Oh, <I>That</I> Secretary of State!

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., holds up a new one dollar coin during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007. The new version of the dollar coin goes into general circulation Thursday. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
OK. Let me see if I have this straight.

The U.S. held a presidential election. One hundred million Americans (more or less, but who's counting?) voted, splitting their votes almost evenly between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Now, more than 10 days after the election, it appears the two candidates are separated by fewer than 500 votes.

The winner could/might/will be announced by the secretary of state.

Of Florida.

Who knew Florida had such an official? President Clinton has a secretary of state, Madeleine K. Albright — you know, the first woman to hold the cabinet's senior position.

Albright is an important and influential person, traveling hither and yon, meeting with presidents, foreign ministers and crown princes too numerous to mention. Everyone knows this.

Madeleine Albright
But Florida's Governor, Jeb Bush (brother of candidate George W., but who's counting?) also has a secretary of state, as it happens, and she — Ms. Katherine Harris — turns out to be a really important and influential person!

In fact, Ms. Harris, who was a Bush delegate at the Republican convention (but who's counting?) may be redefining what "important" means in American politics. Her rulings could well determine if Mr. Gore or Mr. Bush becomes our next president. And she doesn't even have to spend one minute negotiating with Yasser Arafat or Ehud Barak.

All this has led to lots of confusion. Political reporters are confused. Television anchormen are confused. Legal analysts are confused. Politicians and political consultants are confused. Voters in Florida are very confused.

But a journalist who covers foreign policy is in a state beyond confusion — Happily, that state is not Florida.

Consider that thousands of hits are being recorded on Lexis/Nexis, a service that archives newspaper and magazine articles and TV and radio transcripts, for "secretary of state" and almost none of those pieces has anything to do with foreign policy.

Oh, maybe one or two of the articles will mention that Albright accompanied her boss to an Asian-Pacific economic meeting in Brunei.

Then we have two former (real) secretaries of state, James Baker and Warren Christopher, in Florida to head the legal teams of candidates Bush and Gore, and they are trying to prsuade yet another (sort of) secretary of state, the aforementioned Ms. Harris, to make legal rulings on behalf of their candidate.

If all this confusion were not enough, we have the matter of "chad." Or "Chad," with a capital C. The country, Chad, is well known around the (real) State Department's Africa Bureau as being located between Niger and Sudan, in sub-Saharan Africa.

A "chad"
In Florida, however, "chad" seems to lie all over the tables where contested ballots are being recounted by hand. The issue of whether to count so-called "hanging chad," or "pregnant chad," or "tri-chad," or "swinging chad" is something that has become part of daily discourse in national affairs, while it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with anything that concerns Chad.

The (real) State Department's spokesman continues to tell reporters that officials of foreign governments are not raising concerns with U.S. officials overseas about this state of electoral confusion.

Not even in Chad.

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