by Joseph P. Tartaro
For eight days now, the media has wrung every inch of space and second of time out of the mixed signals coming from the Nov. 7 presidential and congressional elections.
Of course, the overriding preoccupation has been with the race between George W. Bush and Dick Cheney on one hand and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman on the other.
The television and cable networks have even added extra programs at which more and more experts chew endlessly on the whole race and the long count in Florida. They have even given over programming time to reexamining the mistakes made by television news professionals on election night when they called many states wrong and even projected Gore the winner in Florida before the polls had all closed in that state.
Newspaper columnists, many writing for newspapers that all printed erroneous banner headlines on the presidential race, devote columns to fathoming what the American people did wrong, what the candidates did wrong, and even what journalists did wrong.
They suggest that there is a constitutional crisis at hand when they are the ones helping to create a crisis. The American people for the most part have been very forgiving of everybody, and are taking the delays in a better fashion than the media.
Journalistsespecially on TVgot it wrong because they are more worried about being first with some news than being right. They all share the same exit polling contractor. They all know the same thing at the same time.
But once the producers at one network or station decide to call a race, even when less than 1% of the real ballot count is even tallied, their competitors all jump off the same bridge. One gets the idea that news judgments arent really judgments at all.
But since the election journalists have been trying to appear as erudite as possible. In print, they might even get away with that charade. But that game is tougher on television where the anchors particularly are not really reporters or journalists, but reader-actors who give voice to words written by others. Thus the networks and cable operators have dipped into academia to unearth experts with something to say that will fill air time. There have been so many professors of government, constitutional law, election law and politics trooped before American audiences that one suspects the colleges have been temporarily shut down.
On the plus side, millions of Americans have gotten a new and closer look at a lot of the provisions of the Constitution they are used to overlooking, particularly Article II and the Twelfth Amendment.
To fill the rest of the time, and to provide grist for newspaper columns, journalists keep going to that all stand-by: the man (person) in the street interview. Actually, the interviews are not just in the street, but in restaurants, airports, bus stations, workplacesanywhere with fresh bodies.
With the exception of people like Jessie Jackson who have put their own dangerous spin on the failure to determine that their candidate won, most people interviewed are showing a reasonable patience. Yes, they want it all to end soon. But they want the final count to be a fair oneregardless of who wins.
Whoever wins, well support our new president, seems to be the most common and sensible opinion offered.
The dumbest comment, of course, is the person that says they are more worried about what the Europeans will think of the US than whether our own Constitution and laws are followed.
The Europeans are laughing at us, they suggest, as though they believe any country in Europe is truly a democratic republic on the US model.
The things that are laughable, such as the flap over the butterfly ballots and the failure of seasoned voters to figure out who they really voted for, have already been joked about and laughed at in this country. Humorous print columnists such as Dave Barry have already got a lot of good material over the fact that it was the arrows on the ballot that confused the people in Palm Beach County, FL, who arent noted for following big directional arrows when they drive. The late night talk-show hosts have also worked the election peculiarities for the amusements of Americans.
I dont worry about how Letterman and Leno use the material we hand them. But I think the only Europeans who are really laughing these days are the ones who are either defended by the United States, financed for the United States or emigrating permanently to the United States.
It is significant that we celebrate Veterans Dayformerly Armistice Dayso close to election day. Many of those veterans who have helped save Europe so many times marked both days with solemnity.
Many of them are also supporters of the whole Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment. Some of them belong to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as the National Rifle Association. Perhaps that dual membership caused them to make wrenching decisions when they cast their ballots.
But veterans were not the only ones in that fix. Many unionized workers were forced to make some tough choices this year, particularly on the presidential candidates in several battleground states.
But in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example, the gun issue was so volatile that the Gore-Lieberman team hid from their platform, their record and their campaign promises.
The NRA campaigned hard in those states. In addition to the regular NRA publications and special mailings, NRA President Charlton Heston and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre traveled repeatedly to those and other states to help get out the vote for Bush.
The Gore people had to turn the choice for union members into a pocketbook versus recreation issue. Not only did they have local union leaders telling workers that Gore was actually better than Bush on the gun rights issue, they dragged out the big guns of labor to help. In the end, Gore won of those three states.
Playing Union Card
But if you wondered why so many hunters in Michigan and Pennsylvania and their families voted for Gore, the following is the text of a worker-to-worker special bulletin sent out just days before the election to all United Auto Workers union members by Stephen P. Yokich, president of the UAW International:
A lot of electoral votes may have turned on that message.
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