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It's Election Day, and America is in need of a hero. That's why some voters are rooting for Bartlet for president in 2000. Josiah Bartlet is a silvering, affable New Hampshire politician with an unabashed faith in the greatness of America. He's fiesty, fair -- and fictional. In fact, he's already president of the United States on NBC's Wednesday night drama, The West Wing, a show that chronicles the whirlwind activity of White House staffers struggling to keep the nation running. The show was nominated for 18 emmys and received nine, including Outstanding Drama Series. I spoke to Melissa Fitzgerald, a 1987 Penn grad who plays Carol on the series. According to Fitzgerald, Americans like President Bartlet because "he is a decent, honest, good man who is working hard to take care of his country." Bartlet is the national leader we want: He has the charm of George W. Bush, the brains of Al Gore and the unswerving convictions of the ideal president for whom we're all pining. In short, Bartlet's a guy we would fight for, unlike our real-life cardboard-cutout candidates. So there has been a collective headturn to the independents. We hope third parties can deliver an underdog who'll sweep in, pummel the powers of the status quo and lead the nation to glory. Are the days numbered for America's two-party system? Nope. We have proven time and again that we don't really want a third party. Ross Perot earned 19 percent of the vote in 1992, then watched his base disintegrate in 1996. According to a poll that year by The New York Times, although a majority of Americans were dissatisfied with the two-party system, 61 percent believed a third-party president would have "serious problems" dealing with Congress. Furthermore, introducing third parties would consistently result in the kind of electorate-splitting occurring in this race. Two of the candidates would be ideologically closer than the third, splicing the vote at one end of the spectrum. The winner would be the candidate least representative of national sentiment. Let's say these third parties did have a chance. Would we want their candidates in the Oval Office? Buchanan's conservatism scares the pants off me, while Nader, whose views I share, would be a president about as inspiring as a wet dishrag. A multi-party system is not the solution. And neither the system nor the candidates are solely to blame for the nation's election-year gripes. This time around, the American people are guilty of not doing their homework. We have told the candidates that we care about personality, not platform. Consequently, Bush and Gore are trying to be all things to all people. Their pandering sometimes obscures the vast differences between them, so our choice isn't clear-cut. But instead of scrutinizing the candidates' positions, we treated this election like an outing to the circus. At the August conventions, the scope of the balloon drop was more closely critiqued than the scope of the platforms. In October, the post-debate announcers reviewed the candidates' performances, not their stances, as if commenting on the Olympics. "George Bush did what he came to do.... Gore really pulled it together in the homestretch." If only we had turned off the sound bites, and tuned into the issues, we would have heard that Gore and Bush are, in fact, far more dimensional than those cardboard cutouts. We just want mega-stars willing to schmooze with Oprah or yuk it up on Saturday Night Live. Blame the good times. Things are humming along, so much of America isn't worried enough to listen to political discourse. But a show like The West Wing illustrates why things are humming: because our public servants are tirelessly toiling away to keep the ship afloat. On screen, President Bartlet weathers crises daily and reminds us that even in the best of times, it takes a Superman to keep the nation on track. "People take our rights for granted," Fitzgerald said. "If we don't make an informed decision, we will pay a price." Let's hope that Americans, lulled into complacency by the embrace of prosperity, don't dismiss the importance of this race simply because they don't see their Hollywood hero on the ballot.

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