Our Rigged Elections (Part II)
The GOP Playbook: How to Steal the Vote
For the subversion of democracy, some such convincing rationale is just as crucial as computers, ballot "spoilage," Jim Crow laws and party goons—and the regime now needs a sturdy pretext more than ever, as the Republicans have reached new lows in popular esteem.From the start, George W. Bush has pointedly refused to ask that we make any national sacrifice to help us win the "war on terror." Soon after 9/11 he urged us not to curb our appetites in any way, although to do so would have made much sense, and makes sense now. After all, it's oil, in part, that U.S. troops are fighting for, and oil that indirectly pays for all the guns and bombs now blowing those troops, and countless others, to shreds. The patriotic thing would therefore be to lessen our national dependency on fossil fuels, by driving less (or not at all), and turning off the air conditioners, by buying fewer disposables, and otherwise deferring to the greater good. Bush, however, will have none of that, asserting that the best thing we can do to help win this war is just go shopping.
Note: See Part I here.
Yet in one respect it's not exactly right to say that our president has asked nothing of us. Since 9/11, Bush has made astonishing demands on all his fellow citizens, asking us to swallow more baloney than the U.S. government has ever fed the people of this country. He and his team have asked us to believe that 9/11 came as a complete surprise, that Saddam Hussein was part of it, and that Iraq would soon be lobbing atom bombs, poison gas, and lethal pathogens at Tel Aviv and Disney World. They also asked us to believe that the Iraqi people would bestrew our troops with flowers, then that the "mission" had been "accomplished," then that those friendly natives had been overrun by "foreign terrorists" intent on wrecking the "democracy" that we were there to build. And now Bush asks us to believe that things aren't half as bad in Iraq (not to mention Afghanistan), as they appear, and that his team can win this war.
That most Americans do not believe a word of it, and therefore will not vote Republican, attests to the diffusive power of truth, which in this country still resonates despite the efforts of both government and media to bury it. Bush's big lies have prevailed not just because his regime has so doggedly promoted them. For too long, those howlers also had the benefit of a compliant press that simply echoed them.
But the truth about Iraq could not be spun away as more and more Americans encountered it, traumatically, in their own lives, and as the word spread ever further through the Internet and other unofficial channels—an arduous process of enlightenment that the press has only recently begun to help along. (The Democrats have mostly sat there mute.) And so the White House's claims about Iraq—and about 9/11, Afghanistan, Katrina, the economy, the public schools, the global climate and the GOP's respect for "family values"—strike millions of Americans as utter hooey.
TERRORISM AND TURNOUT—Of all the crackpot views pervading BushCo's faith-based universe, there's one that still pervades the real world, too: the myth of the two T's. "Terrorism and turnout," as the New York Times puts it, "were the 'two t's' that have been credited with GOP dominance in the last three [sic] elections." And as they'd swept BushCo to victory twice before, so will the two T's shortly benefit the GOP again—or so Karl Rove allegedly believes.
This year, AP reported recently, "the White House will reprise the two T's of its successful campaign strategy since 2002: terrorism and turnout." In other words, the Bush Republicans expect to win again through (a) fear itself, aroused by the eternal aftershock of 9/11; and (b) by mobilizing the expansive legions of their Christianist supporters.
That sounds plausible—until you think about it. There's no evidence that either terrorism or the Christian right decided the 2004 election. A Pew poll published on November 11 of that year found that the terror threat had driven only 9 percent of the electorate. There were no sudden multitudes of "NASCAR dads" and "security moms" supporting Bush in 2004—and there was no electoral tsunami of right-wing evangelism either.
For all the big talk by the leaders of the Christian right, Bush was not re-elected by the faithful, as there were nowhere near enough of them to pull it off. Nationwide, there were 4 million evangelicals who hadn't voted for Bush/Cheney in 2000, and Karl Rove wooed them. Even if he got them all, however, that triumph would not explain the miracle of Bush's picking up 11 million more votes than he'd allegedly won against Al Gore. This insufficiency is clearer still when we recall the incumbent's record disapproval ratings. Hovering in the high mid-40s, Bush's negatives were worse than Lyndon Johnson's in 1968 and Jimmy Carter's in 1980. On the other hand, Democrats were extraordinarily united. At registering new voters, they trounced the GOP by as much as 5 to 1 in big swing states. By contrast, Bush's party was divided, with many eminent Republicans, both moderates and hardcore conservatives, either coming out for Kerry or for neither one.
Bush's evangelical advantage was further diminished by the heavy national turnout on Election Day: 60.7 percent, the highest in thirty-six years (and it was no doubt even higher, as there were thousands of reports of Democrats who couldn't vote because their names had somehow vanished from the rolls). High turnout tends to favor Democrats. In any case, the Christianists' peculiar brand of "moral values" drove few voters to the polls: Pew found that only 3 percent had been incited by the specter of gay marriage, while only 9 percent named "moral values" as their main concern.
A CREDIBLE PRETEXT—In short, Bush/Cheney was not swept to re-election by a national surge of theocratic zeal. And yet Bush's most fanatical supporters were essential to his "victory," which they enabled by providing a persuasive-sounding rationale for it. Because there was, and is, no reasonable explanation for that win, it was efficiently explained away as having been effected by the non-existent multitude of True Believers. Providentially, their votes came pouring forth late on Election Day, especially in Ohio—a propaganda line without a shred of evidence to back it up. (The late-day turnout in Ohio's rural districts was, in fact, quite light.) And yet that notion soon became gospel, as the media, and the Democrats, mechanically echoed the mere say-so of the Bush team and the Christianists themselves.
For the subversion of democracy, some such convincing rationale is just as crucial as computers, ballot "spoilage," Jim Crow laws and party goons—and the regime now needs a sturdy pretext more than ever, as the Republicans have reached new lows in popular esteem. Thus the two T's are now all-important; and, to complicate Karl Rove's project even further, only one of them remains as feasible as both appeared to be in 2004. Since then Bush's Christian-right support has been eroded by the war and the economy, BushCo's accommodationist stance on immigration, the party's failure to stamp out abortion, same-sex marriage and "obscenity," and, not least, the low farce of Foleygate.
"Terrorism" is now the one and only argument whereby the ravaged GOP might arguably validate their next amazing win. This explains why Rove has had the White House stick so closely to the "terrorism" script, even though the White House has itself conceded that this script is not so credible: Bush admits that there's no evidence of links between Al Qaeda, 9/11 and Saddam Hussein—and yet he continues yawping at the links between them, most startlingly in his anniversary speech a few weeks ago on September 11.
That oration kindled broad astonishment at the psychotic fixity of its key thesis: i.e., that U.S. troops are in Iraq to halt the spread of global terror (and not themselves a major stimulus thereto, as Bush's own intel establishment has bluntly noted). That line has been disdained not only by the media but also by the GOP's top pundits and Congressional candidates, more and more of whom, the New York Times reported on September 3, "are disregarding Mr. Rove's advice." That Rove won't give it up attests to its essential function as pre-propaganda: Bush et al. shout of "terrorism" not because they think it will win votes. They don't care whether people vote for them or not. Rather, they've been hammering at "terrorism" in the hope that it will fly as a convincing reason why the GOP retained its grip on Congress, even though the party has no mass support. The strategy reflects, in part, on the immense credulity (and, to some extent, complicity) of the political establishment, which cannot, will not, does not want to see that this regime has never even been elected.
Such terror-obsessed pre-propaganda also tragically portends an imminent "surprise" deployed, before Election Day, to make Bush's empty, crazy argument seem suddenly believable. Whether it's a second 9/11, or a huge "defensive" strike against Iran, or a paralyzing combination of the two, a move like that would serve to make the recent Bush/Cheney line on "terror" sound prophetic rather than insane.
"COUNTING" THE VOTE—However they may seek to validate the electoral fraud, the Bush bunch are now in a superb position to effect it. First of all, computerized voting and vote-counting are today far more extensive than they were two years ago, thanks to the relentless efforts of the GOP, the e-voting manufacturers and not a few compliant Democrats.
Although some victories have been won for democratic practice through tireless bipartisan citizen activism, most notably in Colorado, North Carolina and New Mexico, such grassroots triumphs have been overshadowed by the juggernaut's immense success at reddening blue America. In 2004, 23 percent of the electorate cast their votes on "direct-recording electronic" (DRE) machines. Today, according to Election Data Services, it's over 39 percent. And nearly 41 percent will have their votes counted by computerized scanners—a method preferable to using DRE machines, as it allows for paper ballots, but a risky practice nonetheless. Thus over 80 percent of next month's vote will be counted secretly, by private vendors closely tied to Bush's party.
The GOP has also furthered mass disenfranchisement by passing Jim Crow laws of startling brazenness (yet that have gone largely unnoticed by the press). The Ohio legislature has passed a law that quadruples the price of recounts, makes machine audits near-impossible, hinders registration of new voters, tightens partisan control of the election work-force and requires all voters to bring IDs to the polls. Photo IDs, effectively a poll tax, are now required in Indiana and Florida—where, moreover, it is now illegal to hand-count paper ballots once they have been "counted" by machine. Through such laws—and epidemic lawlessness—the party will control the vote throughout the nation on November 7.
BRAZEN BEHAVIOR—While the party has pre-empted innumerable votes below the radar, it has also shown a steely willingness to thwart the voters openly, if they should dare resist the party's will. Take, for example, last summer's special race in San Diego to fill the empty seat of the felonious Randy Cunningham, a former Republican congressman who is now doing time for accepting bribes. Although leading in the pre-election polls, the Democrat, Francine Busby, lost to Brian Bilbray of the GOP; and then it came out that the party's poll workers had been ordered to take the e-voting machinery home with them for several days before the vote.
At the news of this jaw-dropping wrong (it being a very simple task to fiddle with the gadgets' memory cards and thereby fix the final count), San Diegans called for an investigation and a new election. A week after the election—and seventeen days before the vote was even certified—Bilbray flew to Washington, where he was summarily sworn in by House Speaker Dennis Hastert. In late August that amazing move was, still more amazingly, approved by Superior Court Judge Yuri Hofmann, who argued that the state of California had no jurisdiction once the Speaker of the House had made the people's choice.
If Dennis Hastert can choose Brian Bilbray for that seat, irrespective of the will of the electorate, why bother having House elections anywhere? Indeed, why bother with elections? Why not just have Congress's membership decided by the Speaker of the House—or by President Bush himself? Maybe that imperial arrangement would amuse the press as much as it appeals to Bush & Co. Otherwise there might have been some coverage of the scandal by the news media, which has largely disregarded it (while Hastert's role in Foleygate is a huge story).
ELEVENTH-HOUR PLAN—Such journalistic silence makes it all the likelier that the Republicans will get away with it again—although it's also possible, of course, that they will somehow fail to steal it on Election Day. Chance, accident, imperial over-reaching and/or popular resistance can thwart the best-laid plans. If that should happen, though, the party has a plan to fix the problem; and the press's eerie silence on the danger of election fraud could help that strategy succeed.
If the GOP should lose the House or Senate, its troops will mount a noisy propaganda drive accusing their opponents of election fraud. This is no mere speculation, according to a well-placed party operative who lately told talk radio host Thom Hartmann, off the record, that the game will be to shriek indignantly that those dark-hearted Democrats have fixed the race. We will hear endlessly of Democratic "voter fraud" through phantom ballots, rigged machines, intimidation tactics, and all the other tricks whereby the Bush regime has come to power. The regime will, in short, deploy the ultimate Swift Boat maneuver to turn around as many races as they need so as to nullify the will of the electorate.
Of course, the Democrats themselves have a rich history of election fraud, but there's no evidence of much, if any, since Bush came upon the scene; and yet with very few exceptions, they have doggedly refused to speak about the growing danger of such fraud, so that the GOP—the very perpetrators of that fraud—will be the first to make an issue of it. The press too has ignored the issue, other than to bleat, from time to time, that such malfeasance has been common "on both sides." Thus this besieged democracy appears now to have no defenders but ourselves. But we can do that vital work if we will only face what's happening and spread the word, and stand united not as party members, or as liberals, moderates and conservatives, but as Americans.
Mark Crispin Miller has authored many books, including Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order and The Bush Dyslexicon, and is a professor of culture and communication at New York University. This article is republished in the Baltimore Chronicle with permission of the author.
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This story was published on October 19, 2006.