, like I, was wrong, in his prediction of a Bush victory in a comfortable fashion. Am somewhat disappointed when he does.

2:35 pm: I am in the car, on the way to get a pizza (election or no election, I have my priorities in order). I have Limbaugh on again, and he is talking about the so-called disputed ballots. He is, predictably, not on the side of those who want to revote for Gore. He then mentions how the networks called the race too early in the evening for Gore, which caused many people on the west coast who were Bush supporters to go home discouraged. I wonder what he would have said if the situation were reversed, from his angle.

I think I should address these two issues: First, to the networks calling states and elections prematurely. I think we all learned this time around that the networks are not infallible. In the specific case of Republicans on the west coast this year: grow up. If you are not going to vote because of something t.v. told you, then you do not deserve to vote. The greater issue, though, is important. I think it would be a good idea to have a national election time, says from nine to nine eastern (which would make it six to six pacific). The next time it could be noon to midnight eastern, which would make it nine to nine pacific. This seems a little inconvenient, but hear me out. This way all of the polls open and close at the same time, and this would limit the impact of the Kingmakers on t.v. from influencing people one way or another. With all of that in mind, the inconvenience of doing this once every four years does not seem so great. Of course, all of this is precipitated on throwing out the Electoral college (see above).

As for the ballots in Florida, I have seen them. They are not complicated. If you can read. It seems to me that if you cannot read a ballot, maybe you should get home to catch that Hee-Haw rerun, and forget about voting. Sorry, that is awful elitist of me, but come on. For the people who voted twice on the same ballot, that is what some people call a crime. Whether by evil intent or stupidity, be glad all that we do is invalidate your ballot. Now, I realize this is complicated. On one hand, I have heard that Florida law requires all names be on the left of the ballot, which was not the case in one county. On the other hand, this style of ballot had been used before, it was published in the local papers in the weeks leading up to the election, and in some places, a sample ballot was even sent out to every registered voter. So, it is not as if there were not ample time to say anything, if there was a problem. This leads me to a bigger matter, though. We in America have fairer elections than any other country on earth, but we are by no means perfect. I am sure that even in today’s age of heightened scrutiny, there are problems in every state. Florida was not the only state to invalidate ballots. In New Mexico, for example, thousands of ballots, in traditionally Bush areas, were thrown out. This very well could have tipped the state from Gore to Bush. In addition, there were many close states, where the votes came down to just a few thousand difference. Right now Florida is getting all of the attention, because whoever gets Florida’s Electoral Votes will win the whole thing, but no one can seriously believe that Florida is the only state where there have been problems. Gore and Bush both had better think long and hard before challenging the vote system. We need to do what is right, but we need to balance that over the good of the country. If we start looking at weird things in Florida, how much of a stretch is it before we are looking at other close states, such as Wisconsin, Oregon, Iowa, New Mexico, and others. We could be looking at ripping the whole framework of our election system into shreds. This leads me back to Richard Nixon.

As I stated earlier, I was looking for a way to sum up the whole evening, the whole election, and the best I could do was Richard Nixon. This is what I mean: This is the first election where the country has been in great prosperity, and the incumbent party loses (or may lose). Conventional Wisdom (something of an endangered species after the other night) says that Gore should have won easily. While there are problems in this country, we have never been richer, and we have never been more powerful. So, what happened?

I go back to Nixon. Like him or hate him, Nixon did have patriotism for this country that came through when the chips were down. In 1974, it was clear that the House of Representatives was going to vote to impeach Nixon, and he most likely would have been convicted in the Senate. Nixon, by all accounts, hated losing; hated giving up to his enemies. In 1974 however, Nixon realized that Impeachment was not what the country needed, as divided as they were over Viet Nam and other issues. So, even though he believed he was being railroaded (whether he was or not is not important; he believed it and we are talking about Nixon’s state of mind here), Nixon resigned to save the country the ordeal of impeachment.

Now, lets go back to January 1998. When the whole Lewinsky thing broke, and it became increasingly clear that Clinton had LIED UNDER OATH, most people thought then that Clinton would resign in the near future. The analysis I saw and heard centered on how many days until he resigned, not if he would or not. No one thought Clinton would stick it out. Of course, he did, and the rest is history. In the time it took for all of this to get to impeachment, the spin-doctors were able to vilify the prosecutor, the laws, the “vast right wing” conspiracy, and anyone else they could. America, who wanted a leader they could be proud of, liked the way things were going more, and collectively lost the will to punish a perjurer. The long-range effects of that are debatable, but what is not debatable is this: if Clinton had resigned, Al Gore would easily have won Tuesday. After all, whether it was the administration’s doing or not, the economy is good, and while Gore lies as much as the next politician (unless that politician is a Clinton), no one has ever accused him of screwing around on his wife, or lying under oath.

Nixon, part two. In 1960, Richard Nixon, the 8 year incumbent vice-president (sound familiar?) ran for president. Kennedy won in a very close election (less than 200,000 popular votes-sound familiar?). The Electoral College was even tighter. 11,000 votes in three different states changing hands would have given the election to Nixon. Now, that Kennedy had enlisted the Mafia and Organized Labor to help rig the election was common knowledge. After all, he did the same thing in the Democratic Primary. Nixon, though, chose not to contest the election. One reason was self-serving. Even with the obvious fraud accounted for, it was unclear whether Nixon would have had enough votes in those states to turn the outcome. Nixon certainly did not want to contest an election just find out he would have lost anyway. Nixon had another reason: yes, patriotism. Nixon did not want to subject the country to a protracted fight over every vote in every state. He thought that would be bad for the country. So, he conceded. One wonders how the specter of Nixon will fall on Al Gore and George Bush in the next few days. May the best man win.

November 9, 2000


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