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Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2000 / 24 Mar-Cheshvan 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Did you hear the one about the farmer's daughter in Florida? -- TAMPA | At some point during the next few weeks -- when all of this is finally over -- the people of Florida are suddenly going to come to a depressing realization:

So this is what it feels like to be New Hampshire.

Not New Hampshire as that tiny New England state regards itself once every four years during the excitement of the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.

But New Hampshire as it feels the morning after the primary -- New Hampshire as it feels on the day the politicians, the political operatives, the pollsters and the reporters hurriedly pack their bags and flee the state.

Florida -- like New Hampshire -- is going have the urge to call out: Hey! Wait a minute! I thought you loved me!

And it will be answered only by the sight of the rapidly disappearing backs of the people who have been professing their ardor and deep devotion for the state, as those people scurry away without a glance over their shoulders.

What the citizens of New Hampshire have known for years (and what the citizens of Florida are about to find out) is what it is like to be obsessively slobbered over by sincere-eyed, booming-voiced politicians endlessly proclaiming great affection for and fascination with the people and traditions of the state -- politicians who will stop talking, turn on their heels and abruptly depart as soon as they get what they want.

During the last two weeks, the events that have been transpiring down here have been painstakingly analyzed in terms of complex political formulations, of socioeconomic data, of gradations along history's infinite continuum.

But really it's all much simpler than that.

What has been going on in Florida is just a variation of all those old jokes about the traveling salesman and the farmer's daughter.

The farmer's daughter -- the state of Florida -- is told so often how pretty and desirable she is that she begins to believe this is the real thing: true love.

The traveling salesman -- in this case, traveling salesmen: the presidential candidates, their advisers, their attorneys, the reporters and broadcasters who cover them -- proclaim their attraction for the farmer's daughter not because they really find her beautiful, or even very interesting. They lavish their attention on her because they happen to be in the area, and she's the only one around.

Oh, how they have all seemed to be captivated by every part of her, every inch of her. They have spent hours speaking with her about things no one ever thought to ask her before: They have talked with her about the quirks of Volusia County, and about the idiosyncrasies of Palm Beach voting machines, and about the makeup of her courthouse majorities and the predilections of her secretary of state and the little holes in her paper ballots.

They have fixated on her so continuously, with so much passion -- day and night -- that it is probably going to come as a shock to her when they leave without even sharing a final cup of coffee.

And that is when Florida -- the farmer's daughter -- is going to realize what it should have known all along: that the only reason all these people were here was out of complete and selfish self-interest. That if the vote in Florida had not been so close, and the vote in Pennsylvania, or Michigan, had been excruciatingly tight, the traveling salesman would have been in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, in Detroit or Grand Rapids, instead of down here for the last two weeks. Seducing, sweet-talking, sending flowers, making dinner dates -- the traveling salesman is assigned his territory, and he has no more say over that than the farmer's daughter does over where she was born.

New Hampshire -- the ultimate farmer's daughter -- never seems to learn. Every four years she is made to feel anew like she is the most attractive and desirable person who has ever been lucky enough to be alive; every four years she is told just how unique and wonderful she is. And every four years, she awakens one cold morning to discover once again that the traveling salesman has moved on, and is already doing his sweet-talking in the place where the next primary is scheduled.

Now it's Florida's turn. Soon enough all of this will be over down here, and Florida will understand once and for all that -- behind all the lovely words -- the traveling salesman was interested in only one thing:

Her votes.

They will depart as soon as they get what they want.

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


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