Inauguration Day 2001 marked the end of a political season that saw Gore sacrifice his principles and Bush sacrifice our democracy, all to the great god Winning. After a campaign directed by Madison Avenue, the post-election debacle made it clear that our votes don’t count. Bush didn’t win the election; he seized power through a legalistic coup d’etat.
We may mourn for Gore, but he wasn’t even outraged. A true son of the system, he’d rather sink than rock the boat. His concession speech skipped over the assault on voting and instead calmed the public with make-nice emotionality, thus re-establishing his membership in the power elite.
Despite some positive qualities, Gore is not a genuine agent for change. Like Bush, he supports capital punishment, genetic engineering of foods, corporate globalization, and a military build-up. Economically, the two men differ only in the size of their trickle down.
To find the reason for this Tweedledee and Tweedledumb pairing, we just need to look at their mega donors. The soft-money moguls don’t want us to have a real choice. Campaign financing shows us that the major parties are just two sides of the same gold coin, two modes of control by the corporate oligarchy.
The economic power base of both parties lies in the business establishment, and they represent two tendencies within it. The Republicans support a fiscal orientation aimed at preserving the value of capital by keeping wages and inflation low. To them, a moderate increase in the number of poor people provides an anchor on the economy. The Democrats support a mercantile orientation aimed at expanding consumer buying power. To them, a moderate increase in the number of prosperous people enlarges the customer base. Each party contains more than this, but this is their economic core that keeps their leaders from acting against corporate interests. Both tendencies are necessary for their accumulation of wealth, and the alternation of power between them ensures that neither gets carried so far as to destabilize the very profitable enterprise. Given this structure, the changes we need can’t come from them.
Through ballot-access laws, matching-fund regulations, and debate policies, the major parties try to shut out other approaches. They want to be the only game in town, and it’s now obviously a shell game with no winners except them.
They and the corporate media also avoid an open discussion of their economic interests by turning elections into gladiatorial duels and riveting public attention on personalities and emotions. Politics, like the news, has become garish entertainment.
Both parties are now calling for restoring harmony, for pulling the country together, for healing the national wounds. But what they really mean is healing the wounds to the establishment.
For the first time since our defeat in Vietnam, a major crack has appeared in our two-party but one-purpose elite. As they try to patch that crack and restore the cosmetics of democracy, we can expect a media campaign to generate patriotism.
But the crack is there and it can be widened; a wedge can be driven into it and it can eventually be split apart, and this monolith of power can fall and something new and more humane can take its place. Otherwise the establishment wouldn’t be trying so hard to patch it up and erase the memory.
To counteract this media amnesia, we need to keep in mind the events that led to Bush’s inauguration. In reviewing them, an ominous pattern emerges.
Florida was a must-win state, and Dubya had a powerful ally there: brother Jeb, the governor, who mobilized his bureaucrats. One of their early priorities was to reduce the number of likely Gore voters.
Before the election, state officials purged the voter lists to eliminate convicted criminals who had lost the right to vote. In the process they also removed the names of 4,000 legal voters, predominantly African-Americans. When they showed up at the polls, they were turned away. Officials termed it a computer glitch.
Some local authorities tried to intimidate African-American voters on election day. Police stopped many for identification checks. Highway patrol troopers set up an unauthorized roadblock between a polling place and a black neighborhood. At the polls, some minority voters were rejected because they couldn’t show two forms of identification; only one form is required by law.
Many African-Americans who had signed up during voter registration drives went to the polls only to be told they couldn’t vote because their names had somehow not made it onto the official list.
Boxes of ballots disappeared from polling places in minority areas.
In Palm Beach county a ballot with an illegal layout confused thousands of voters into punching the slot for a minor party candidate rather than for Gore.
Military absentee voters, more likely to vote for Bush, were sometimes sent multiple ballots.
Election supervisors illegally allowed Republican campaign workers to add missing voter ID numbers to several thousand Republican absentee ballots, but they threw out similarly incomplete Democratic and minor party absentees.
The poor districts in Florida have antiquated voting machines which failed to read 45,000 ballots. When local election boards tried to count these by hand, paid Republican demonstrators descended on them. Some created havoc outside, pounding on doors and windows, shouting through bullhorns. Others posed as observers inside and raised repeated objections that delayed the counting until the reporting date had past. Florida’s secretary of state, who was George W. Bush’s campaign co-chair, then refused to accept the revised vote totals because they were late.
At 2 a.m. after the election, when the Florida outcome was still too close to call, Fox News declared Bush the winner there. The major networks followed Fox’s lead, and since a Florida victory would give him enough national electoral votes, they named him the next president. This created a public belief that Bush had won. The Fox News executive who made the premature call is Bush’s first cousin, and the two men spoke on the phone during election day.
The assault on democracy had its final triumph in the US Supreme Court, where the Republican majority prevented further counting by enforcing a deadline that the law itself says is flexible. Two of these justices have family members working for organizations involved in the Bush campaign, but they didn’t step aside because of this conflict of interest.
Not all these actions were organized from the top. Many came from local zealots going overboard to please their governor. But taken together they show that when winning becomes more important than ethics, democracy perishes.
Due to this broad-based coup, Bush took Florida by 537 votes and assumed the presidency against the national popular vote. Now the operatives who stole the election are running the most powerful country in the world. This doesn?t bode well for our future.