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July 24, 2003
It Looks Like A President (Achenbach)

It Looks Like A President Only Smaller Trailing Campaign 2000 (by Joel Achenbach)

On Campaign 2000:

"[T]he great groaning enterprise of national politics and the lofty prize of the White House all coming down to an epistemological conundrum over the meaning of dimpled, pregnant, hanging, and dangling chads."

On presidential elections:
"A presidential candidacy begins roughly five to seven years before the actual election, when the candidate first learns to grovel shamelessly for money and lie without smirking."

On candidate Bush:
"His aides are smart enough to know that Bush is a better candidate when he is not actually seen or heard.

Let's look at some numbers from the Washington Post/ABC News poll. In February 1999, Bush had a favorable rating of 51 percent, even though he was not widely known, and 36 percent had no opinion at all. That favorable rating rose steadily. By October 31, it had risen to 69 percent. But then disaster struck: He began actively campaigning. By February 27, Bush's favorable rating was down to 49 percent. [. . .] On TV last night [2/10/2000], CNN reported that his favorable rating had eroded to 44 percent."

Discussing destructive, trash-throwing protesters:
"[P]rotesters are, in most every case, sincere and committed, but they might want to consider switching their strategy toward one that is designed to make people agree with them."

On protesters at the 2000 Democratic convention:
"So it's a diverse coalition. One consistent theme is the revulsion at corporate America and the consumer culture it has spawned. The more radical protesters believe they are trapped in a police state. Imagine how validated they must feel, getting shot with rubber bullets in downtown Los Angeles outside a convention ringed with a prison-caliber fence."

On the ubiquitous chad:
Throughout the twenty-three years I've been publisher, editor, sales manager, staff writer, and cartoonist of Chad Watch I've tried to warn my fellow citizens that our entire political system was vulnerable to the time bomb we call a "chad."

To say that I've been completely ignored and, indeed, treated as though I have severe hygiene problems would grossly understate the situation. Our circulation s has languished in the high single figures. People I once counted a friends have derided my work as bizarre and obsessive. The mainstream news media have paid no heed to Chad Watch's truly groundbreaking seventy-seven part series on the difference between a winking and blinking chad.

My parents urged me to go to law school, and several times threatened to evict me from the attic, which is not only my residence but also the chad Watch newsroom. My only companion throughout these difficult years has been my pet turtle, whose name you could probably guess (rhymes with mad). It has crossed my mind that my work on chad (amazingly, some people don't realize that the plural is the same as the singular, just like "shad") has a causal relationship to my marital status (extremely single). Recently I have been forced to adopt a policy: On a first date I suppress any mention of chad until we've both ordered the main course. (Is all this too personal?)

I'm not sure there are any quotes I could pull from this book that would show you what fun this one was to read.

The blurb says that "[t]he diarist is a veteran Washington Post reporter, satirist, and explainer of the inexplicable" but not even those credentials give him the power to explain Campaign 2000.

Still...he was concerned to keep his columns "relevant" during the campaign, so he wrote about what he saw, read, and heard, and it makes highly entertaining reading.

"In keeping with the Court's ambition to provide an unambiguous and unanimous decision in Bush v. Gore and thereby legitimate the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, we present herein a majority opinion signed by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, Thomas, O'Conner, and Kennedy, with a partial dissent to the majority by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas, a full dissent by Justices Stevens, Souter, Breyer, and Ginsburg, a partial dissent to the full dissent by Justices Breyer and Souter, a needling, invective-filled dissent to the partial dissent to the majority opinion from Scalia, and a spitwad [attached] from Justice Steven . . .

The Court will note that it did manage on Tuesday afternoon to assemble a respectable 6 - 3 majority in favor of the Chinese take-out.

You might think that it's long enough after the disaster of Campaign 2000 to make the book seem a bit tired, but you'd be wrong.

It's all kept fresh by Achenbach's combination of "insider view" and ability to view the shenanigans of both parties, and their handlers with the jaundiced eye of a voter who wishes he'd gone to the movies instead.

The voters aren't neglected, either. From time to time, Achenbach steps out of his ivory tower of national syndication to hunker down with the real folks and see what they think of it all. (The answer? Not much. Not in the sense of disapproval, but in the sense of people asked about a topic that has no relevance to their real lives.)

This one's been out long enough that it should be in your local library if you're not (like some of us) a compulsive buyer of books. Buy it or borrow it, but read it. And be prepared to laugh.

Posted by AnneZook at 11:25 PM