WASHINGTON - As you ponder whether you'd rather live with Al Gore's proclivity for embellishing the truth or George W. Bush's strange Bushthink for the next four years, let's review the highlights of the 2000 campaign.
It won't take long.
Many Americans were impressed with the stalwart efforts of John McCain and Bill Bradley to make a difference. Mr. McCain's Straight Talk Express buscapade across America will be remembered for the thousands of people who got excited about a political maverick and war hero but who ultimately couldn't buck the GOP establishment. Mr. Bradley's methodical adherence to his principles was as admirable to many as his former greatness in shooting basketballs.
One definite milestone was when the First Lady moved out of the White House to run for the Senate in a state she had never lived in, letting the President visit occasionally to help raise money for her campaign even as the vice president kept his distance from the President; although he, too, let the President raise millions for his campaign.
In his constant effort to invent and reinvent, Mr. Gore as Alpha Male dumped Mr. Clinton, rewrote his bio, redid his wardrobe (but left his Palm Pilot on his jeans), and chose “I'll fight my heart out for you'' as his motto. Mr. Bush chose both “compassionate conservatism'' and “reformer with results.'' All three slogans sound good, but nobody is quite sure what they mean. That's why they were chosen.
There were such key milestones in this election cycle as the national debate over whether the Confederate flag should continue flying over the state capitol of South Carolina, Alan Keyes throwing himself backward into a mosh pit on his daughter's advice, Mr. Bush's parents calling him “our boy” three days before he went up against a decorated war hero 10 years older than he is, Gary Bauer flipping himself instead of a pancake in a contest sponsored by Bisquick.
Then there was The Kiss, the ultimate effort at cadging female votes. A politician comes out on a stage with millions of people around the world prepared to hear him accept his party's nomination for president and they end up watching him kiss his WIFE for seven seconds. And it worked! Mr. Gore's poll ratings went up.
Mr. Bush countered with “I'm so proud of my wife. You can tell a man by the company he keeps. And I keep great company. We got a great relationship. As a matter of fact, our marriage is even stronger than it was before this campaign. And it was strong before.'' And his ratings went up!
We studied Mr. Bush's smirk, trying to figure out what it meant. Then it disappeared. Then it came back. We never did figure that out.
When the Olympics wasn't on, there was a new national sport deciphering Bushisms.
When he was campaigning in New Hampshire, he went to an elementary school where a cafeteria banner proclaimed the word of the month: “Perseverance.'' Mr. Bush told the children how delighted he was to share in “preservation month.” He applied the lesson to himself right away: “I appreciate preservation. It's what you do when you run for president. You preserve.”
Once he thundered, “We cannot allow our children to be trapped in schools that ask, `What do you know?''' (He meant to say, “How old are you?'')
Asked by a 34-year-old single woman how his tax proposals would affect her, he answered, “You'll be in a world, hopefully, that's more educated, so it's less likely you'll be harmed in your neighborhood, seeing an educated child is one much more likely to be hopeful.'' Huh?
Most of the time Americans can figure out what Mr. Bush is trying to say. But it's challenging. In one debate, he said: “It's also important to keep strong ties in the Middle East with credible ties because of the energy crisis we're now in. After all, all the energy is produced from - from the Middle East. And so I, I appreciate what the administration is doing. I, I hope to get a sense of, should I be fortunate enough to be the president, how my administration will react to the Middle East.''
This was the year when the candidates discovered e-mailing voters and each other. That cheery “you've got mail'' or that little yellow envelope came to mean you were being asked to give via cyberspace or forced to read the nasty things one candidate said about the other. What a breakthrough!
One thing is not new. Special interests dominated what has become the most expensive election in the history of the world, way up from $2.2 billion four years ago. The money already has been paid. We just don't know yet what it bought.
Ann McFeatters is chief of The Blade's national bureau. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.