What's our level of concern that a presidential election has been stolen? At the moment, I don't think it's very high.
This could be because we consider the presidency something of relatively circumscribed value -- so we're looking at a petty larceny.
Or because we tend to think of the politicians and the presidency as occupying a parallel world -- Mafia dons and capos dispatching one another in a turf war. Nobody gets hurt who doesn't deserve to get hurt. (Maureen Dowd continues to refer to the Bushes as the Wasp Corleones.)
Or because, given that these are strange, aggrieved, unattractive people who, on a nightly basis, are so full of passionate intensity, we, in order not to be associated with such characters, must withdraw.
The people on television and in court -- and who is unfamiliar with this level of rancor? Who hasn't been around a divorce? -- have come to reflect an emotional irreality that any sort of disinterested and rational person has to shun.
So it becomes nearly impossible to hold on to the core facts: The one guy who has lost the general election by 350,000 votes, a margin larger than JFK's (and climbing daily), has claimed (the claiming part is important) victory on the basis of being 500 votes up in a state where tens of thousands of votes, at the very least, have been discarded, and which his brother controls.
But then that guy says in fact it's the other guy who's trying to steal it! That is, the second guy, who is trying to take it from the first guy even if the first guy stole it from the get-go, is a thief, too (or would be a thief if he could figure out how to steal). Well, this is probably halfway true. Still -- there are subtleties that shouldn't be overlooked. Like the brother.
There's even a Republican sense that the tougher you are, the more respect you get -- it's sports stuff. This is being played by and for the professionals.
This confusion is part of the narration problem. To a large degree, we've eliminated the narrator. For 500 votes, you get to tell the tale. Or we're dependent on television dodos who, because they have too much time to fill or because they just can't cope with unscripted stuff, are highly unreliable narrators. As in the Clinton impeachment, every single blowhard who has gotten on the air has been wrong about basically everything (the law of reversals that governed the main campaign still holds for the interregnum phase; while we are told that Gore is toast, we all know to stay tuned). Whose voice are you comfortable with here? Who do you turn to? Zip. Nada. Fuhgeddaboutit.
Nobody can be trusted. Nobody is able to offer credible interpretations of motives (partly because their own are so suspect); no reasonably objective person has the will or the authority to dispute the claims of one side or another; and surely, none of the principals is able or willing to say anything that any sensible person thinks is even moderately genuine. (You get a taste of how Communism lasted for 60 years.)
Our unwillingness to accept -- even listen to -- any side of the story is a form of resistance that is also called, in New York Times editorial-page terms, the legitimacy issue: Will this new Bush administration have the professional respect and general support to move its agenda forward? Well, gosh. Let me think.
Indeed, what invariably emerges out of the information swamp is a fractured, or alternative, or even conspiratorial view of American public life.
Is it possible, for instance, that George W. has fallen off the wagon? That's why he spends all that time out at that remote ranch, and why he looks so addled and walleyed: He's plastered? Who says that was a boil on his face? Who has a boil? That's the mark of a falling-down drunk. Granted, my hypothesis is based only on the fact that the notion fits so perfectly with the story as so far told. Why didn't anyone ever pursue the drinking thing? Okay, he says, he stopped drinking. Has he ever had a drink since? How often has he driven while drunk? Does he consider himself an alcoholic? Aren't we mildly curious?
Politicians get the rumors they deserve.
The odd couple of Lucianne Goldberg and Ron Rosenbaum recently sniffed at (and helped smuggle into print) the rumor about Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris.
I first heard the rumor from someone at Talk magazine -- now, it is possible, since after the Talk Election Night party at Elaine's, a group adjourned to Bill and Hillary's suite at the Grand Hyatt, that Bill or Hill started the rumor. Then I heard it confirmed by the former wife of a big-time political consultant who heard it from her junior-high daughter when she came back from a visit with her father. (So take that to the libel lawyers!)
Lucianne believes it must not be true because it has had no bump. No additional details. It doesn't pass her bona fides test -- doesn't earn the Lucianne seal. Rosenbaum, a good egg, is upset because it is misogynistic -- he defends not only Katherine Harris's honor but her makeup. What both ignore is that the truth is, in every which way but legally, irrelevant. If it is not true, it anyway lies in the direction of truth. A good rumor is a way to explain what is not being explained, a way to help figure out what's wrong with this picture. And certainly one would have to be mighty foolish to believe it could not be true.
In the information swamp, you have to trust your own instincts. And if you're still unsure, the follow-up rumor has Newsweek's babe-beat reporter, Michael Isikoff, investigating the tale.
Then, of course, there are the Cubans. You can't have a modern political conspiracy theory without the Cubans. Here the line goes from Jeb to Elián to the Cuban community to the Democratic mayor, Alex Pinelas, who may be the linchpin to the stolen election. The presence of the Cubans in this story suggests that the mythology of Election 2000 could fester and rise to grassy-knoll proportions.