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Jewish World Review Nov. 21, 2000 / 23 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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The long hello: Pregnant chad and presidents-elect -- I have fallen in love with American names

The sharp names that never get fat,

The snakeskin-titles of Medicine Hat,

Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.

                       --- Stephen Vincent Benet

American Names

I have fallen in love with another American name that comes trippingly off the tongue. No, not Smackover or Bucksnort or Grinder's Switch here in Arkansas, or even Hot Coffee, Miss.

Not even Flippin, Delight, Calico Rock or Standard Umpstead ... but Pregnant Chad.

No, that is not the name of a rock band.

Before this week, Chad was the name of a country in Africa. Now everybody knows that the chad is the part of a punch-card ballot that's supposed to be punched out by the voter but may not be. Or at least not all the way. Or may even be dislodged later, accidentally or, dare one suspect, deliberately.

That's what all those peering faces on the television screens from Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade in Florida are doing as they read ballots like tea leaves: looking for chad. Or the absence thereof.

The object: to determine the intentions of the voters. It's an art somewhere between origami and psychoanalysis.

So now we have erudite discussions about Hanging Chad, Swinging Chad or, most promising and alluring and ambiguous of all, Pregnant Chad, aka Dimpled Chad. That is, chad that has not fallen yet, like a ripe pear, but may have an indentation on it if you really look hard and use your imagination.

Who would have thought that one day the choice of a president of the United States would depend on all the confetti being strewn across the floor in three Florida counties? Hey, what a country.

It's the Pregnant Chad that has made political commentators sound more like doctors in an obstetrics ward, or maybe lawyers in a paternity case. We're starting to talk like jurists debating Roe vs. Wade. For there are serious questions to be decided here:

How far along does a Pregnant Chad have to be before it is counted as a person? When does it attain viability? Can it survive on its own outside the voting machine? Is a dimpled chad just asking for it? Must the chad be penetrated for the vote to be legitimate? Is this an election or a particularly obtuse sex education class?

The consensus of the editorial writers in my widely dispersed chat room is that the country needs to design a better conundrum.


The people have spoken, but what did they say? To tell us, separate but equal brigades of lawyers have descended on courthouses from Tallahassee to Atlanta, Palm Beach to Miami. And here you thought Americans would finally get a president who did not trail lawyers everywhere he went.

In a neat switch of positions, the Republicans -- who used to argue that the federal government is much too involved in our lives -- have filed suit in federal court to stop those nasty Democrats from molesting Pregnant Chads.

And remember when the Democrats couldn't see a problem without proposing a federal program to solve it? In court they've now emerged as the champion of states' rights, arguing that Florida and Florida alone, or at least its more heavily Democratic counties, should be left to choose the next president of the United States. The party of Choice now argues that no one has a right to abort these Pregnant Chads.

When it comes to chads -- hanging, swinging, pregnant or just nubile -- the Democrats have heard the voice of the L-rd:

Be fruitful and multiply.


Al Gore gave the best speech of his campaign after it was over -- when he proposed that he and George W. Bush meet just to socialize, you understand, and improve the tone of the national dialogue. And certainly not to negotiate, said the vice president, having just offered George W. Bush the Deal of a Lifetime:

Accept the hand counts in these Democratic strongholds in Florida, and the Democrats would drop all their lawsuits. (The thud would be deafening.) Al Gore said he'd even be willing to hand count the whole state in perpetuity.

True, it was a sucker's deal, but Al Gore's warm, relaxed, reasonable tone made it sound like a real bargain. The vice president was never so human during the campaign itself. If he'd debated like this, his people might not have to be chasing chad all over Florida just now.

In another reversal of their campaign styles, George W. Bush responded in the wooden style of the old Al Gore, ticking off talking points and staring into the camera like a robot wearing a power tie. For once Al Gore won on personality, W. on substance.

This campaign that refuses to end now has moved from the polls to the courthouses. The litigation threatens to go on longer than the campaign did. And the longer it continues, the harder it may be to stop. Bush vs. Gore is turning into Dickens' never-ending Jarndyce vs. Jarndyce.

One week of this lawyering the public could take, two is enough, three would be too much, and four intolerable. Maybe dangerous, even for a country with a strong constitution -- and Constitution.

The candidate who appears to be prolonging the count will lose, even if he wins the presidency.

It may be too late for Al Gore to appear the gracious loser, but not for George W. Bush.

Once the vote count is officially certified, either George W. Bush should concede or Al Gore should call off his lawyers and give up. He's already beginning to get that look around his eyes of an unreconstructed Confederate who will never recognize Appomattox.

The winner will be the candidate who understands that, as in what used to be called the national pastime, what matters is the game, not the fate of the players, and that it be played well.

Years ago, one of those writers of voluminous letters to the editor used to favor me regularly with his densely packed prose. This valued correspondent, it became clear, had some mental problems. I can only remember one sentence from all his many letters now. "It gets boring,'' he commented somewhere deep in the text of one of his dispatches, "not having peace of mind all the time.'' It gets boring, not having peace of mind all the time. For some reason that phrase kept recurring to me this past week going on inconclusive two. Everything remains astir and nothing is happening. It gets boring, not having peace of mind all the time.

''It is over now, but they will not let it be over.''
                       --- Stephen Vincent Benet, John Brown's Body

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©2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate