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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2000 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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The shocking saga of the incredible shrinking men -- TAMPA | This has turned into the tale of the Incredible Shrinking Men.

As Al Gore and George W. Bush continue their post-election maneuvering to determine which of them will eventually become the most powerful person in the world, each seems to grow smaller by the hour. By the time one of them stands on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Inauguration Day in January, the nation may need a microscope to see him.

All that a president really has going for him is the perception of great stature. And -- because of what has been transpiring in Florida for the last two weeks -- by the time we get a president, he is likely to have all the stature of a flea.

Americans -- and the people of the world -- have been watching this. They should not be criticized if, when they gaze upon the two men still clawing to win, they find themselves filled with a feeling somewhat short of awe.

Gore is seeming increasingly like a weirdo.

He doesn't appear able to speak about the events that are unfolding here without breaking into a creepily inappropriate grin, and without throwing a way-beyond-left-field chuckle into his voice. Here is a man who is choosing to discuss with the American people one of the most serious and dramatic electoral moments in the country's history -- and certainly the most serious and dramatic moment in his own public career. Yet -- like an actor auditioning for a light comedy who has mistakenly been handed the script for a ponderous tragedy -- he emotes words of somberness and gravity while smiling and chuckling as if he is watching an old rerun of "Hee-Haw."

Last week -- when he timed a live public statement just at the moment the network evening newscasts were going on the air -- he might have intended for the nation to say to itself: Al Gore is making an announcement so important that the network news is carrying it live. Instead -- the public being smarter than Gore gives it credit for -- the nation said to itself: Oh. Look. Gore has figured out If he makes a statement now, the network newscasts will have to carry it live and unedited. How clever. How transparent.

The other Incredible Shrinking Man is doing no better.

After Gore made it onto the evening news with his statement, Bush was picked up at his ranch in Texas and was rushed back to Austin like a tardy Federal Express parcel.

His advisers propped him in front of an American flag and had him read a speech they had written for him about their -- and thus his -- position on the election situation in Florida. He read the words with all the authority of a local anchorman at a small-market television station doing his first practice runthrough of the day of news copy he has just been given.

As amiable and pleasant as Bush can be, even his supporters appear at times to value him more as a vessel for their political beliefs than as an actual human being who is prepared to be the leader of the free world. And quite apart from the question of whether, out of more than 200 million Americans, Bush is the one person who is most qualified to be president, the genuinely sobering thought is: He is not even the member of his own family who is -- today, right this minute -- most qualified to be president.

The so-called wise men -- the elder statesmen from both parties, James Baker for Bush and Warren Christopher for Gore -- came to Florida because of how large they loomed on the political landscape. Their stature, it was assumed, would transfer to the candidates for whom they spoke.

But they, too, have been done in by the Incredible Shrinking Man syndrome. They may have been big when they got here -- but by the time this is over, they will leave Florida looking like pygmies.

No one from either party says a word that is not uttered out of self-interest; you get the impression that Gore and Bush, and the people who work for them, could just as easily and persuasively argue the other side of the ballot-recount question if they thought it would benefit them. And by the time this is over, they may end up doing just that.

As a nation, we have long been told that the wisdom of the people always makes itself evident, and that in the people's collective voice there will be the right answer.

Maybe that is what has happened down here. Maybe the fact that, almost two weeks after Election Day, the United States still has no president-elect is no coincidence.

The people have spoken.

And have said that they don't want either of these guys.

Americans are feeling something short of awe.

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


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