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The Losers


And then there is the growing lack of interest in politics on the part of the media -- just at the moment when there is no politics except through the media. Politics has become a story that no one, beyond a cadre of specialized reporters, wants to do anymore. At a luncheon a few weeks ago of Time's campaign staff, Time's editor Walter Isaacson characterized the magazine's approach to the campaign as "biographical" (other organizations also took this route; the New York Times, in fact, seems to have run the same extended "Journey From Carthage"- or "Yale to Midland"-type bios repeatedly throughout the campaign). This is an approach the media takes when an event loses its essential narrative appeal. We've given up on the real story -- indeed, there may not be a real story; it may just be this disengaged, repetitive, P.R. stuff. (The Olympics is another difficult story line made user-friendly by the "biographical" approach.) In part, the emphasis on the personal rather than the political is Clintonian -- he made us charm junkies. But this becomes a big problem when your next set of characters is charmless.

There is, too, the Nader factor. He or his equivalent should now be built into any campaign. You have to calculate not only your opponent but your spoiler -- your oddball (someone, after all, has to speak for the oddball bloc, which is nearly a formal segment of the electorate). Such spoilers in close races don't even have to be all that successful as spoilers -- Nader, as spoilers go, is not very successful -- to undermine someone else.

So really, who would spend a sleepless few years and a couple of hundred million dollars on this? It's no longer a reasonable endeavor. It ends in tears for all.

Still, let me assume landslide George becomes the president, if not exactly the winner of the election. I have had the experience of waking up to a Republican morning on several keenly dispiriting occasions. In these instances, you feel yourself suddenly relegated from American participant to witness or bystander. The moment, having been seized by other forces and interests, moves in another direction, away from you.

But this time does not feel anything like that.

I have no idea whether Bush's (or, for that matter, Gore's) obvious inability to seize the day is, in the end, good news or bad.

It fits, though. It's in character -- the Bush (or Gore) character and the character of modern politics.

Clearly what we are now experiencing is a speeded-up version of a trend that has been in progress for some time -- a downgrading of the centrality and importance and meaning of the presidency and politics in general in American life (although there will be, briefly, a kind of O.J. spike of interest in politics and the presidency). Wiener as president, without benefit of real victory, believable pomp, or man-behind-the-curtain illusion, definitely has the virtue of reflecting the truth.

On the other hand, Al may well hire a bunch of tough-guy takeover lawyers. That would have the virtue of realism, too.



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