January 10, 2001 | There was a point in this terrible election where
became all clear, like a B & W photo in developer, that they were going
to get away with it - that the Republicans would manage to stop the
recount and force their man into the White House.. against all reason,
facts, and fairness.
That point was when Bob Dole and Christine Whitman, moderates of whom
one might have expected a dollop of justice, paraded down to Florida and
added their voices to the congealed impervious mass of Republicans
parroting the amazing lie that humans couldn't fairly count votes . . .
though we had managed quite well for 200 years. It was a betrayal of
integrity, of honesty, of decency, that left one breathless in its audacity.
Wasn't there one Republican who had any bedrock respect for
our constitutional principles, who had any principles beyond their own
party's self-promotion, who would publicly speak out against this
intellectual violence? As in the impeachment, apparently not. A
candidate that had campaigned on "bringing back integrity" endorsed the
most cynical untruth possible, one that dwarfed Monica. Republicans
mobilized every branch of government in their service - it was total
war, while Democrats wrung their hands, and pundits relentlessly
pressured the winner (by one-third million votes then) to concede.
If Katherine Harris couldn't deliver Florida by her machinations
(ordering supervisors to stop legitimate hand counts, throwing thousands
of out-of-state innocent "felons" off the rolls - 30 percent of all
blacks), then maybe the Fl Supreme Court. or US Court of Appeals would
(they didn't). If not them, the Florida legislature prepared to usurp
their own voters; will in the most naked abuse of power we have seen in
ages. If not them, the Supreme Court prepared to throw out every
principle they espoused to cobble together a decision so shoddy that
every American election in history would be invalidated by its
application. For the Bushmen, losing was not an option.
But if losing wasn't an option, then this wasn't an election and we
democracy - which brings us back to the conundrum of preventing a fair recount.
Future eons of schoolchildren will ask, "Why did people let this happen?"
Simply, the Democrats didn't care enough, and the Republicans were willing
anything to win. Add 98 million couch potatoes who couldn't get off theirs' to vote.
And pundits who just didn't like Al.
Democracy and our entire electoral process rely on good will, on
public-spirited decency far more than people realize. Election officials
(which I've been a couple of times) aren't supposed to be impartial,
indeed, they aren't allowed to be impartial - you must be a member of
one of the two parties to be a poll worker. The theory is of balanced
power and a passionate interest, but in practice, it often relies on
people to: 'due unto others as you would have them (lest they) do unto you.'
If this overweening principle collapses far enough, the entire system
and isn't easily reconstitutable, which is why all-out political war is rightly feared
by many. In this election, the Bush forces shredded that principle and demonstrated
a deep contempt for democracy.
If conditions had been reversed and Bush was ahead by 700 votes, do
think for one second that Gore would have opposed recounting the votes?
He is such a civic stickler that he wouldn't even let the black reps talk about their
motion to contest Florida electors when the Loser-in-Chief was certified the victor Saturday.
The Republicans have been fighting no-holds-barred for 20 years now,
Reagan, Terry Dolan, and NCPAC; and almost rabidly since Clinton's ascension.
Democrats, however, have maintained a befuddled civility as if they couldn't quite
understand why the Republicans hated them so much, as the Republicans - fueled by
hate radio - became dominated by extremists and fringe fundamentalists.
Nothing demonstrated this vicious hatred better than the demonstrators
harassing the vice president at his home to "get out of Dick Cheney's house," as the
presidency was corruptly and violently ripped from his pocket. At some point hatred
and lies must be classified in their larger category: Evil.
Politics all involves some damage to the truth, but when one repeats
an egregious lie
over and over, until half the country repeats (or believes) that untruth, you haven't just
damaged the system, you've damaged the very language and changed the firmament
on which the system sits. And nothing is ever the same again. It's been so in every
dictatorship, as rulers conditioned their people to accept constantly rising levels of outrage,
of violence, of enemies - internal and external - that must be warred against.
And this lie involved the voting that's the very basis of democracy.
The next step of
shifting relativity, already floated by Bushmen and perhaps soon to be picked up
by vapid commentators, is to seal the votes - to prevent all this uncertainty and instability.
This is a different Bush, not one of noblesse oblige, but one of simmering
resentments; a compassionate conservative who drives his heart-surgeried veep pal out
of the hospital like a plow horse, who goes golfing 800 miles away as his daughter recovers
from emergency surgery with orders to "clean out her room;" an Ivy league graduate so
bereft of ideas that he had to reach a quarter century back to staff his administration;
his Corporation USA/Bush; a West Texas product who believes that millionaires should
be in control and what's right for corporations is right for America.
We are moving from the best public speaker in a century to the worst.
Contrast this man
with the Gore that warmly and graciously greeted every senator in the historic swearing-in*,
including his sworn opponents. It's a matter of class. Bush only values money, power, and loyalty.
Witness White House Counsel appointee Alberto Gonzales (who helped Bush avoid jury duty
in DUI case), a potential Supreme Court nominee, as he swore his fawning fealty, his undying
loyalty to Bush at his public debut. He would have kissed his ring, if Bush had one.
It was embarrassing, and chilling in its exposition of the quality of Bush's nominees.
The Ashcroft nomination could be seen as an act of contempt - offering
up an extreme
right-wing ideologue for top cop, but it's something else. It's a test: a sop to the hard right,
who will be suitably energized if he is defeated, and some red meat to aggrieved Democrats
to chew on. He isn't supposed to be confirmed. If he is, the shell-shocked Dems will have
demonstrated how weak and directionless they are (frightened?), and set themselves up to be
steamrollered on a variety of issues. And America, prosecuted by a religious fanatic, judged
by the Supreme Republicans, will take another giant step towards the terrifying shifting landscape
of a dynastic reactionary relativistic ether, where the truth itself will. . . . depend.
And red is gray and gray is white, and we decide
which is right.
-- Moody Blues
*You have the President of the Senate: the vice
president who became
president, but had the election stolen from him, greeting his running
mate, the real next vice president, but now senator again, and the
president's wife, who is now also a senator, while the president watched
from the gallery; and the opposition beamed with pride, as if they
hadn't banded together en masse to strip the presidency from veep, who
would in two weeks,. . . . be nothing. If this were a TV movie with Alan
Alda, you'd turn it off for being too absurd.
Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for the
Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser; Moscow News, Tribune, and the
Guardian; was a TV reporter and produced a documentary series on the
presidential primaries. His website is http://mikehammer.tripod.com