Friday, June 25, 2004
In case you're worried about the November election . . .
Do I really think it will happen?
It isn’t something I predict, it’s something I fear. And because it’s something I fear, I have a tendency to analyze how it might happen.
For a while I worked very hard to sort out the real possibilities from my paranoid delusional fantasies. Then I just gave up. It turned out that the real possibilities are indistinguishable from paranoid delusional fantasies.
So here it is—fantasies and all.
First, in the ordered world, the world you and I live in most of the time, an unexceptional world, there’s not a chance in hell that George Bush will win this election.
Jimmy Breslin made an airtight argument for this last October—
Nobody who voted for Gore is going to vote for Bush this time. That is common sense.
Then there is a large number of other people who because of the war and the unemployment and the nasty attacks on their civil liberties by John Ashcroft would never vote for Bush.
You put the 500,000 votes that Bush lost by last time together with the people angered and weary of his years so far and there is no Bush at the end of an election that cannot be stolen.
In other words, the only way John Kerry could lose is “to be caught sleeping with a dead woman or a live boy.”
How can you steal a presidential election in the United States other than by the intervention of the US Supreme Court?1
I see four possible scenarios, though I will admit that I cannot match wits with the Rove-Cheney-Rumsfeld alliance for pure deviousness.
I. Discredit Kerry, otherwise known as “sliming”
The Bush campaign’s preferred method is to disqualify Kerry to the point that voters have no place to turn but Bush. That is in fact the purpose of the Bush ad campaign, and as such, isn’t stealing, if you’re willing to accept that convincing the public of egregious lies is somehow an acceptable part of our political life. But there are other, darker ways.
Aside from the ads, you can plant false information about Kerry. This has already been tried. You may recall the alleged “affair” with the journalist Alexandra Polier that the right-wing media circulated some months ago. Then there was the fake photo with Jane Fonda.
There may be attempts at a set-up. I worry that Kerry’s handlers will leave him unattended in a hotel bar. Republican nymphets will be on him like spies at a satellite launch.
And finally, there’s the hope in their minds (and the fear in mine) that Kerry himself will do the job for them by “messing up.” It can be something trivial—like the “Dean Scream,”— that galvanizes the press for 48 hours and puts Kerry’s “suitability” in question. Perhaps an extra and unwarranted drink at a fundraiser—sure to be called the “Kerry sherry.” The Bush campaign’s “researchers” will be there to record it.
Now that so many voting precincts have bought touchscreen voting machines, including Broward County, Florida where the 2000 election results were so hotly contested, the manipulation of the vote remains more a possibility than ever. These machines are unauditable, and despite what you may have read in the press, uncertified in any meaningful sense.2 The CEO of voting-machine manufacturer Diebold, Wally O’Dell, got himself in hot water earlier this year when he said he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President.”
But George’s brother, Governor Jeb, has more weapons in his Florida arsenal than simple vote fraud via machine. Florida is once again updating its ex-felon list to make sure that people formerly imprisoned by the government (read that as “black males”) shall have no say in that government.
But leaving nothing to chance, the Florida Republican legislature has just removed a requirement that absentee ballots be signed by a witness, thus affording Republicans the opportunity to vote “early and often.” The signature requirement was dropped despite a 1997 scandal in which an election was overturned, and a current investigation—both involving absentee ballots.3
This is standard operating procedure in the Bush administration. At the time of the march to war on Iraq, it cannot have been above their calculation to reflect on the awesome poll bounce a nice little war would generate. Indeed, there’s some reason to believe that for Bush personally,4 he had three reasons for going to war—to exact revenge on Saddam Hussein (thereby showing up his dad, by the way), to enjoy the poll bounce and the heroics, and to have a little more oil available for his family and friends (thereby demonstrating his generous side5).
Now I’m doubtful that another “preemptive” war would be just the thing he needs right now. But a war that was “forced” on him—well, that’s another thing. So keep an eye on the international situation. A year ago it seemed to me that Syria (where Saddam hid the missing WMDs) or Cuba were the most likely targets. They’re militarily weak and under a never-ending propaganda assault, which predisposes the American people to accept an “intervention.” But the consequences of the Iraq invasion have opened another near-term possibility: the need for an intervention in Saudi Arabia.
Of course, you don’t have to actually go to war. You can create a diplomatic crisis so severe that it puts us at the “brink” of war. The voters just won’t desert a President in a time of crisis. We have two candidate countries here—Iran and North Korea.6
IV. Scare ‘em and spare ‘em
Here’s where the “homeland” comes in. Bush’s other great triumph in the polls was after 9/11. But another actual attack here would bring this administration down faster than the Towers. No, what he needs is a “near” attack.
Ideally, a big plot will be revealed to the public a week or two before the elections. There will be arrests from sea to shining sea. Ashcroft will try to arrest at least one person in every town over 100,000, which will guarantee good coverage in the local news outlets.
The Bush administration will claim that they’ve been working on the case for six months or more. Breaking it the week before the election will have nothing to do with politics. Don’t be ridiculous. “The terrorists were about to act. Thank god we caught ‘em in time.”
After the election, of course, the Justice department’s cases will fall apart, as they usually do, but by then Bush & Co. will be planning their next great adventure.
Of course, all the scenarios above assume there will be an election in November and that Bush will somehow manage to win it. But Bush didn’t actually win the last election, and as you know, he gets accustomed to privilege rather quickly.
The purpose of an election is to determine who is to be in power. And make no mistake, winning an election is not the point for Bush & Co.—the point is power. So if it appears that Bush will lose in the election, or if he does lose the election, will these guys go gracefully?
Keep in mind that the members of the Bush cabal are not only inept, they are also the most corrupt in living memory. So long as they hold the reins of power and so long as the Congress remains in the hands of the Republicans, they can classify documents and refuse to respond to members of Congress and to federal judges all they like. In other words, they can avoid indictment. But if they lose their grip on power—whoa, Nelly!—grand juries are going to be working from morning to midnight.
I think they have only one way out here—another real disaster here at home so catastrophic that it would warrant the imposition of martial law. But I console myself with this thought—the military doesn’t like them any better than I do.7
1 I find the idea of a second Supreme Court intervention unlikely down to the level of insignificance. But if it happened, the charge of “stealing” would have to be elevated to a charge of “armed robbery.” [back]
Although they are called independent, these labs are selected and paid by the voting machine companies, not by the government. They can come under enormous pressure to do reviews quickly, and not to find problems, which slow things down and create additional costs. Brian Phillips, president of SysTest Labs, one of three companies that review voting machines, conceded, "There's going to be the risk of a conflict of interest when you are being paid by the vendor that you are qualifying product for."[back]
Lawmakers say they acted this year to drop the witness signature because election supervisors were throwing out ballots because they lacked the signature. Nearly 2,000 absentee ballots weren't counted in the March presidential primary because they did not have a witness signature.[back]
Yet this change in law came despite the fact that witness signatures were pivotal in tracking down allegations of voter fraud in the 1997 mayoral election in Miami that was eventually overturned and led to multiple arrests.
And there are signs of another Florida election scandal brewing involving absentee ballots: The Florida Department of Law Enforcement this week has opened an investigation into a March city election in Orlando.
4At times I use the term “Bush” to mean Bush, the man, and at other times to mean Bush, the persona of the government. I will try to make clear when I am speaking of Bush, the man, of whom there is very little to say. Otherwise, if I write, for instance, that “Bush needs to win big,” you may assume that I am speaking of Bush, the persona, an avatar for the Unholy Alliance. [back]
5George Bush is the kind of guy who wouldn’t drop a dime into the cup of a paralyzed veteran. “It would only make him lazy.” Certainly the Unholy Alliance seems determined not to drop any federal dollars into veterans care, so expect to see quite a few veterans on the street—and soon. [back]
6We’re moving toward a détente with North Korea. We have to. We need to extricate enough troops from South Korea to shore up the forces in Iraq. So that leaves Iran. (Remember the little flutter I mentioned last week.) And, of course, Iran picked up that British boat this week. [back]