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It matters because you say it does

By Frank Sesno
CNN Washington Bureau Chief

This news analysis was written for CNN Interactive.


In this story:

'Survivor,' minus the million

A political debate, after the election

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The television ratings and online traffic have been off the charts. "The Story" is the talk of just about every office, kitchen table and classroom I know of.

The prospects and particulars of this presidential election have generated more interest in more places than any topic in recent memory. And the self-respecting journalists out there covering it do not have to feel like taking a shower every time they report the latest twist and turn.

No Monica Lewinsky or O.J. Simpson anywhere in sight. No death toll or casualty list. Nothing sensational or lowbrow about this one. Hey, it's about the Constitution. The will of the people. The future of the republic!

'Survivor,' minus the million

It is the ultimate reality TV, playing out every day in real time with real people. The survivor from this island of political suspense wins a powerful prize: four years at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Here is the compelling part: There are 100 million Americans who are invested in this story directly and personally. They are part of it for one simple and virtuous reason: They voted. They made a choice and cast a ballot. Citizens from all corners of the nation are connected by that civic exercise. There is no comparable event in recent history in which so many are so directly involved.

Many of those who did not vote may now wish they had. Some are even saying as much. The nation's non-voters are involved by virtue of proximity, and they are talking about it, too.

And so we follow this thing -- through the courts of law and the court of public opinion. We follow the Bakers and the Daleys at their stakeouts and news conferences. We follow the candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore, as they strive to balance the politics of self-interest with the higher civics of this historic and amazing moment.

A political debate, after the election

Just consider the things we are talking and reading and learning about. The questions we are kicking around, beyond who will win when all this electoral dust settles.

Who votes, and where? How do we vote, and how should we vote: paper ballots, butterfly ballots, electronic or absentee ballots?

Is the Electoral College the right way to elect our presidents? Can a president lead effectively and legitimately if he wins the electoral vote but not the popular vote?

If we traded the electors for a popular vote, would that be a fairer way, or would it marginalize less-populated states and concentrate campaigns in the nation's big cities? That question cuts to the core of how we are organized as a nation: Should we lean more toward a national government, or toward serious decentralization organized around the states?

And what about governing? We are engulfed in a tidal wave of election-related questions there, too. Whoever the next president is, how will he get along with a nearly evenly divided Congress? What kinds of gestures will be needed to heal the nation and to hold hands in Washington?

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And what will actually get done? Will you get the proposed tax cuts you have heard so much about? Will you be allowed to put more money into your IRA or 401K? Will Social Security be partially privatized so you can direct a slice of it into investments of your choice? Will prescription drug coverage become a part of Medicare? How about proposals for school vouchers, and the proposed billions for education to build more classrooms, repair old schools, hire more teachers?

All these and more -- in addition to questions of war and peace, diplomacy and politics. The national civics lesson connects with real issues that touch the lives of people all across the country.

Quite a story. And in a nation that often seems to spend more time complaining about its politics than discussing them, it seems for now we are all in the same chat room together. It is a crowded place jammed with folks fascinated by what has happened, chewing over what is next and what it all means.

Amid all this, I haven't heard much lately about Monica Lewinsky.




RELATED STORIES:
CNN.com: AllPolitics
  • Election 2000

y: why it matters archives: U.S. Politics 2000

RELATED SITES:
Democratic National Committee
Electoral College
George W. Bush for President
AlGore2000.com
Republican National Committee

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