PORTLAND, ORE. — I have a feeling many Americans would be delighted if aliens had intervened to solve our presidential election woes. Anyone who watched the original "Star Trek" knows Captain Kirk was involved in several episodes of interplanetary political controversies, and in each case he used his wits, the logic of Mr. Spock, and the power of the Federation to bring the antagonistic factions together for compromise and closure.
A more direct approach was offered by a handsome, mysterious visitor known as Klaatu in "The Day the Earth Stood Still." After plunking his saucer down in the middle of Washington, D.C., and experiencing the alarming behavior of the locals, he departed after issuing a warning that humanity must curb its aggressive and suspicious habits before venturing into space. Backing him up, was the controlling legal authority of Gort, a large robot who responded to all threats by lifting the visor on his helmet and vaporizing everything in sight. It seems likely that people on both sides of the ballot-counting conflict would have loved to turn Gort loose on their opponents.
This was certainly an extraordinary and upsetting event for the country. But when I hear so much rhetoric about how it's damaged our society, destroyed public confidence, perhaps even threatened democracy itself, I wonder if these concerns will have lasting effects or simply provide more material for the monologues for Jay Leno and David Letterman.
Yes, with the vote so close, George W. Bush will have a big job to do. But do mandates matter anymore? The only mandate in 1992 was that most voters cast their ballots for someone other than Bill Clinton, who won a three-way race with just 43 percent of the total. But Mr. Clinton got to work and navigated the currents of public opinion to a second term.
And despite endless hours of legal and political analysis, the terrible fact remains that about half the eligible voters in this country stayed home, and apparently don't care who gets elected to any office, national or local. Will the latest controversy arouse any of these people to change their habits, or would they be happy if Judge Judy ran the country? I'm just curious.
I commend Florida Chief Justice Charles Wells who, in arguing against a statewide recount, used a marvelous quote from Vince Lombardi: "We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time." This is the frustrating uncertainty that lingers after many hard-fought battles.
Maddening? Bizarre? Yes, the system is all that and more, but it's also worked pretty well during the national ups and downs of the past 200 years. With all due respect to Coach Lombardi, I think boxing is the more appropriate metaphor for our latest dilemma. The American body politic is taking some very hard punches, but it refuses to be knocked down. When the bell finally rings, both sides should stagger back to their corners, take a few deep breaths, and get ready for the next round.
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