Way Stranger Than Fiction

88814 reality check eric engberg
The scene: The New York offices of Trash Publishing Corp., a paperback company specializing in sappy fiction that can be consumed without a moment's thought while flying between Newark and Omaha. The author of a recent submission, former political journalist and part-time automobile detailer Kyle Arbuthnot is meeting with his editor, Della Streeter, and Trash's vice president for marketing, Lester Wannamaker.

Wannamaker, riffling through Arbuthnot's manuscript in his lap, opens the discussion. "'Crazy Campaign' is top drawer stuff, Kyle, top drawer. You certainly show an instinctive feel for the political novel. It's just the kind of juicy melodrama we like to peddle, er, publish. Now I do have three or four little nits that need some more work." Della pulled out a yellow pad and a gold-filled pen. She herself had seen some weaknesses in the initial draft of Arbuthnot's novel about a presidential campaign.
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"First of all," said the marketing wizard, "forget about having the governor of the critical state in the election being the brother of the Republican candidate. It's too convenient, too stagey. No one would believe this could happen. Then, the whole business of settling the issue with overseas absentee ballots draws the story out too long. And your secondary plot about the widow of the dead Senate candidate winning the seat in the Midwest is beyond the pale, even for our books."

Arbuthnot, who cared only about selling enough books to open his own full-scale carwash and get out of the goofy journalism business, nodded. "I'll get the re-write under way immediately. Can't have plot lines that people won't believe."


On this clear, brisk Wednesday afternoon in the election headquarters, in a glass-enclosed, cyberspace-compatible command center high above New York City, it is now time to examine the latest lessons Campaign 2000, even if we do not know who won.

Check Sheet #3:

1. Exit Polling And News Media Projections Are Good For Democracy:

The state-by-state projections of winners by the television networks and other news organizations are based on polling voters as they leave their voting places and on analysis of "key precincts" as they are counted once the polls have closed.

The news organizations have been lacerated by criticism over the years for going on the air wit projections well in advance of the completion of the "hard count" of real ballots. But can anyone imagine what would be going on in the country right this very minute if projections had not kept the nation apprised of where the race was close and where it was clearly decided?

Politicians, some up to mischief, would be maneuvering in dark corners in an effort to rig the returns some way. Public confusion borne of lack of information would make such efforts more likely to succeed.

Because of exit polls and projections, everyone knows where things are close. Thus everyone, including the two parties, knows where to look for possible shenanigans. The much criticized exit poll, which professional politicians hate because they think it suppresses turnout in the Western states, performs an unintended service. It gives us all a baseline against which to check the "official" tabulation to see whether any funny business is going on.

2. Northerners Need Not Apply:

Whether it's George W. Bush or Al Gore, this election will continue a little noticed trend: keeping the presidency in the hands of the Sun Belt. No Northerner has been elected to the top job since JFK in 1960 (Jerry Ford of Michigan was never elected to anything but the House of Representatives). If you want to run for the presidency, arrange to be living in Texas or California.

3. Vice Presidents Do Matter:

Gore would have had no chance in Florida without Lieberman on the ticket. As the first Jew at the top of the ticket, he ignited great support among Jewish voters. Cheney, for his part, put to rest many fears about whether Bush could master foreign affairs.

4. If Your Brother Is Governor Of A Big State...:

Be nice to him. You may need him.

5. Dooley Wilson Was Right:

Much psychobabble was spilled over the Gore's embrace of his wife at the Democratic convention. But the voters decided that, in the words of the theme from the movie Casablanca, "a kiss is just a kiss."