Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2000 / 17 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
The glorious mess that has come our
THERE WAS a moment during the
delirious week just past -- this was the moment
when the margin of Florida votes between
George W. Bush and Al Gore had shrunk to, I
believe, 327. . . .
It was at that precise moment in the history of
our republic that the thought occurred:
Three-hundred-twenty-seven people in Florida? That's the margin that could
determine who is president of the United States?
There are Saturday nights when 327 people are standing in line trying to get a
table at Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach.
There are Sunday afternoons when 327 people are waiting to go on the
Space Mountain ride at Walt Disney World in Orlando.
There are any number of balmy Florida days when 327 people are sprawled
on the sand in front of a single hotel in Ft. Lauderdale or Naples or Siesta
Three-hundred-twenty-seven people in Florida?
Three-hundred-twenty-seven drunken people at a time routinely mass in front
of one bartender during race week in Daytona Beach.
Three-hundred-twenty-seven people at once are almost always waiting for
their suitcases in the baggage claim area at the airport in Tampa.
Three-hundred-twenty-seven people at a given moment are seemingly waiting
to get in or out of the parking lot at just about any Winn-Dixie grocery store
in the state.
There are those who have observed the political events of the week just past
and who have reached the conclusion that the events represent a mess.
There are those who have observed the same events and who have reached
the conclusion that the events represent the glory of the American experience.
So which is it -- a mess, or glory?
It's both -- it is a glorious mess.
And it's something that none of us will ever forget.
It makes us think -- in a way somehow not approached by anything that
came before in the presidential campaign -- that this really is about two guys:
two flesh-and-bone men who, even when surrounded by advisers and
attorneys and family members, seem suddenly just about as alone and
isolated in the world as two public figures have ever appeared.
Yet at the same time it makes us understand that this is not about two men at
all. Theirs are the names and the photographs that will go into school
textbooks for centuries to come -- but if on that level what is now occurring is
all about them, on an arguably more profound level it has nothing to do with
The glorious mess is -- who would have thought it? -- refreshing. Renewing.
Why? Because for so long the political process has seemed to be inching
away from the actual citizens of the United States, even as it has continuously
given lip service to those citizens. The presidential campaigns have begun to
seem like incestuous, exclusionary dances, minutely choreographed by the
elected officials and the political operatives and the news media for their own
mirrors-facing-mirrors amusement; the citizens are told from afar about the
"war rooms" and the "spin process" as if national politics is some arch and
never-ending parlor game played by those who need a membership card to
be admitted -- a parlor game that doesn't necessarily include the regular
citizens of the United States. The citizens are often referred to, by the
professional political class, with the condescending phrase "real people," as if
those men and women -- citizens -- who aren't included in the professionals'
parlor game belong to some rustic and unknowing tribe that must be tracked
down in the endless American forest that lies between the District of
Columbia and Los Angeles.
How invigorating, then, to watch the political professionals in recent days as
they -- along with the rest of us -- confront the possibility that no one knows
the way out of this one. That cleverness and studied sophistication will not
suffice -- that in days like the ones we are living through, we truly do begin to
understand that the constitutional system of government under which we live
is bigger than any of us -- bigger than Bush, bigger than Gore, bigger than the
men and women who work for them and report on them.
The two men are the focus, of course; everywhere you go in this country
during these special days and nights, you look at the people around you -- in
airport corridors, on city streets, in restaurants -- and you know that virtually
all of the people have spent at least part of their days thinking about the two
men, knowing that before long one of the men will be the person to lead all of
Three-hundred-twenty-seven votes in Florida. During that one instant during
the week just past, as the votes were being counted and counted again, that is
what the potential direction of America came down to: 327 decisions out of
almost 100 million votes.
It changes every hour, and you sense that moments like these may never
happen again -- and for all the uncertainty of these moments, you begin to
savor them, because the very uncertainty of it all is a reminder of something
we sometimes come close to forgetting:
Democracy is not supposed to be easy. Freedom does not come with a map.
It's the beauty of our nation -- the glory of the
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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