$1Trillion in TV Ads but Still Unknown to Millions
Byline: ANN LESLIE
TONIGHT, I fear for the mental health of Austin's 1.3million Mexican freetail bats which, for some reason known only to their twittering selves, dwell beneath the rain-drenched bridge near my hotel, close by the Texas State Capitol where Governor George W. Bush may become the 43rd President of the United States.
As usual, these 1.3million bats will emerge at 6.10pm tonight, 50 minutes before the polls close. (I know this because the local paper publishes, on the same page as its weather pages, a Bat Watching notice and the Bat Hotline number).
Austin's famous bats will go about their nightly business, but will find that night has suddenly been abolished, and that their usual habitat has been invaded by 1,500 media folk and 10,000 hysterically joyful, or hysterically grief-stricken, Bush fans when the election results come in.
Bat-wise, tonight in Austin is not going to be good news.
Of the five presidential elections I've covered, this is the most bizarre: it's neck and neck between two men of whom a quarter of all 18 to 24-year-old Americans have never heard - despite $1trillion spent on TV ads alone.
(In one marginal state, Pennsylvania, 200 political ads - of varying degrees of skill and/or mendacity - are being pumped out each day).
The challenger is a man who some believe is an affable nincompoop (George W., son of former President George Bush).
A reformed drunk, whose favourite film of all time is Austin Powers, whose chosen hobby is playing video golf and a man who many believe will bring the entire world to rack and ruin simply through laziness, affection for big business interests (who've kept him from bankruptcy several times in his hopeless business career) and, of course, his legendary fragile attention span.
I interviewed him at some length on his campaign plane, was bowled over by his charm and felt that I wanted him as a neighbour - he'd lend you his lawn mower, fix your barbecue for you any time - but, er, as leader of the free world?
I, like most Americans, am still deeply unsure.
BUT then I happen to believe that Ronald Reagan, who shared Bush's fruit-fly attention span, and his lack of intellectual curiosity, turned out to be - despite the jeers - one of the greatest presidents of the past century.
The other candidate is, of course, Vice-President Al Gore, who should have won easily, but who is struggling to stay in the race.
If he loses, people will blame him for being 'out of touch with the American people' despite his endless, somewhat embarrassing, attempts to reinvent himself for every audience.
I've watched him with black church congregations, when he's become Preacher Al. But he has a tin ear for black antiphonal responses and tends to bray on through the cheers and the 'Amens': he has no sense of oratorical rhythm, and I kept sensing disappointment in his audience.
How unlike Bill Clinton, whom the Nobel prize-winning author Toni Morrison once called 'the first black president' (an accolade which the old fraud stated, with a quivering lip and a quiveringly 'sincere' smile, he would always value over any Nobel Prize).
With farmers, Gore is Farmer Al, talking turnips with the best of 'em; with nerds he's internet Al; with tree-huggers he's the Tree-Hugger-in-Chief (he's desperate to stop the austere environmentalist Ralph Nader of the Green Party nicking valuable votes in northern tree-hugging marginal states).
Gore is everything to everyone, and therefore nothing much to anyone.
Every time he tries to prove he's not too-clever-by-half he puts his foot in it.
Asked why he loves The Beatles, he replied earnestly: 'Because of that incredible Gestalt they had.' Gestalt is not a word that resonates powerfully with Joe Six-Pack in the trailer-parks. Nor do his somewhat baffling references to the German philosopher Nietzsche. …