Whether the polls are greased or not, they tell us to call the firemen. Whether the results are doctored, nursed or orderly, they want us to run to the emergency room. Sound the alarums, let loose the dogs of war. Alas and alack and forsooth, not to mention begorrah. Bush HQ is fit to be tied; they cry that their opponent is unfit to be tied, he must campaign trailing.
Wherefore the hysteria?
In the race for the Presidency between Bush and Anyone-But, Mr. A-B seems to have made gains. This in the all-important category of likely-voters-who-are-too-polite-to-hang-up-on-pollsters. Far be it from me to gainsay said gains, but I refuse to work up a sweat. To a Floridian like myself, the words “dead heat” describe a walk in the park. My prediction and predilection continue to match: forward for four more in oh-four.
Sure, for a fleeting moment after the Convention the true believers saw the bounce, heard the buzz, felt the momentum (known to political stooges as Mo) and could almost taste the champagne. There was some sense missing, which has now arrived: it is time to smell the cappuccino. It is incumbent upon the incumbent to work for his W, he cannot win recumbently.
His rash fierce blaze of riot did not last, for violent fires soon burn out themselves. Small showers last long, but sudden storms are short. He tires betimes that spurs too fast betimes. (Good stuff, eh? Nothing to shake a spear at! If I ever write a play about Richard II, I have to remember to work it in.) Just like my Mama said, love takes time. But it won’t be long before the winter of our discontent is made glorious summer by the favorite son of the New York convention. (I beg pardon of the Bard again, and Richard III.)
We pundit types have been pounding this pavement for a long time. We know the ropes and Kerry was never on them. Not yet. This general pattern always beats the rumor mill, and here it is: sitting President outpolls all the opposing primary candidates, until one wins the requisite delegates, at which point his poll numbers pull about level, then his convention bounce puts him up, the President’s convention bounce overtakes and surpasses, but a week or two later the race is suddenly close again.
This provides the drama to feed the national penchant for suspense. The media machine churns out analysis. Reporters are farmed out to plow every furrowed brow in the heartland, to keep their finger on the skittering pulse of the undecided voter. Each new speech by a candidate is strip-mined for shadings of import. TV crews cruise endlessly; the gaffer cannot afford to miss a gaffe.
Opie and Ed from the backwoods will be on the front page, while all the political deadwood turns up on the Op-Ed page. Joe Sixpack will be interviewed half-dozin’. Professors will profess to know something; confessors will profess to know nothing; both will be lying. The conservative candidate will hear his Tory friends interviewed, paid a few shillings for their time; the liberal candidate will have historians shilling.
And always pollsters. These glorified telemarketers tell us what we think, why we think it and what thinking it tells us about ourselves. They know this because they hire a few college students to ask us convoluted questions between the appetizer and the entrée, with our teenage daughter whining in one ear and the baby’s diaper percolating in our nostrils.
Not to forget the political consultants. The ones hired by campaigns are out beating the drums for their guy, spinning gold out of his every utterance, while the jilted ones, insulted about not being consulted, alternate between auditioning for gigs and settling old scores. With luck, perhaps James Carville will be a tad quietened this season by the defection of his closest client, Zell Miller.
For anchors, away time. For stringers, a high-strung existence. For free-lancers, a lot of checking in the mail. For cub reporters, time to bear down. For cameramen, a great angle. For talk show hosts, much to be guessed. For guests in the green room, much envy. For the ladies in Research, lots of second glances. For the old guy at the microfiche machine, a lot of fins.
Yes, these are the players in the quadrennial political Olympics. They carry the torch of our freedom and use it to keep the earth nice and scorched. They will not be denied their day in courtside. Neither war nor incumbency nor popularity will keep them from their appointed duties.
They will be sure to tell us every four years without fail that it is neck-and-neck, touch-and-go, nip-and-tuck, down to the wire, a photo finish, and last but not least, “too close to call” — the phrase everywhere employed a day before Reagan’s 1980 landslide. But when the gun is fired this year to start the race, look for it to be a repeater, not a revolver.