Butterfly Ballot Effect

And so we’ve come to the end of the first year of the new

millennium.

(The previous statement is, of course, subject to a manual

re-count of days, weeks and years, as there appears to be a long-standing

dispute as to the precise beginning of said “new millennium,” with the liberal

interpretation being Jan. 1, 2000, while the more strict, letter-of-the-law

conservative calendarists cite Jan. 1, 2001.)

By almost any standard, I think most of us would agree that

we are not off to a particularly auspicious beginning here.

(The previous statement may also, of course, be subject to a

challenge and appealed to a higher editorial court, whereupon this opinion

might be vacated, accepted as a finding of fact or handed back down to the

writer with a request for revisions in terms of clarity.)

So as we look for closure on this year, I’ve decided to

borrow a page from the playbook of the esteemed Tallahassee jurist, Judge N.

Sanders Sauls, and combine various pressing issues of the day for review in one

omnibus-style list.

(Judge Sauls, it should be noted, has recused himself from

offering any opinions about the opinions offered herein.)

1) The Long Ride Home. Has anyone else wondered precisely

what George W. Bush does every day during those two-hour car rides between

Austin and the ranch? Spot cars with one headlight? Count foreign license

plates (i.e., Illinois)? Why do I suspect that, in fact, he sits in the back

seat, playing Battleship on a Gameboy given to him by Dick Cheney? Is it

because I can all but hear James Baker, in the front seat, admonishing him:

“You just keep quiet back there, Dubya. Keep practicing Battleship on that

Gameboy, and I promise, sooner or later, we’ll get you the keys to the real

thing.”

2) The Real Winners. Is it really possible that this drama

stayed on the air longer than most of the new TV shows NBC introduced this

fall? Personally, I would have preferred the election be settled New Mexico

style, with a single hand of poker-if only for the spectacle of seeing Al Gore

sweat, strain and fidget, while Dubya pounds on the green felt: “Cut the cards,

fat boy! We’re playin’ for the future of the free world here!”

Still, while there is no shortage of losers here-starting

with truth, civility and the American citizenry’s faith in our balloting

system-my vote for the real winners of this election goes to MSNBC’s Brian

Williams and Chris Matthews. (Subject, no doubt, to a recount demanded by Larry

[“Puff Daddy”] King.) Smart, nimble and far more energetic than the imperial

network anchors, Mr. Williams, Mr. Matthews and their producers have brought

television news into the 21st century. Night after night, they captured the

spirit of the moment, from gravitas to a food fight. They truly are the new

Huntley and Brinkley.

3) Truth in Punditry. As

long as we’re on the subject of television news, allow me to make a plea to the

next President: Along with health care, education, Social Security and election

reform, can you please, please , pass

a law prohibiting Alan Dershowitz from being identified as a “Harvard legal

professor,” requiring instead the far more accurate “sanctimonious ambulance

chaser” or “former member of the O.J. legal defense team”? Thank you.

4) The Butterfly Ballot

Effect. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by the law of

unintended consequences. We just saw it come into play in the Palm Beach County

ballot, where by virtue of making the typeface bigger in order to help elderly

Democratic voters, it ended up confusing them, and quite possibly cost Al Gore

a clean election. Maybe it’s the screenwriter in me, but I can’t help but suspect

that something similar is afoot with the notoriously corrupt Dade County’s

10,000-vote undercount. Specifically: Suppose someone was trying to rig a local

election-say, a Miami judgeship-and quickly stuffed 10,000 votes into the

ballot box, not voting in any other race, hoping to fly in under the radar of

the Presidential contest? When I mentioned this to MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell,

he laughed-and then, quite seriously, explained the Boston variation: It’s

called a Bullet Vote. (As in “Single-Bullet Theory.) In hotly contested local

races, party loyalists only punch through a vote in that one race, ignoring all

the others, in order to ensure that their punch-card ballot isn’t compromised.

Could this be the story in Miami? Beats me. But why do I suspect that somehow

Oliver Stone already has a room reserved at the Delano Hotel?

5) Al Goes to the Movies. I can only imagine the

hand-wringing-the vetting, the polling, the hours of secure-room meetings-that went into Al Gore’s recent decisions to see the

films Men Of Hon or and You Can Count On Me . But I can surely attest to my feelings about

the P.R. campaign (nudge, nudge, Men of

Honor , get it?) that began after he saw these films: After all this time,

Al Gore still doesn’t get it. Americans don’t mind being shamelessly manipulated. But we hate

being told that we’re being shamelessly manipulated, whether it’s the

color of his suits or the titles of the movies he sees. I’m willing to bet the

next film is What Women Want . But

let’s face it: If Al Gore had a sense of humor-or even a sense of

himself-wouldn’t we like him a whole lot better if he just went to Blockbuster

and joked, “I rented The Madness of King

George . It’s a cautionary tale.”

6) Hizzoner, the President-Mayor: Okay, so they’ve floated

Bill Clinton’s name as a possible candidate for the Mayor of New York

City.  It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy, it’s

insane. But if there’s one lesson I’ve learned over the past eight years, it’s

that Bill and Hillary are invincible. They have more lives, more stamina and more

staying power than Superman, Tina Turner,

the Road Runner, Harry Houdini, Slobodan Milosevic, Uranium 235, the

Hapsburg dynasty and Graydon Carter combined.

I give up. So let me be the first to announce that if Bill

Clinton is running for Mayor, he’s got my vote. In fact, I’ve got his campaign

slogan: “Resistance Is Futile.”

Butterfly Ballot Effect