It's possible we don't have elections anymore; we have perceptions. What is certified in the end is a set of impressions, insights, and intuitions. A free-floating sense of optimism or dread.
The party-boy son, shoehorned into a Jesus-loves-me marriage (I'm surely not satisfied I know as much as I'll bet there is to know about George's first fiancée); set up in business (a baseball team! Maureen Dowd thinks George W. is like Sonny, but in many ways he's like Fredo Corleone, sent off to Vegas); nepo-ed into the statehouse, which is turned into a money-raising apparatus (politics is the only legitimate Ponzi scheme); and now strong-armed into the least desirable presidential victory in the history of presidential victories. In Dubya's defense, such a disreputable and picaresque bio could be provided for Bill Clinton -- which, of course, contributed to his impeachment.
We may not need campaign reporters so much as some new form of literary criticism. We need reality critics.
What are the underlying motivations? What are the unstated messages? What are the nuances of public character from which we can infer the actual living, breathing person (assuming that the person we see has little relevance to this actual person)?
Indeed, the most surprising thing to me, as a critic, if not a citizen, is that the story has gone this way. It would have been so simple to have created a plausible, sunny ending, to have George W. revealed as a decent, deserving-the-benefit-of-the-doubt kind of guy.
That is, he could have made an offer. Given that he lost in the general election (there's been a hurried agreement that the election itself is beside the point, that it's the Electoral College that is the basis of the democracy -- it frightens people to admit to a systems breakdown), given the nonexistent margin and various disputes between the two in Florida, and, not least of all, given that his brother is the governor of the disputed state, he should have said, Let's hand-recount everything. Or even Let's do a best-of-three machine recount. Something that says I'm willing to lose (what happened to all that talk about George W. not needing to be president?). I acknowledge that this is an anomalous situation. I'm not afraid, and hell, I really am a mensch.
But just at the time this offer should have been made, W. was, as I figure it, stewed. (The other reason you might not make such an offer is that you thought there was a pretty good chance you'd lose. And after all, the guys who'd brought Bush this far weren't being paid to be thought well of, or have him thought well of -- you take your revenge any way you get it, hot or cold.)
At the risk of blaming the victim, it is interesting to wonder if there was something that Gore might have done, some line in the sand he might have drawn. Something like: I have been elected president by an indisputable margin. George Bush is a pretender claiming victory on the basis of 500 votes in a state controlled by his brother. This is not an issue just for courts or legislatures. Everyone must draw his or her own reasonable conclusion about who is the real president. (The actual ballots, as it happens, will be available for inspection and a historical recount within two years.) This, however, would have required him to do exactly what he failed to do throughout the campaign. That is, to talk about (to be able to see) the large, emotional, moral view instead of turning everything he says into something that people couldn't care less about.
There has, of course, been something fishy about George W. since the beginning. Which may be one reason the Bush guys don't find it imperative to disguise it now. If you could plausibly make a case for Bush before this, you could as plausibly make the case that he had won the election now.
A significant part of the Republican political approach has come to be that Americans have a short media memory. The first Bush administration, Newt, and impeachment are all unfortunate episodes in the media past. The market has accounted for them and moved on. And the Republicans may be right -- when you have this stuff drummed into your head every night, you build up an immunity. We get used to violence; we get used to political deceit and flat-footedness.
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 (they believe the election was stolen from them eight years ago, and, fuck it, they're grabbing it back now).
But I wonder if you ever shake the joke -- you get to be president, but we have no illusions about you at all.
Truculent Cheney, the go-to man, on his fourth heart attack (what office pools are forming here?) . . . Baker, the dark prince, grown gray and dusty, sputtering like the Potter figure from It's a Wonderful Life . . . George W. himself, the ultimate put-up job (who is really in charge here? When do we find out? Do we ever?) . . . plus every other mothballed guy from the Poppy years . . . black-bag boys one and all.
Or maybe the real joke is that having successfully carried out their nefarious plot, having gotten back where they ignominiously had to leave off, they are going to find out that eight years makes a big difference (or not, and we just replay Saddam Hussein and recession). You can't go home again and all that.
But do we care much?