Tuesday, November 14, 2000

The worst race money could buy

        My aunties, who qualify for Social Security benefits but would prefer not to be called senior citizens, think what happened in Florida is God's way of saying neither candidate is good enough to be president.

        They are only kidding. But they seriously thought both “boys” seemed a lot alike. “Without much starch,” is how one auntie put it.

        This is untested theory. Not nearly as scientific as, for instance, hiring an expert to tell you how to dress. Or hiring pollsters to determine which issues are of most interest to voters.

        Demographics. Focus groups. Spin. Al kissed Tipper. W kissed Oprah. They both kissed up to David Letterman and Jay Leno.

        Voters were sliced and diced and dissected. You got the 30-second sound bite you were most likely to want to hear. If you were an undecided voter in a state with a bunch of electoral votes, the candidates probably knew exactly what you like for breakfast.

        And, by gosh, they would get it for you.

Nationwide spin
               Hundreds of millions of dollars were used to market candidates for the highest office in the land as if they were a couple of fast-food burgers.

        Ohio prefers mustard. Hold the catsup.

        Wisconsin is cheese country. Hey, our candidate never met a curd he didn't like.

        Florida will decide the election. Oh, in that case our candidate likes aged cheese.

        During the final days of the campaign, candidates bounced frantically from one contested state to another.

        Telephone banks. Surveys. Pockets of undecided voters. Neither candidate could afford to make a mistake. But they could afford everything else. TV time. Airplanes. Focus groups. Political strategists. Consultants.


        And in the end, they spent themselves into a dead heat.

        Didn't you suspect when you saw Al Gore playing touch football with his family after the election that his advisers said he should look relaxed for the photo op?

        And when George W. Bush spent the day after the election putting his transition team in place, didn't you believe that he'd been told to act presidential?

        In fact, did you see a single moment in the weeks before the election that you suspected was natural? Unscripted? Unresearched?

        Every story about both candidates is peppered with phrases such as “Bush and his advisers” and “Gore's political analysts.” And now, of course, “team of legal advisers.”

Sales campaign
               After the ultimate, scientific sales campaign, our country is divided between Pepsi and Coke, two nice, bland beverages with few distinguishing characteristics. Reformulated to suit the taste of consumers.

        This is not a fluke. If the money continues to roll in the way it did this campaign, we can expect the same thing four years from now.

        Hillary Clinton, who helped turn the White House into a Motel 6, says the problem is the Electoral College. Congress will chew on this for a while.

        Blaming a method of electing presidents that has worked for more than 200 years is a lot easier than talking about campaign finance reform. Real reform would mean no more big donors “investing” in candidates. Maybe there wouldn't be enough money for “teams of consultants.” It will take a lot of thought.

        And starch.

        E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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