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Perspective

Political Dramas Aren't What They Used to Be

November 17, 2000|PATT MORRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

These last few days, I've had this feeling--kind of giddy, kind of obsessed, unable to think about anything else but the object of all my attention. It's the last thing that fills my mind at night. It's the first thing that pops into my head in the morning.

I'm not in love--I'm in . . . flashback.

As I listen to the Florida presidential election post-mortem, I'm taken back to the summer of 1973--the summer of the Watergate hearings.

Let my classmates take up backgammon or scare themselves silly watching "The Exorcist." I was a Watergate groupie.

The Watergate hearings were the all-time daytime TV show. I kept clippings and charts and arrows showing the movements of money and men on the political battlefield. And, like Votegate now, every day, if not every hour, held a quirky turn of events: a disclosure, a denial, a confession--the perfect balance of low conduct and high drama.

And the characters! Rich enough for a Balzac novel, or a made-for-TV movie: Senator Sam, Sam Ervin, the Bible-and-Shakespeare-quoting Southern committee chairman . . . Gordon Liddy, the Cold War caricature of a macho operative who held his hand over a candle flame to show his mettle . . . Maureen Dean--Mo--the immaculately groomed, silent wife to her star-witness husband, John . . . Alexander Butterfield, who spilled the beans about the Oval Office taping system . . . and my favorite, Anthony Ulasewicz, Tony U, a dem-and-dose retired NYPD cop, a bagman whose baggy pants pockets were full of change for placing those anonymous calls from pay phones.

Now, in Florida, it's deja vu all over again--but only up to a point.

For one thing, there are no real villains, let alone criminals--yet.

And although the stakes are just as high--the presidency of the United States--Votegate has not brought us such dramatic dramatis personae as Watergate provided.

Warren Christopher and James Baker, worthies both, aren't remotely charismatic or even colorful. The best that Votegate has offered are in supporting roles: the Palm Beach County elections supervisor, Madame Butterfly Ballot herself, Theresa LePore . . . John Ellis, the Bush relative working for Fox TV who phoned his cousins with inside gossip on election night . . . and the Six Million Dollar woman, Katherine Harris, Florida's secretary of state and heiress to an orange and grapefruit fortune.

Watergate left us with phrases that still pepper the political lexicon: A cancer on the presidency . . . to the best of my recollection . . . 18-and-a-half-minute gap.

Votegate's best effort so far is "pregnant chad"--better suited to a late-night comedy monologue than to a book of political quotations.

There is one enduring Watergate phrase that can be tweaked to great purpose to suit this latest national daytime drama:

What will we know, and when, oh Lord, will we know it?

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