Jewish World Review Nov. 4, 2004 / 20 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Zev Chafets

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What a great show | This has been one of the greatest election campaigns of modern times. And one of the most grandly entertaining.

If it had been a boxing match, it would have been Ali-Frazier III, the Thrilla in Manila - two heavyweights going at it toe-to-toe, right down to the bell, with the championship of the world on the line.

Nobody danced. Nobody ducked. Both candidates threw straight punches. President Bush came out for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage; John Kerry disagreed. Bush said he'd appoint conservative Supreme Court justices; Kerry said his would be pro-choice. Bush praised his tax cut; Kerry condemned it.

Bush called Iraq a central theater in the war on terror; Kerry called it a distraction. Bush lauded his coalition; Kerry scoffed at it. Bush described Prime Minister Iyad Allawi of Iraq as a hero; Kerry derided him as a U.S. puppet.

Bush made it clear that he considers America the world's sole good-guy superpower; Kerry made it equally clear that U.S. power must be constrained by alliances and must pass global tests.

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Bush portrayed the current effort as the moral and strategic equivalent of World War II or the Cold War; Kerry responded by comparing it to the war on drugs, a struggle that should be waged mostly with the tools of law enforcement.

Bush-Gore in 2000 was a Seinfeld election, a contest over nothing. Bush-Kerry has sometimes been a battle over the biggest of big issues - the nature of human life and the limits of personal liberty at home; the proper role of American values and power in the world.

It takes nothing from the seriousness of these differences to add that the campaign has also been grandly entertaining, a drama built on unforgettable moments and absurdly vivid characters.

What dramatist, for example, would have invented Teresa Heinz Kerry, the African-born billionaire ketchup heiress, and cast her as a candidate's wife? Or cast a mysterious, Esperanto-speaking international currency speculator like George Soros as the Democratic sugar daddy. Or dreamed up a Republican action hero like Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Who will forget Dick Cheney's defending his daughter's right to be a lesbian? Or Zell Miller challenging a journalist to a duel on national TV? Or Al Sharpton, Democratic powerbroker, doing the James Brown on "Saturday Night Live"? Or Dan Rather's "fake but accurate" defense of his attempt to pass off forged documents on "60 Minutes"?

Who'd have imagined a year ago that the election could be influenced by John O'Neill, Kerry's implacable nemesis from the swamps of Vietnam? Or by a Michael Moore movie? Or by the political exertions of P. Diddy and the Dixie Chicks?

The simple truth is that this campaign has been stranger than fiction and twice as much fun. Now, fittingly, it is coming down to a photo finish. In 2000, nobody expected high drama on Election Night. This time, no one expects anything else.

Great issues evoke strong emotions. So does grand drama.

Some people find this disconcerting. They fear that America will break apart into permanently warring camps.

They can relax. America is unbreakable. It is too big, too rich, too calm and too well built for civil war. States' rights and federal checks and balances will keep domestic conflicts from boiling over. And as long as the jihad against America goes on, the next president will do what a president has to do - fight, whether the United Nations likes it or not.

Despite their stark differences of policy and style, George Bush and John Kerry are both well within the American consensus. Neither would be a disaster. Like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, they've fought hard and fair and put on a hell of a show along the way. They deserve respect for that. May the best man win.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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