Sunday, November 26, 2000

Sore losers

For all the marbles

        Before Giga Pets begat Beanie Babies and Beanie Babies begat Pokemon, recess was ruled by a small glass sphere. In the beginning, there were marbles.

        There were catseyes, steelies, clearies, peewees and boulders. The idea was to chase your opponent around the playground, flicking your marble to click it against someone else's marble and add it to your collection.

        The rules were as intricate as a tax code, and the marble economy was as fickle as Wall Street. Some days your marble pouch swelled like a punching bag; other days, you were down to your last lucky calico. But no matter how many marbles you lost, you did not lose your honor by lying, cheating or whining.

        And then some kid would come along and ruin everything by running to the teacher to get back his marbles. She'd storm out to the playground, outlaw marble playing and seize all the marbles from everyone. And the crybaby who tattled would smirk and stick close to the teacher when recess rolled around.

        I think his name was Al Gore.

        I'm pretty sure the teacher became a member of the Florida Supreme Court.

        And Mark Herron, the Tallahassee lawyer hired by Mr. Gore, who wrote a five-page memo telling Democrats how to invalidate military ballots from overseas — he sounds like the kid who took marbles from other kids' desks.

        His memo explains how votes from soldiers and sailors can be canceled by challenging their signatures, postmarks and witnesses. Meanwhile, Mr. Gore sanctimoniously insisted that “every vote must be counted.”

        Unless it might be a vote for George W. Bush. Then it doesn't count. But if it might be a vote for Al Gore — even by someone who nearly voted for him but stopped at the last second, overcome by nausea — those need to be counted as many times as lawyerly possible.

        And then there are the pundits and Gore campaign officials who have “Jonesed” Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. She did her job, according to the law. So they called her a crook and made fun of her mascara, resorting to the strategies of personal destruction that worked so well for Bill Clinton during the impeachment, when he sicced his piranha mouthpieces on Paula Jones.

        Those guys are the bullies who ganged up on little kids and took away their marbles on the way home from school.

        When the Florida Supreme Court jacked up the Democratic side of Florida, so that all the loose chads and stray votes would roll into Mr. Gore's pockets, I almost hoped Mr. Bush would say, “I refuse to litigate my way into the White House. I don't want a presidency that has been folded, spindled and mutilated by lawyers.”

        But then I thought of another playground lesson from a boys basketball game.

        It was flu season. The team I was coaching showed up with barely enough kids to make a team. The other team swapped jerseys to add the best players from two teams until their bench sagged with ringers. They rotated subs through a revolving door and wore our boys out, winning by a senselessly lopsided score.

        I protested. The other coach lied. The league acted like we were the bad guys for objecting. But I told my team they were the real winners because they played by the rules.

        It sounds good, but I could see the final score still on their faces. The lesson that aches is that cheaters often do prevail — and there are plenty who think like Al Gore: “I will do anything to win.”

        Maybe nobody will play marbles with Mr. Gore if he wins the White House. But the way he's fixed it, if he can't win everyone else loses.

        Peter Bronson is editorial page editor of The Enquirer. If you have questions or comments, call 768-8301, or write to 312 Elm Street, Cincinnati, Ohio 45202.


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