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HARD NEWS - The President's Mandate is Missing

Approved: hardnews.kiwifruit
Subject: HARD NEWS 10/11/00 - The President's Mandate is Missing

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... does it occur to anyone else that the run-up to the "real" Millennium is quite a bit more millennial than the one everybody celebrated last year?

The Y2K Bug was a basically boring software issue that - because it was so comprehensively anticipated - didn't happen. This year we've got irreconcilable conflict in the Middle East, a very oddly-shaped global economy - and, now, the job of Most Powerful Human unlikely to be conclusively filled any time soon.

It is unfair that we and our fellow non-American citizens of the world should be subject to the oddities of a 200 year old electoral system that routinely struggles to attract the attention of even half its voters, but that's the way it is.

About 200,000 more people voted for Gore than for Bush, but that's actually not important right now. Florida is important. Florida; called to Gore, then too-close-to-call, then over to Bush by TV networks who were so keen to beat each other to the punch that their "projections" crossed the line into basically making it up. Their programmes, of course, had long since crossed the line from news into entertainment.

Voting in Florida has been a bit iffy in the past, but it hasn't mattered too much. This time, everything hinges on it - and it's a complete mess. The voters of the traditionally Democratic Palm Beach precinct made a mysterious plunge on the far-right nutter Pat Buchanan, who got more than 3000 votes in a place where he could normally expect squat. Then there are the 19,000 ballots discarded from the original count because voters had apparently voted for both Gore and Buchanan.

The problem appears to lie with confusing ballot papers that led Gore supporters to accidentally vote for Buchanan - an analysis subscribed to by even Buchanan himself. With Bush's election-night majority under 2000, those bad ballots take on enormous significance.

The Democrats have sent in a planeload of lawyers to litigate and it is entirely possible that this could drag on for months - well past January 20, when the new president is supposed to be inaugurated. No one's sure what happens then.

Even if every cock-up is unscrambled and George W. Bush enters the White House, the small fact of his having done so on the basis of fewer votes than his opponent will haunt him for four years. After two years and tens of millions of dollars worth of campaigning, the president's mandate is missing.

We might take the chance to ask a few more questions about the distant democracy that has so much to do with our lives.

Why on earth do they hold it on a Tuesday, and not a Saturday when people might find it a bit easier to get to a booth?

How can a dead guy be elected to the Senate?

The son of the last-but-one President prepares to enter the White House. The wife of the incumbent gets herself elected to Senate with, apparently, a future tilt at the top job in mind. Should we fret that the dynastic tendency hitherto associated with the unwilling democracies of the Middle East and Asia appears to have taken hold in America?

Like most non-Americans, I struggle to understand how 48 million people could want to be governed by a main so plainly dim as Dubya. He has reeled through life on little more than charm and a talent for inducing people to give him money. His career as an oilman was a disaster for his investors. His fortune as a baseball magnate was built on $200 million worth of public money.

Under Dubya, Texas has become a toxic waste dump specialising in judicial murder. It has more poor and homeless families, the lowest minimum wage and more children with no health insurance than any other state.

Bush himself is in the pocket of big oil and pharmaceutical companies. If he does advance to the White House he will be the most compromised President in history. He has apparently only a tenuous grasp on foreign affairs and has only been out of the US three time in his life - and that's not for want of money to do so.

Gore is pompous, privileged and thoroughly a politician. But his opponent is just plain weird.

Never mind. At least the weirdness of America cut short any repeat furore back home over ... the H-word. Associate Maori Affairs minister Sandra Lee was caught on TV using the word "holocaust" in a speech. Well, actually, she didn't. What she said was "hollycost", whatever that is. Hollycost, hollycost, hollycost, she said.

Cue outrage from Jenny Shipley, the alleged leader of the National Party, who demanded that the Prime Minister discipline Lee as she had Tariana Turia.

Helen Clark, whose desire to appear decisive has the practical effect of setting precedents she has to subsequently meet, shuffled the matter off to Lee's leader, Jim Anderton, and insisted that her original order to Turia to apologise was merely "strong advice" rather than an edict.

Frankly, I'm over it. I'm puzzled by how keen the kind of people who usually whinge about "political correctness" are to ban a word, to shout down ideas and to exploit unease.

Not many people actually heard or read Tariana Turia's original speech - hands up who thought it specifically mentioned child abuse or domestic violence. Surprise! It didn't. I don't particularly subscribe to what it did say, but I believe we are a better country when we let ideas be expressed.

Oddly enough, most of us probably missed the real Treaty story this week - that the new health boards legislation will not adopt the "mana whenua" philosophy, which holds that iwi and hapu are the only Maori groups that exist for Treaty purposes - and will allow boards to work with urban authorities or any other group they deem fit. In a government allegedly in the grip of the "culturists", Tariana Turia was emphatically overruled.

Ditto for the changes to the laws in Ecstasy. All the attention went on an alleged crackdown - making somebody in possession of 100 tabs liable for a supply charge, which if the stuff is going to be illegal at all seems only rational. But the real story is that National's headline-driven push to make E Class A has been scrapped. Interesting. And no, I don't have a clue what Ecstasy flakes are either.

Anyway, big up to the White Stripes, who I wound up seeing at the King's Arms on Saturday night. Rock 'n' roll lives - not as some dumb, glossy, corporate thing, but as something cool and raw and inventive. Nice cover versions too. In fact I was so moved that the next morning I went down to Real Groovy and traded that boring Guy Called Gerald CD and bought their album. Groovy.

Here's hoping this weekend will be as good as the last, then. That the dance parties are bangin' and the gigs are jumpin'. That the All Blacks can overcome some pretty obvious weaknesses - Tiatia not even on the bench? Robertson at openside? - and beat the French.

And that David Tua can make his date with destiny a happy one. The odds are literally stacked against him, but it's actually enough already that a little round Samoan from South Auckland is on the world stage. In a entertainment industry that tends to trade on more of the same, Tua is different. It's huge - G'bye!

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