Did you hear the good news about Florida?" says one smart aleck.
"No." replies the other.
"The orange grove harvest will be huge this year!"
This terribly corny joke and others of like could be heard throughout political victory parties around the nation last night. At 8:30 p.m., I was in my Raleigh hotel room when they made the announcement that Florida was going to fall into Al Gore's column. I was on the phone with my father at 9:30 p.m. when they announced Florida was back in the toss-up column. And I was back in my room at 2:30 a.m. when they announced Florida was going to go for George W. Bush.
The news network I was watching immediately showed this bizarre graphic of a virtual White House, and then George W.'s head appeared in the middle of it with the words "president-elect." Sometimes I go to bed with pictures of sugar plum fairies in my head, but this was the first time a severed head of a smirking George W. Bush was the last thing I saw before sleep.
When I woke up, apparently everything had been reversed. Al Gore had apparently called over to the Bush headquarters (which I imagine looks quite like Skeletor's hideaway from He-Man) to concede the election. He called back an hour later to recant his concession (which isn't going to really help that whole "Al Gore is a liar and will say anything" rap on him right now).
For those of you who live under a rock, or in a dorm, or any other place devoid of news and thought - I should probably explain that this election has come down to who wins Florida, because that will give one candidate the requisite electoral votes. Winning in Florida is contingent on a number of things - namely being sure that all the ballots were properly marked and counted.
For example in Palm Beach (that is still in Florida) where there is a high Jewish population, Pat Buchanan - who once called Adolf Hitler a great political organizer (and that was on one of his more culturally sensitive days) - received an inordinately high number of votes.
Why did a Jewish county vote for an anti-Semite? Well, if you look at the ballot, it is "butterflied," which is fancy-talk for "confusing as hell." It's where you would expect to vote for Al Gore, but you actually vote for Pat Buchanan. Palm Beach's congressman, Robert Wexler, was on television this morning commenting on how difficult this process was and how lawyers for both campaigns have already started churning out suits to thwart or justify democracy, whichever the case may be.
Regardless of the misplaced votes and disappearing ballot boxes that almost makes me ready to reclaim Florida as a "proper" political Southern state, these questions would not be asked if not for a difference of less than a thousand voters.
Even a small number of those who voted for Ralph "like a group of lemurs I lead my followers off a cliff" Nader could have swayed the election.
Rather, these people exercised their democratic right and voted for the candidate they believed in the most. But in newspapers today, little will be mentioned about Nader. And in the off-chance something is mentioned, it certainly will not cover the issues Mr. Nader raised.
Even the "corporate controlled" Daily Tar Heel barely mentioned Ralph Nader, except for a tiny picture at the bottom of the paper that made Ralph look more like Dr. Jack Kevorkian than I thought possible.
That is the rub with the Nader candidacy. They put all their eggs in the basket that newspapers would herald their new bloc of influential voters in America and the fact they would receive federal campaign matching funds by gaining 5 percent of the national vote.
Rather, they can be viewed now as they were viewed four, eight and 18 years ago: a group on the periphery of the American electorate with a couple of percentage points on the national level.
I do not know if the Gore campaign should have devoted so much time to courting the elusive Nader voter. I am sure that Al Gore could have donned a red armband and declared himself an Italian communist, and the Nader folks would have still found him too conservative for their taste. It is hard, and perhaps even wrong, to tell people not to vote their conscience, especially when they are as dyed in the wool as Nader voters were.
In the end, this election cycle befuddled everyone who thought they could predict it - from the Internet to the traditional media to your Uncle Steve who really thinks he has all the answers for this type of thing.
Once the dust has settled from this showdown, the story is not going to be Ralph Nader or the issues at hand. That is lamentable, but the reality is that the news media is going to blame Al Gore for losing, saying he should have debated better or been less cocky. Or they are going to blame George W. Bush for being too cocky and unprepared to lead.
In either account, one should remember that all of the hard work both campaigns did will eventually come down to less than 1/50th of a percent of voters in Florida.
William McKinney is a sophomore history and political science major from Greenville, S.C., where the presidential race was not quite so close. Reach him with questions, comments and recipe requests at