November 27, 2000
Accountant Discounts County Recount Countdown
I know, I know, you've been awaiting my commentary on the incredible U.S. Presidential election with baited breath. (Why you insist on eating worms is another question altogether.) There is a good reason why I've hesitated to toss my thoughts onto the mounting scrap heap of political commentary: Everything has already been said.
I'm not kidding. If you know what a political junkie I am, you know that I've been reading and watching and listening and engorging myself on this election for months, and the past three weeks have been a non-stop pig out. During this time, across countless cable TV channels, radio talk shows, newspapers, magazines, and web sites, I have come to the conclusion that every possible combination of nouns, verbs, and adjectives has already been employed to describe the mind-boggling events that began on November 7, 2000. Including these. Yes, somebody somewhere has already commented on the fact that all possible statements about the election have already been made. Somebody has even commented on the fact that somebody has already commented on the fact . . .
(I guess if I keep it up long enough, I'll get to the front of the line.)
Some of the ideas that I thought were my own, but have since been usurped in one manner or another by various other commentators, include:
- We thought the Chinese were trying to influence our political system; who knew the election would eventually be decided by Chad?
- This should be known as the Great Coin Toss election. The candidates should meet in St. Louis and flip a giant Penny off the Arch. Bush would probably blurt out "Heads I win, Tails you lose" as it spins in the air; Gore would then seek an injunction to stop the coin in mid-flip.
- Statisticians have gained well-deserved notice during all the vote-counting scenarios. The networks are constantly bringing on some professor from MIT to report that his in-depth analysis shows that Gore would gain 268 more votes if they were counted by dimpled guys named Chad. Sadly, the collective IQ of the interviewers is too low to allow them to point out that (1) these "statisticians" are performing mathematical calculations of the sophistication of Third Grade arithmetic; and (2) they still never get it right.
- Bush is a jerk.
To be truthful, I still haven't seen anyone else point out the amazing timing of the release of the movie "Charlie's Angels," which has a goofy character named Chad, who refers to himself as "The Chad". But I probably just missed that. Or are our multitudes of commentators too busy to go to the movies, or maybe they're above seeing Charlie's Angels? Sure.
Of course, I'm hardly the only one who's essentially echoing other people's words. That's what nearly everyone has been doing, with increasing frequency, for three weeks. I find it the height of arrogance whenever one of those political talking heads comes on the screen, and begins his/her statement with the words "I think". What follows is invariably a word-for-word repetition of somebody else's statements from two hours ago, on another channel. This goes triple for the campaign handlers and spinners, who barely even make an effort to conceal the rehearsed and orchestrated one-liners that they all parrot in front of whatever media sticks a mike in their faces.
You know, as much as this situation has been dissected to death, there's really only so much that can be said about it. Out of curiosity, I looked up an old U.S. History book on the last major disputed and controversial election, in 1876. The shameless heist of that contest by Rutherford B. Hayes merited precisely 46 words, in a volume which only covered through the end of World War II. With all the hand waving and frothing at the mouth of the commentators about this year's election, our great-grandchildren will probably have to learn maybe two sentences about it:
Q23: In the year 2000, which state's votes were the subject of a dispute which temporarily postponed the naming of the winner in the Presidential election?
Q34: Name the other parent-child Presidents besides John Adams and John Quincy Adams?
a) Benjamin Harrison and William Henry Harrison
b) Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt
c) George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush
d) Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton
Nevertheless, we have seen the devouring of countless thesauruses (thesauri?) this month, as each wordsmith searches for ever newer and more pristine words to describe the unprecedented, um, incomprehensible, um, unfathomable awesomeness of this political melodrama. By no accident did I settle on "incredible" as my chosen adjective in the first sentence of this piece. This is a word that I try very hard never to use, especially in writing, for the simple fact that it is probably the most overemployed and therefore dilluted and meaningless superlative in the entire English language. "Incredible" is supposed to mean "beyond human ability to believe"; we hear it 82 times per day, as in "An incredible savings of more than fifty-two cents" and "He has incredible eyebrows". I chose to use the word this once because everyone else has long since moved way beyond "incredible" with regard to the election, leaving it all alone for the taking, in the one instance where it might actually literally apply.
So, where do we go from here? I guess it depends what minute this is, since the scenes in the melodrama change so rapidly. Let's not ask where the legal battles and propaganda wars and political fortunes will end up; somebody will be sure to tell us that any moment now. What about the other question, where do we go after this is over? People are saying that, whoever wins, this will be a tainted Presidency, and four years from now it will still be on the Country's mind. Sure. Take a poll and ask how many Americans even remember who ran against Bill Clinton in 1996. See if we cross the 60% threshold. In a few months' time, this gripping political soap opera will be as Old News as Elian Gonzalez, Monica Lewinsky, O.J. Simpson, and Walter Turnbuckle. (See? Even you forgot about that one, didn't you . . . ?)
Only now, the hyper media will be in for an even worse hangover. With the Election that Wouldn't Die finally off the front pages, with no Impeachment or Y2K or other Big Event to anticipate in the foreseeable future, and with the country basically content, the news junkies and especially the talking heads themselves will be at risk of imploding. I can see it now:
"Third Television Reporter Implodes on Live TV. A Special Breaking News MSNBCNNFN Report: The Cleanup"
Remember, you heard it here second.
Recent ramblings: Today
Illegal Elian (4/17/00) Antitrust ain't trusty (6/7/00) Tales of Sri Lanka (11/1/00) By now, I'm sure you're all anxiously wondering what is my opinion on the moving and controversial case of little Elian Gonzalez, the refugee Cuban boy who's the subject of the most publicized custody battle since Oedipus. Well, it seems we must now urgently deal with this silly Microsoft situation.First, the most significant and obvious question: What the heck was Bill Gates thinking when he came up with that name for his company? I've just returned from 16 days in Sri Lanka, the country known as the Teardrop of India, which gave us Ceylon tea and the word Serendipity, and whose capital is named after a famous 1970s TV detective ("Colombo", although they briefly considered "Kojak").
(Click Elsewhen for the complete list)
© 2000 David N. Townsend
The Beanstalk grows out of my head, so to speak, but I welcome
any seeds that readers may wish to plant. Just as long as you don't use
too much fertilizer. Send me your comments, ideas, drool, at
and I'll occasionally respond to, publish, or otherwise dispose of them.
Need more? In addition to the rich and growing archives of this column,
you might want to visit The Site itself, and any of my other collections, on
Communication, Baseball, Rock 'n' Roll, or Travel.