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Column: Lunacy takes center stage

by Claire Fortier, Tribune editorial page editor

Sitting in the middle of alligator country during the most contentious presidential race in a century, I realize it’s not a question of eat or be eaten. It’s a question of whine or whine louder.

Florida scarcely knows what to do with itself under the unblinking stare of the world. The Sunshine State is acting like the starlet in a bad B movie – preening, even as it takes itself so seriously.

Fresh-face newscasters with network stars in their eyes breathlessly interview anyone who will seize the microphone – Republicans, Democrats, man on the street, woman at the mall, even the guy delivering pizza to



the poor souls forced to thumb through hundreds of thousands of ballots.

Commentators of every ilk fill radio talk shows, their carefully modulated voices scarcely hiding their almost giddy commentary on what has been gushingly described as “this historic election.”




Newspaper editors have become ever more clever with headlines to describe what has been essentially the same news for a week – a race reduced to a political and legal slug fest of words.

This is it. This is the big one. Florida is ready for it’s close-up, Mr. DeMille.

Even Miami’s derelicts are powdering their noses and polishing their lines. After all, selection of the most powerful man in the world could be reduced to the lowest common denominator should voters be forced to recast their ballots.

Through it all, common sense has hitched a ride on Disney World’s Space Mountain.

Who would have thought the presidential election would come down to this circus?

Well, just about everyone – or so it would seem by listening to the almost incessant debate that has become every day conversation. At restaurants, gas stations, gyms, cocktail parties, the talk is the same.

This election has crossed all social and ethnic lines. While that may be a good thing, few facts or real logic slip in among the lunacy.

Among the most outlandish of the crystal-ball theories is the one that espouses Jeb Bush rigged the election.

Bush, both governor of the state and brother of George W., has been accused of cleverly rigging the ballots in a few counties, thus assuring his brother of a slim margin in Florida.

That the governor has the almost blind loyalty of election workers across the state to pull such a stunt, as well as the amazing foresight to know the election would come down to those few counties, certainly bodes well for

the Bush campaign. What a bonus to have a brother who can predict what election scholars and pundits could not. Just think what old Jeb could accomplish if given a crack at the Middle East or the balance of world trade.

Not to be outdone, the Republican rabble rousers are certain the hand-counting of votes would unfairly favor the Democrats. Again, the idea that an entire army of vote counters can be bought by the Democrats or are so

blindly loyal to Gore that they would conspire to cheat a nation doesn’t seem ludicrous to these seemingly normal people.

My personal favorite is the brassy middle-aged woman who has been on every television channel to proclaim herself cheated out of her vote. Obviously relishing the attention, she has become more shrill with each

successive interview. It seems she was one of the ones who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan because, she charges, the ballot was deliberately misleading. The box she thought would lead to Gore’s victory was in fact

the one that led to his undoing.

“Buchanan,” she says with indignation, “I would never vote for that man.”

But she did, and she sees no problem with proclaiming her stupidity on national television.

Republican rowdies have their own victimization to proclaim. It seems a group of right-wing protesters are angry because they were asked to be quiet after their chanting and shouting disturbed workers in the nearby

office buildings in the middle of a work day. That was a violation of their civil rights, they protested to any television cameraman who would photograph them.

Naturally the not-so-reverend Jesse Jackson found his ever renewable 15 minutes of fame in Florida. It’s just amusing that he no longer carries the day’s sound bites.

This surreal whinefest would be laughable were it not so maddening. This is an election to determine the leadership of the most powerful country in the world. Forget dignity or fairness, reasoning or pride. This is America, by god – land of the lame brains and home of the harangued.

Is it just coincidence that the other major event in Florida this week is the sold-out Extravaganza of the Soap Opera Stars?


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