by James Crotty
October 31, 2004

This Florida thing is no longer just coincidence. As Hamlet said to Rove, "there's more to Florida, Rasputin, than are dreamt of in your electoral strategies." I'm a believer. The oldest continuous city in America, St. Augustine, is in Florida. It's even older than Santa Fe, the second oldest and capital of another paper thin swing state with a huge Hispanic population (and wiggy retirees). Saint Augustine, the purported "father of the church," was a spiritual-shopping effete before he became a self-righteous champion of church authority. He's an apt symbol of the conflicting forces within our fourth most populous state.

Take a look. You have Castro-hating Cubans pitted against liberal-leaning Jubans (Jewish Cubans), Redneck Riviera homo-haters against South Beach homo-lovers, white trash and Eurotrash, the Kennedy Palm Beach clan versus the Bush Tallahassee bunch. There's filial subplots too: Dubya needing Jeb, the one who speaks fluent English, and the one Pappy passed over for the top spot. And you have my Orlando dermatologist brother Christopher, who, like many GOP boomers, sequestered his rabidly anti-war self in a Gore-like lock box, pitted against Fort Myers-based, and staunchly Democratic, Aunt Marcia -- and who doesn't have an aunt in Florida these days? -- who's my late and very Republican mother's only sibling.

But it's bigger than family. The state has a Lear-like capacity for tragedy and delusion. Four straight hurricanes battered Florida this summer. Yet while it hosts most of spring training in Major League Baseball, the state still blithely forgets that Nature Bats Last, plowing ahead with reckless seashore development, ex-urban sprawl, and greedy grabs for Everglades wetlands. Is Nature sending a message? Yep. But most Floridians, blinded by sunny skies and stucco vistas, don't give a manatee's ass.

Perhaps the state's recurring electoral role is karmic payback. As a native Nebraskan, for three decades I've endured the taunts and triumphs of Florida's ridiculously successful football programs. With a brief respite in 1994-1995 -- greatly aided by Florida-raised QB Tommy Frazier -- the Florida State Seminoles, the Miami Hurricanes, and Florida Gators have all had their way with the Cornhuskers. Now Nebraska has adopted the very symbol of capitulation -- a passing game. Nebraskans are as suited to throwing a football, as Floridians are to life without candles.

Sure, I perversely enjoy Florida's Weeki Wachee, tacky-wacky pink flamingo facade, its goofy ubiquitous snowbirds, and its balmy weather, but I abhor its NASCAR knuckleheads, its Key West cracker wannabes, and the abominable Limbaugh. I loathe the shallow fashionistas along SoBe's Ocean Drive as much as I detest the corporate family values groupthink of Disney's Celebration. There is little to like about the place and a lot to hate.

But Florida keeps insinuating itself into my life. My best friends are rarely Floridian, but those Floridians I know have a quiet sunny chutzpah that -- unlike Texans or New Yorkers -- make them hard to shake. When they visit, they are mindful and polite. And, unlike the state's sugar farms, they clean up well.

I am starting to see them everywhere. There's this dance department Mafia from FSU circulating through Manhattan. There's top New York City public school teachers who are former Gators. There's sweet, average-looking white guys, with low-key Floridian personalities, snagging and shagging the city's top supermodels. Goddamned Florida. The state has snuck up on me, and is affecting my life, my country, and the fate of the world.

Every morning for the last two months I've obsessively checked http://www.electoral-vote.com to see where the red states and blue states stack up. Almost every day the site's distillation of polls has Florida a toss-up. Four years after tens of thousands of African-American voters were systematically disenfranchised, thousands of Palm Beach County residents -- in a confounding act of mass self-hatred ... NOT -- mistakenly selected Pat Buchanan for President, a Republican-leaning U.S. Supreme Court denied a manual recount, and several neutral studies concluded that Al Gore would have won had there been a recount, the disconnected mishmash of humanity we call Florida will most likely decide another Presidential election. This is no accident. This is a message from on high.

Just as Dubya Bush, in his cock-eyed mendacity, hoped Osama would fizzle out after we attacked Iraq -- we'll smoke him out of his foxhole! -- most Democrats after the last election secretly hoped Florida would just sink into the Caribbean sunset. But it has not.

Any way you squeeze it, the Citrus Capital is going to figure prominently this November 2nd. All objective observers say the future President must win two of the three major swing states still in play. Pennsylvania, due to liberal Philly suburbans and pissed off manufacturing workers, is tilting -- true to form -- Democrat. And Ohio, despite millions of dollars spent by both candidacies, and one of the worst economies in the country, will probably tilt -- true to form -- Republican. Which leaves Florida. Bush could sweep the secondary swing states of Iowa, New Mexico New Hampshire -- don't believe the hype: He's not taking the Democratic strongholds of Minnesota, New Jersey, or Hawaii -- and would still lose the election unless he carried the Sunshine State. Even Kerry would lose the election were he to sweep the secondary swing states but lose Florida, because it would leave him tied with 269 electoral votes. With a Colorado ballot measure that would scrap the state's winner-take-all system headed for defeat, the election would be sent to Congress, where Bush, in another election not decided by the voters, would likely triumph.

The message is clear: We are all Floridians now. Like it or not, the fate of the planet now turns on how this one state votes. The future of genuine multilateralism, a real solution to global warming, an enlightened energy policy, an end to the dire mess in Iraq, full-throttled cooperation in the war on terror, safer borders, bridges, and ports, an educational system that prepares Americans to compete with the rising giants of India and China, a balanced budget, a secure retirement system, a fair and wise Supreme Court that understands the separation between church and state, and a robust economy, all pivot on Florida. The United Nations sees Florida's importance, which is why they are sending observers to monitor Jeb and his election underlings. The Democrats see it, which is why they are energetically rallying newly registered voters. And you can be damn sure that Karl Rove and his henchmen see Florida's importance, which is why they are aggressively "scrubbing" from voter rolls those wrongly listed as felons, emboldening the Florida Nader campaign, stoking turnout from Florida's large military contingent, dropping billions in hurricane aid on the state, and rallying the decreasing numbers of rightwing Cuban-Americans in Miami's Little Havana.

If you are serious about a Kerry victory, you need to get serious about Florida. If you have Florida friends living outside the state, make sure they vote back home by absentee ballot. If you are from safely Democratic havens like Illinois, New York or Massachusetts, and know Nader-leaning Floridians, offer to vote for Nader in exchange for their vote for Kerry. Votepair.org makes it easy, and legal. And if you live near Florida, and are free on or near election day, help get out-the-vote in the Sunshine State. You can tap into the network at www.moveonpac.org.

You may not like it, but the tempest-tossed state of Florida is going to decide your future. As you decide what you are going to do over the final week of this historic campaign, remember the outrage you felt when Bush was awarded the 2000 election. Maybe it's time to say, "I'm not letting others do the hard work of democracy for me. This time I'm making sure that everyone votes, and that every vote counts."

Especially in Florida.

James M. Crotty
Author, "How to Talk American" (Houghton Mifflin), co-author, "The Mad Monks' Guide to New York City" (Frommer's) and "Mad Monks On the Road" (Simon & Schuster)
Cofounder, Monk: The Mobile Magazine
To subscribe to the Crotty Farm Report weekly e-letter, write to Jim@Monk.com