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A Wacky Path for Politics
Memo: ELECTION 2000
Before I analyze the presidential election, I want to make a statement, on behalf of South Florida, to the state and local candidates who ran all those TV ads, especially Elaine Bloom, Clay Shaw, Bill McCollum and Bill Nelson: We hope that you and all your media advisers rot in Campaign Hell, Okay? We hope that demons tape your eyelids open and force you to watch your own TV commercials. We hope that every thousand years, the demons hold an election to decide which one of you should be allowed to leave Campaign Hell, and the winner is always: None of the Above.
There! I feel better! Now, let's analyze the presidential election. As you can imagine, I was up all night scrutinizing the returns. (NOTE TO EDITOR: The truth is, I'm writing this while the polls are still open. I don't plan to watch the returns. I plan to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and be asleep by 9:15 p.m. So I need some help finishing this analysis.)
The key to presidential elections is the Electoral College, an institution created by the Founding Fathers so that Tim Russert would have something to talk about. Under this system, each state receives a certain number of electoral votes, based on how stupid the state's motto is. Thus, New York (motto: "Driver Carries No Cash") has 33 electoral votes; whereas North Dakota (motto: "Coming Soon—Plumbing!") has none.
This system can produce some quirky results. In 1884, the Electoral College declared that Grover Cleveland was the winner, even though it turned out that there was no such person. Later, the Electoral College got a bee in its bonnet and elected Franklin D. Roosevelt president twenty-seven times in a row. Still later, it elected Richard M. Nixon, despite abundant documented evidence that he was Richard M. Nixon.
So the Electoral College may seem to be a wacky way to elect a president. But it's better than any other system on earth, except the system we use to fill every other office. And because of this system, one of the keys to Tuesday's election was the 25 electoral votes of Florida (motto: "Drugs Are Legal, But God Help You if You Get Caught with a Citrus Tree!").
To win Florida, both candidates needed the support of our 398 million elderly residents, all of whom vote. Voting is one of their major forms of entertainment, along with eating dinner at 4:30 p.m. and failing to notice green lights while sitting behind the wheels of their 1986 Oldsmobiles. To win the votes of these people, both Al Gore and George W. Bush promised that, if elected, they would have the government give the elderly huge quantities of drugs. So one definite outcome of the election is that, for the next four years, our seniors, God bless them, will be stoned out of their gourds. This will probably improve their driving.
But the elderly vote was only one of many factors that determined the outcome of the election, which is why all the experts said it was "too close to call." What a bunch of morons. I predicted the outcome of this election right on the money in a column I wrote on April 17, 1997. My exact words were: "The next president of the United States will definitely be (NOTE TO EDITOR: Please insert the winner's name here)."
The question now is: What lies ahead for the nation, with this man at the helm? What kind of a man IS this man, assuming that he is, in fact, a man? The answers will determine the future of this great nation, and we all, as Americans, must think about them very hard. But right now, Buffy is starting.
Wrong! It Wasn't Humphrey
We in the news media have an announcement to make.
It turns out we made a few teensy mistakes in our coverage of the presidential election. Oh, we were correct on the big stuff, such as what day the election was held, the names of the candidates, and how many total states there are. But we messed up on some of the minor details, such as who, technically, got elected president.
This happened because, here in the news media, our focus is on speed. When we get hold of some new and possibly inaccurate information, our highest priority is to get it to you, the public, before our competitors do. If the news media owned airlines, there would be a lot less concern about how many planes crashed, and a lot more concern about whose plane hit the ground first.
Nowhere is the speed competition more fierce than in TV news. This is why if you decided--God help you--to stay informed on election night by watching television, you saw the following sequence of events:
*First, the major networks confidently declared, based on a careful analysis of the voting patterns of approximately four people, that Al Gore had won Florida.
*A little while later, the networks announced that--Whoops!--Gore had NOT won Florida.
*Still later, the networks confidently declared that George W. Bush had won Florida, and the presidency.
*Next, the networks explained, in some detail, how Bush had done it, and what he would do as forty-third president of the United States.
*Then the networks declared that--Whoops again!--Bush had NOT won Florida.
*Then the networks declared that the World Series was actually won by the Mets.
Okay, I made that last one up. But all the other stuff actually happened. In other words, if you had hoped to inform yourself about the most important story in the world by watching network TV news--the most expensive and sophisticated news-gathering operation in history--you actually wound up less informed than if you had spent the night staring at your refrigerator.
I am not saying the newspapers did any better. Oh, we tried to get you the story. We were in constant contact with our news sources. The problem is, our news sources are (Don't tell anybody!) the TV networks. So we were just as confused as anybody else, which is why an early edition of the Herald had a front-page headline declaring that the election had been won by the late Hubert Humphrey.
In fact, as I write these words, NOBODY knows who won the presidential election, because nobody knows who won Florida. We're having a recount, which should be pretty entertaining, because Florida's No. 3 industry, behind tourism and skin cancer, is voter fraud. Here in Miami, we've had elections where the dead voters outnumbered the live ones. Elsewhere in the state there have been reports of irregular voting procedures, including one Palm Beach County precinct where the "ballots" given to voters were actually pizza coupons. (As of right now, Extra Cheese holds a slim lead over Pepperoni, but Tim Russert says it is "still too close to call.")
So this election, which the nation had desperately hoped would be over by now, is going to drag on—nobody knows how long—and all because of Florida. We are a REALLY popular state right now. It wouldn't surprise me if, after this is all over, we get voted out of the union. That really would be a shame. Because I think Humphrey is going to make a damned good president.
Why Not Poke a Hole in a Candidate's Eyeball?
I think it's an arrow thing.
I'm talking about this deal with the ballots in Palm Beach County.
As the whole world knows by now, thanks to Florida, the presidential election has come to a grinding halt. Lawsuits are being filed. People are marching in the streets. Political pundits are so excited that they have to change their underwear on an hourly basis. Jesse Jackson has taken time out from his busy schedule of garnering publicity elsewhere so he can devote all his efforts to garnering publicity here.
And the scary part is, nobody knows how long this will drag on. We may not know who our forty-third president is until it's time to elect our forty-fourth.
At the heart of all this mess is Palm Beach County, where many people are now saying they didn't know whom they were voting for. Every time you turn on the news you see distraught Palm Beach voters saying that they accidentally voted for the wrong person, or two people, or nobody, or Queen Elizabeth II.
These people blame the ballot, which they say was very confusing. The way they talk, it sounds as though to understand this ballot, you would need, at minimum, a degree in nuclear physics. Now, I have seen pictures of this ballot. And although I think the design could have been better, it doesn't seem all THAT complicated. I mean, for each candidate's name, there's an arrow pointing to a punch hole. If you follow the arrow, you get to the correct hole, right?
And that's where I think the problem arises. Because, for whatever reason, many people in Florida do NOT understand arrows. If you have ever driven down here, you know what I mean. You'll be at an intersection, waiting in the left-turn lane, with a big painted arrow on the street, pointing left; and a sign overhead saying left turn only with an arrow pointing left; and then the light will change, and there will be a green arrow, pointing left, and 50 percent of the time the driver in front of you will do . . . nothing! It's as if this driver has NO IDEA what the arrows mean! Sometimes--and if you don't believe me, then you have never driven in South Florida--the driver will attempt to turn RIGHT.
So I think that, given the population down here, it was a big mistake to put arrows on the ballot. It would be better to use a system easier to grasp, such as putting actual photographs of the candidates on the ballot; voters could indicate their preference by using their hole-punchers to poke the candidate of their choice in the eyeball.
For now, though, we need to figure out what to do about this election. Here's what I say we do: I say we take the 25 electoral votes away from Florida and give them to some less-populated but more-deserving state—say Delaware, or North Dakota—that is at least capable of figuring out which candidate it voted for. Do you think this is a good idea? Please take a moment to let me know by punching the correct hole in the ballot below:
Okay, I'm tabulating your results now, and the winner is . . . Pat Buchanan. I'm moving to Sweden.
Now It's Time to Say Thanks for the Chads That Don't Count
Boy, am I ever thankful.
I'm talking about Miami-Dade County's decision not to recount its presidential ballots after all.
As you know, in Palm Beach and Broward counties, groups of wretched people have been spending long, dreary days looking at ballots, squinting at pregnant chads, gay and lesbian chads, dimpled chads, freckled chads, Kentucky Fried Chads, the Artist Formerly Known as Chad, etc.
Their goal is to figure out what in God's name the voters were thinking when they did whatever they did to these ballots. This is not easy, because a lot of these voters apparently have the functional IQs of starfish. There's no other way to explain some of the things they did in the voting booth. ("Hey! I think I'll vote for . . . TWO presidents!").
Don't get me wrong: I'm all for these recounts. I agree with the thousands of out-of-state lawyers currently clogging every Holiday Inn in the state: We must discern the intent of EVERY VOTER. In fact, I think we should count people who had planned to vote, but, for whatever reason, never got around to actually going to the polls. I think we should count people who failed to register, but have a good excuse, such as they forgot. I think we should count people who live in less-dramatic states such as Delaware, but would have moved to Florida and registered if they had known how exciting this election was going to be.
Why should these people be disenfranchised? We can discern their intentions, with the help of out-of-state lawyers!
So I believe that recounts, in principle, are a swell idea. At least I did when they involved only Palm Beach and Broward counties. But I became VERY nervous when Miami-Dade County decided to recount its ballots. Because it appeared likely that the Miami-Dade recount would have been the deciding factor in the election. In other words—and if the following statement does not send a chill down your spine, then you do not have a spine—Miami-Dade would have chosen the next president.
This would not be good for America. Because if there's one thing that Miami-Dade has proven, time and again, it is this: WE DON'T KNOW HOW TO COUNT. We're the county that cheerfully paid a contractor $400,000 too much for "royal" palm trees that were more like palm shrubs. (Although I still believe these trees should be allowed to vote.) We're also the county that paid more than $1 million for road-striping work that was not, if you want to get technical about it, done, in the sense of stripes physically appearing on a road.
And Miami is of course the city that elected a mayor (at least temporarily) with the help of votes cast by, among others, Manuel Yip, who, at the time of the election, turned out to have been deceased for four years.
My point is that, when it comes to keeping an accurate count of things—dollars, trees, live voters vs. dead voters, whatever—Miami-Dade has a poor track record. Not to mention the fact that our voters have probably done some REALLY weird things with their ballots ("Hey, this one has some kind of white powder on it!" "Yeah? Well THIS one has a bullet hole.")
So letting Miami-Dade recount its votes, and thus pick the next president, would have been not unlike turning the controls of a 747 over to a chimpanzee. There is no telling WHERE we'd wind up. There could be a BIG vote surge for Elián.
That's why, today, I am thankful. I'm thankful that Miami-Dade ha—incredibly—done the sane thing, and decided to stay out of this mess.
The rest of the United States (which already wishes that Florida still belonged to Spain) can blame Palm Beach and Broward for whatever happens. For once, Miami-Dade won't be the Lunatic County. We should all be thankful for that, and today, when we prepare to carve our Thanksgiving turkey, we should pause to reflect on our good fortune, and to imagine—in the true spirit of Thanksgiving—that our turkey is an out-of-state lawyer.
Party Time, Texas-Style: Even the Cows Had a Ball
Every four years, this stodgy city kicks off its wingtip shoes. Then it puts on shoes that are even less comfortable, and celebrates the inauguration of a president.
And so the federal government—as only the federal government knows how—has gone into Festivity Implementation and Facilitation Mode. Unfortunately, the weather was awful. But the rain, freezing temperatures and occasional death from exposure have not put a damper on the inauguration and its upbeat theme: "We're Cold, And We're Wet."
From the Hardcover edition.