I was watching the talent portion of the Miss America Pageant when it occurred to me that Al Gore might actually lose to George W. Bush.
I realized this as I watched Miss California tank her chance at the crown by playing classical piano really, really well. Unfortunately, she was following on the heels of this blowsy contestant who couldn't play the piano at all, who instead manically pounded out some variation of chopsticks with all 10 fingers while laughing and wearing this huge striped bustle that made her look as though her buttocks were being digested by a python wrapped in an American flag. The audience loved her.
Miss California's 3.999 GPA from Stanford must have come in very handy at that moment to help her realize that overachievement and hard work had just tipped the scales against her, despite the adorable way her nose wrinkled when she chatted about curing childhood diseases through biochemical research. She fumed through her own flawless performance and disappeared from the television screen forever.
It actually isn't possible to take this metaphor too far. Two weeks ago, polls showed that a wide majority of Americans judged Gore more competent and intelligent than Bush, more capable of leadership and better on policy -- but the same poll reported that the majority was still leaning toward voting for George W.
It's not just that the public is stricken with Gumpism -- seeking assurance in bright colors and dim bulbs. It's not just that Gore's "I'm With Stupid" performance alienated viewers. It's that the debates themselves have become so perverted by bombast and scripting that they make all the issues sound as hollow and meaningless as those beauty pageant platforms on eating disorders voiced by girls too thin to have clocked more than one dank Atlantic City hotel corridor between themselves and the toilet where they last spewed their TCBY.
In a doltish and vacuous medium, the doltish and vacuous shine. But the real pity was in watching Gore intone the words "my plan" so many times that even Jim Lehrer began doing tequila shots every time he heard it.
After witnessing the debates, it may seem difficult to believe that there's still a reason to drive to the polls, particularly with Ralph Nader running on the highly compelling notion that you should throw away your vote on him just because he didn't work hard enough to get as many matching funds as Pat Buchanan's sister got. But, unlike the Miss America contestants, the winner of this vote isn't going to just spend the next 12 months hoping the nudie shots don't surface.
He's going to spend four years doing that, but he's also, most probably, going to pick at least one member of the Supreme Court as well.
Therefore, a vote for Bush is a vote to swing the power of the Court into the hands of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, no matter what George W. says about just wanting to use his platform to promote world peace.
It's time to turn off the television and give that some thought.
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