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Democracy With a Small "D"
An Essay by Jack Germond

audio Listen to Germond's essay.

Nov. 7, 2001 -- It's been just a year since the presidential election of 2000 ended in the equivalent of a scoreless tie, an appropriate result considering the quality of that campaign. It all seems remote in the world after Sept. 11. More to the point, the election seems irrelevant to the concerns of most Americans today.

The 2000 campaign was, by any measure, unsatisfying as a -- small d -- democratic exercise. One candidate didn't know Slovenia from Slovakia; the other couldn't settle on his own persona and kept changing his shirt. Voters were forced to make their choices based on checklists of issues or perhaps the televised debates that were structured to avoid any spontaneity.
The lack of popular enthusiasm for both candidates was obvious. The whole thing had to be settled by a Supreme Court that tarnished itself in the process.

"So far the opinion polls tell us President Bush is getting high marks from Americans of all political stripes for his response to Sept. 11. Even some Republicans are saying privately that they are surprised at the way he has risen to the occasion."

Jack Germond

What is most striking today is how little the campaign told us about which candidate was prepared to handle a crisis in the White House. Both George W. Bush and Al Gore ran political operations tightly controlled and contrived to avoid close contact with either reporters or voters. It was all slogans and photo ops. The goal was simply to project an attractive image on the television news broadcasts every evening.

Missing was any clear picture of the shape of a Gore or Bush administration. Gore told us only that he wouldn't be another Bill Clinton. Bush did make it clear he would choose Colin Powell as a secretary of State, a gesture intended to be reassuring to Americans. But Bush didn't show us anything that would suggest how he would respond to a crisis once he was president.

So far the opinion polls tell us President Bush is getting high marks from Americans of all political stripes for his response to Sept. 11. Even some Republicans are saying privately that they are surprised at the way he has risen to the occasion.

No wonder -- there is little in our political system these days that tells us what kind of president we are electing. The only thing we knew a year ago was that George W. Bush was a match for Al Gore at getting on the evening news.

Jack Germond is a former syndicated columnist who's covered national politics for more than 40 years.