Jewish World Review Nov. 23, 2000 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan 5761
Three little words-- and two
strange weeks in Florida
TAMPA | Matters of great and historic importance
are being decided down here.
The identity of the next president is being decided.
The nature of the election process is being
decided. The power of the courts as opposed to
the legislative branch is being decided.
So I hope it's all right to discuss a non-great, non-historic matter that is also a
part of the story in Florida -- a matter with no grand meaning, but a matter that
is annoying all the same.
It's the use -- by broadcasters, by the presidential campaigns, by attorneys --
of the phrase "on the ground."
It has been difficult to avoid this phrase in the last two weeks. A network
anchor sitting in a studio up in the Northeast will, with somber gravity, inform
his audience: "Our correspondents are on the ground in Palm Beach County
and Broward County. . . ."
Or a spokesman for one of the presidential candidates will intone at a press
briefing: "Our people on the ground in Florida are telling us. . . ."
Or an attorney for one of the candidates will announce: "We have observers
on the ground in every county. . . ."
It sounds so powerful; it sounds so stirring. "We have our people on the
ground. . . ." You almost expect to hear a military band playing in the
Which is exactly why these people keep using that phrase so much. "On the
ground" is a military phrase -- it is a phrase used in warfare. It conjures the
vision of brave people risking their very lives on battlefields far away and out
The people involved in this political dispute in Florida would like the rest of us
to believe that this is warfare, full of valor and trumpets.
But it's not. You can have your people "on the ground" in Kosovo, but you
shouldn't diminish that phrase by using it to describe a lawyer who's sitting in a
hotel suite in Miami Beach. The soldiers at the Battle of the Bulge could
properly have been described in dispatches sent back to the U.S. as being "on
the ground" there, but it's sort of silly to use the phrase to talk about a
Democratic party functionary with a room at the Marriott and a Hertz rental
car earning him airline bonus miles.
As I said -- this "on the ground" matter is no big deal. But it is symptomatic of
what seems to have gone so wrong down here during the two weeks since
The career political professionals -- campaign executives, government officials,
party attorneys, pundits who make their livings analyzing what the political
class does -- have taken over, and have just about totally removed the people
of the United States -- the ones who vote for president -- from this whole
thing. The political professionals sensed immediately -- they could smell it --
that this could become their Eternal Super Bowl. Their dream has always been
of a campaign that never ends -- a campaign they can stay on forever. Such
perpetual campaigns don't happen.
The cable channels have been filled with "panels" of people whom, if you
found yourself sitting on a bench next to them in a bus station, you would
quickly move away from. Some of these men and women are so odd and
repellent -- shouting, calling names, making shrill accusations -- that people
have undoubtedly been moving away from them at every stage of their lives: on
elementary school playgrounds, in high school study halls, in college cafeterias,
on commuter trains in the adult world.
But, thanks to the marvels of modern communications, people you would not
choose to spend a minute with if they started gesticulating at you on a street
corner -- hideous people from whom you would reflexively flee -- are
delivered into your own home every day and every night, even if your doors
are locked and double-bolted.
So has anyone conducted themselves well in these dramatic days? If the
campaigns haven't, and the political operatives haven't, and the lawyers
haven't, and the cable careerists haven't, has anyone behaved admirably?
The public has.
The public waits patiently for a definitive answer about who will lead us for the
next four years. The public understands that all of the players in this story, in
the end, work for them. The public quietly knows that it is in charge -- and that
it will make certain all of this turns out all right.
The public seems steady and perceptive and quite well grounded.
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
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