The Florida Excuse

February 11, 2001

Posted at Free Republic, Truth USA, and Missouri League

When I was in college at Arizona State, some of us tried to put out an alternative conservative newspaper similar to those on many other campuses. To make a long story short, the venture never got off the ground. However, one story will always remain with me.

I was having coffee one morning with a partner in this venture, who read to me a headline about Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. He then asked me, "Doug, do you know how much Sakharov would ridicule us for not being able to make this thing happen?" He had a point. We were failing in America because of organizational ineptitude and plain old-fashioned whining. Soviet dissidents such as Sakharov, were succeeding in spite of the constant threat of being forced to board the next boxcar to the Gulag.

When it comes to political participation, Americans are the world's biggest whiners and manufacturers of excuses. In dozens of countries around the world, people will dodge bullets in order to vote. Yet in America, where the opportunity to vote is the most widespread in the world, people will not dodge raindrops in order to vote. Now there is a movement afoot in the land to codify this chronic excuse-itis into law.

In a recent column, Ben Wattenberg castigated the major broadcast networks for their recklessness on election night. He and others contend that, when the networks called Florida early in the evening for Al Gore, they prompted significant numbers of Republican voters to spare themselves the inconvenience of voting and stay home. Democratic victories in Senate races in Oregon and Washington have been attributed to this effect. In late November, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R.-La.) threatened to "hold hearings" to investigate the recklessness of the major news networks. Indeed, conservative syndicated talk show host Hugh Hewitt has put up a page devoted to "The Florida Effect."

Proposed electoral reforms include not using exit polls to project the winners of close races, not projecting winners of states when the margin is one percent or less, and not projecting the winner of a state until all the polls are closed within that state. (It was 6:30 in the Florida Panhandle, when the networks called Florida for Gore. The polls would not close for another 90 minutes.)

Conservatives love to talk about responsibility. They talk endlessly of the need for the poor to assume responsibility for improving their lot in life, of the need for "accountability" among teachers and schools, and of the importance traditional sexual mores and restraining our carnal appetites. Liberty, they tell us, implies the need for responsibility.

But let an election be too close for comfort, and they start caterwauling like all the folks they routinely ridicule. White racism may not be to blame for the existence of a black underclass, and guns may not be to blame for Columbine. However, the blame for the closeness of the election may be placed squarely on ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN!

As Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over, 'til it's over." On a recent Saturday, I was watching a basketball game between my beloved Duke Blue Devils the University of Maryland Terrapins. With 55 seconds to play, Maryland led by 10 points, and everyone thought the game was, well, over. Except the Duke coaches and players. In the last 55 seconds, Duke scored 10 points, forced the game into overtime, and won.

Sports fans make endless projections. However, games are played in their entirety regardless of projected outcomes. Why, then, do people assume that elections are over before the polls close? Just as I did not stop pulling for Duke, responsible citizens vote anyway until the polls close. In addition to presidents, we vote for senators, congressman, governors, mayors, school boards, mineshaft inspectors -- it's an elected position in Arizona -- and a host of other offices. Even though their presidential candidate may be a lost cause, they support that candidate anyway. Their other favorite candidates may well have a chance. Responsible citizens know the importance of voting.

The problem lies with the millions of Americans who are just too plain dirt lazy to get out to the polls. No law can fix this. Some conservatives want to pander to them by blaming the networks for this non-voting and passing vacuous new laws. This is paternalistic feel-goodism at its worst.

The always quotable columnist Vin Suprynowicz was especially quoteworthy when he said the following of the Florida election situation: "If 2,380 Bush supporters in the Florida panhandle really decided not to vote after hearing some guy on TV say he was 'projecting' Mr. Gore had won their state, they're a bunch of dolts. Generations of our forefathers fought and died to preserve Americans' right to cast a vote as they see fit, and these folks stayed home and watched 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' ... or the Ellie Mae Clampett Bib Overall Beauty Pageant and Gator Rassling Finals, or whatever it is they watch out west of Panama City ... because some guy on TV told them not to bother?" (Duke did not play that night. Again, no excuses.)

Two hundred years ago, Samuel Adams had even better words for those who will not go to the slightest inconvenience to exercise those rights in defense of which so much blood has been spilled. "If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you. May your chains set lightly upon you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen."

Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman

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