Tomorrow evening it will all be over. The elections that is, and over if the election officials of Broward and Miami-Dade Counties in Florida can get their newfangled, hi-tech voting machines to work properly and the reading-challenged voters of those precincts don’t press the screen for Jeb Bush when they mean to vote for Al Gore or whomever the Democrats are running this year.
Last week the frequency of radio and television ads nearly crowded out all other messages. By tomorrow, we will have blessed relief from their claims and cross-claims and be back to the normal fare of acid reflux remedies, look-alike cars from various manufacturers speeding across the salt flats, and Di-Tech mortgage commercials.
Having been involved in and watched election campaigns for several decades now, I see some patterns as immutable as the tides. Among them:
• After tomorrow night a lot of candidates will Get to Spend More Time with Their Families. This, after all, is the oft-stated wish of political losers.
• No new real issues surface during the final week of a campaign. The candidates try to repackage their earlier charges about their opponents to make them seem fresh. They never are.
• A late and unexpected turn of events can affect the results. No one could have predicted that following the untimely death of Senator Paul Wellstone the Democrats would stage a full-scale political rally when a memorial service had been scheduled. The backlash in Minnesota cut Walter Mondale’s several-point lead to a statistical tie with Norm Coleman, the Republican.
• Candidates will try almost anything to rouse their core voters and get media attention the final week. Consider the case of Shannon O’Brien, the Democrats’ candidate for governor of Massachusetts. In their final debate, Republican Mitt Romney said some of her statements had been “unbecoming” (my dictionary says, “unsuitable; improper”). He meant “rude.” She seized on this as “sexist,” asserting afterward that he would not have used the word had he been referring to a man. Apparently, she’s never heard the military phrase, “Conduct unbecoming an officer …” Teapots have had bigger tempests.
• Candidates shun the first-person singular, always referring to themselves as “we,” as in “In the last week we have closed the gap and are within striking distant of our opponent.”
• The candidate who is ahead in a poll quietly sighs in relief; the one who is behind issues a press release asserting that polls don’t mean anything, and even if they did this one was flawed.
• Candidates are fond of the unconditional conditional. Example: Q. Do you think your opponent should support your party’s plan for prescription drug benefits for seniors? A. I would hope so. We are never told when or under what circumstances he or she would hope.
• There is a certain rigid verbal protocol to campaign ad messages. Farms are always “family” farms. Dad, Mom and the kids all share the chores. All businesses are “small” — except the evil ones from which Republicans take contributions (Democrats do, too, but manage to never let on that they do). Seniors are always “deserving” of whatever it is the candidate is proposing to give them.
• Campaign events have a protocol, too. Candidates are always “delighted” to be wherever they are while privately wishing they were home, shoes kicked off and a whiskey-and-water in hand. The person presiding at the event is always “My good friend …” when the candidate scarcely knows him or her.
• Candidate finance committees go into overdrive during the final 10 days of a campaign. They assure you that without a contribution from you (or another one, if you’ve already given), the opponent will surely win, thus hastening the demise of civilization as we know it.
• Reporters live in the Land of Could and endlessly ponder what could happen if this or that election upset were to occur (few do). They loves gaffes (“gaffe” is a French noun meaning “a blunder, howler”) to break the tedium of hearing the candidate they are covering give the same “stump” speech eight or 10 times a day. Occasionally, a candidate will say something truly stupid, usually in answer to a news conference question or a voter’s question in a “town meeting.” Town meetings, by the way, are carefully staged so that only the candidate’s supporters get tickets.
• Democrats pray for sunshine on election day (and like the idea of registering people at the polls); Republicans pray for rain (and think you ought to go to the county court house several weeks in advance to register).
• Think tank pundits, pollsters and television talking heads hope you will forget all their incorrect projections and predictions (you will).
So, tomorrow, pray for rain. In the evening, curl up by the television with, say, a dry martini to sip while watching the television talkers affect surprise, authority, resignation as the results dribble in.
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