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Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 2000 / 10 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The wave of the future -- SOMETHING of towering importance was at stake on Election Day --- something that only one man could walk away with.

These words were written before the polls closed. By the time you read these words, Al Gore or George W. Bush might have won the right to this thing I refer to. The other man will have lost all claim to it.

Up until Election Day, both Gore and Bush could get away with doing it. They both knew that after Election Day, one of the two would not be able to do it any longer.

I refer to waving from airplane doors.

It's the one thing the president of the United States gets to do that virtually no one else in the country does --- at least no one who doesn't want to be snickered at.

Once every four years, the right to wave from airplane doors is expanded to two people -- the two major party candidates for president. (The vice presidential candidates can try to do it, too, but it's just not the same.)

But as soon as the ballots are counted, the plane-door-waving privilege goes back to one person: the winner.

You might assume that much more was at stake yesterday --- that the man elected to the presidency would win any number of things that no one else can have.


It really just comes down to waving from the airplane door.

Think about it.


The president is a piker, in terms of his salary. A starting player on any National Basketball Association team is likely to make much more money during one season than a two-term president makes over the course of eight years.

A fabulous place to live?

The White House is basically public housing --- nice, but it doesn't belong to the tenant. And how would you like to live in a place that lets reporters hang around the first floor 24 hours a day, just trying to come up with bad things to say about you?


Maybe at one point in the nation's social history the president of the United States could go to sleep at night secure in the knowledge that he is basking in the respect of his countrymen and countrywomen. But that was before late-night comedians, cable-television shouters and op-ed snipers turned mocking the president -- any president -- into a cottage industry. These days, when a president is sworn in on the steps of the Capitol, he kisses the idea of respect goodbye.

NoÉthe one thing a president gets to do that no one else can get away with is that airplane wave. Climbing onto a plane, walking off a plane --- the president gets to pause for that delicious moment and wave madly to the people down on the ground and off in the distance.

No one else, regardless of his or her station in life, can pull this off. The president of General Motors or of IBM may be a powerful person -- but if he stopped in an open airplane door and started waving wildly, he might be taken into custody by airport security guards. Rock stars and movie stars, no matter how popular, don't wave from airplane doors -- it would not be considered cool, and it would make them seem too frantically needy of affection. Grandmas can do it -- but it's hardly the same thing. Different wave -- too specific an intended audience.

And chances are, unless the grandma is on a little commuter plane, her grandchildren can't even see her. Jets use jetways -- those hydraulically operated passenger tunnels that connect the planes to the terminal building. They hide any waves from the people inside the airport.

Only Air Force One -- and, during an election year, the campaign planes -- allows a person to wave to his heart's content. Gore and Bush both have been doing it for all these months -- they seemed to be in love with the very idea of it. It's the one moment they could exult in the specialness of what they have achieved. They stood in that airplane door, and they wavedÉand no one thought it was odd.

Today, if one of them were to try it -- the one who got the fewer votes -- not only would the waving seem odd, it would seem silly. For that man, only one more wave will be allowed: the final wave goodbye.

For the other? What awaits that man -- the winner -- is four long years of airplane-door waves. There are certain to be days when it seems like the only good part of the job.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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