Election 2000 like fat Elvis

Elton Wong

My dad only saw Elvis Presley perform once, when “The King” was on one of his last tours. Growing up in Malaysia, my dad heard all of Elvis’ hits on the radio and saw plenty of his movies.

When my dad came to the United States to attend college, I suppose it was only natural for him to want to see the rock ‘n’ roll icon that he had heard so much about. It might even be safe to say that Elvis was sort of a symbol of America: young, rebellious, sexy.

Unfortunately, the tour where my dad saw Elvis took place around 1973, and the King was a changed man. My dad recalls seeing “some fat guy in sequins” waddling around on stage with little regard for tempo, pitch or any other virtues usually associates with music. In addition, he seemed to be on some kind of drug. My mom got dragged along to the concert with my dad and was reportedly thoroughly mystified as to why such a legend was built around the man.

I am of course too young to have experienced any of this, yet I cannot help but feel a similar sort of disappointment whenever I think about the state of our presidential election.

I stayed awake most of election night and neglected studying for a biochemistry test to watch the results come in, and by no stretch of the imagination was it worth it. The election process is always surrounded by all kinds of noble rhetoric: The will of the people, the mandate to govern, the rule of the majority. These concepts are not meaningful in the present case.

Most coverage of Florida lately has been about the multitude of court battles, lawsuits and recounts. This kind of coverage misses the big picture: We are in fact witnessing the breakdown of democracy. Perhaps an analogy is in order. In physics, there is something called the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. This principle describes the limitations of classical physics. What the theory basically states is that when dealing with small particles, precise measurements are impossible to make. Electrons, for example, are so small and move so fast that they are affected even by photons of light. In order to observe a moving particle, you have to be able to “see” it, to measure the light reflected off it.

In the case of electrons, bouncing even one photon off it to measure its position or velocity will alter the very thing you are attempting to measure.

Therefore, it is impossible, even theoretically, to know where any electron is at any given time and also to know its velocity to any meaningful degree of accuracy. The measurements are so small that you have to describe the situation in terms of probabilities instead of absolute values.

In Florida, democracy is being put under comparably close scrutiny. Bush’s certified lead of 537 votes is nothing, a statistical fluke. This is especially the case when you consider machine errors, the troubling charges of racial discrimination,and the absentee vote factor. If all these factors could be solved in an impartial, non-politicized way, democracy would be in fine shape.

The real problem facing the nation is more complicated than that. How are justices supposed to decide whether to allow hand recounts? How can we deal with the very real probability that black voters were deterred from voting through outright discrimination and intimidation?

We cannot simply look to the Constitution to tell us. We cannot look to historical precedent either, because no race has ever been this close, and therefore there is no standard operating procedure for these situations. Those in power have to make it up as they go along.

It’s not as if the courts are applying their impartial minds to “find out” the legitimate procedures to follow and who the real winner is. Instead, the courts (and possibly now the Florida State Legislature) are simply the staging grounds for various power struggles. Whoever the next president is, he will have gotten his office through arbitrary means. There is simply no way around this fact. The election is in limbo. Very possibly, this limbo is the kind that will be impossible from which to free ourselves.

In effect, there is not going to be a real winner in this election. Our democratic process has come down to such a close margin that divisions become blurry and impossible to distinguish. What we have instead is partisans on both sides struggling for legitimacy.

Of course, we cannot operate without a winner, and this will probably be Bush. Never mind the lack of a more precise hand recount for Florida, never mind the discrimination, never mind that more Americans want Gore to be President.

The people have spoken, but it did not nor will it make any difference in the outcome.