- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 16, 2000

Like O.J. careening down an L.A. freeway in a white Bronco, and Monica sashaying out of a limousine toward a French restaurant, the image of Florida poll workers picking through individual ballots to choose the next president has become a cultural signpost as well as the butt of many a well-placed joke.

More than a week after more than 100 million voters streamed to the polls, the identity of the next president remains lost amid the challenged ballots in Florida.

While the competing camps try to out-claw each other for the high ground, the nation's pundits, jokesters, commentators and late-night talk-show hosts are having a field day. An entranced nation giggles along.

"The best thing I've heard so far is 'Impeach the winner,' " said Merle Kessler, also known as Ian Shoales, the rapid-fire professional cynic and one-time National Public Radio "lifestyle" commentator.

"It doesn't seem like anybody really cares that much who wins, that's the funny thing about it. Democrats and Republicans are rabid about it, but those who are indifferent are just kind of wondering what's going on."

The situation has provided plenty of fodder for such jokemeisters as "The Tonight Show" host Jay Leno and David Letterman of "The Late Show."

"So here's the deal," Mr. Letterman opined one recent evening. "We have George W. Bush not the president of the U.S. And Al Gore not the president of the U.S. Whaddya say we just leave it that way?"

"What is going on down in the banana republic of Florida?" Mr. Leno asked. "Can't they get their election straight? Send Jimmy Carter down to supervise that thing."

The yucks keep coming even though a poll released by CNN/ USA Today/Gallup taken Nov. 11-12 shows 49 percent of the nation's voters describing the electoral impasse as a "major problem" and 15 percent deeming it a "constitutional crisis."

That, of course, hasn't stopped entrepreneurs from trying to make a buck.

For instance, there's the Electoral College Sportswear and Accessories company in Portland, Maine. It is producing T-shirts, sweatshirts and caps that instead of promoting traditional college powers like Alabama and Nebraska, trumpet the Electoral College Athletic Department. The school seal is a depiction of the White House and carries the legend "Established 1787."

The situation has even introduced a new word into the American lexicon the "chad," which CNN described as "a lowly scrap of paper that may decide who will be the next leader of the free world."

A chad is that part of a paper ballot a voter punches out to indicate his or her preference. In Florida's Palm Beach County, suddenly the world's focal point, it has been determined that a "hanging door" chad (one corner hanging off), a "swinging door" chad (two corners hanging off) and a "tri-chad" (three corners hanging off) all count as votes. Ballots with a "pregnant" chad (a bulge in the ballot punch spot) or a dimpled chad (an indentation) don't count.

Humorist Kessler notes:

"How many more jokes can you make like, 'We'd keep counting but we're running out of fingers?' " he asked. "There were thousands of Monica jokes and maybe the first 5,000 were really funny. It's just like everything else it's funny until it's not."

Still, even the man both Vice President Gore and Texas Gov. Bush are looking to replace can't stay out of the act.

The New York Post reported that President Clinton, attending a victory celebration early in the morning of Nov. 8 for first lady and Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton, offered a different approach.

"If those two boys can't make up their minds," he was quoted as saying, "well then, I'll just stay."

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