Voting Without Tears: How To Hold Your Nose Without Spoiling Your Ballot Paper

See what happens when they say “Hold your nose and vote for Al Gore”. Those elderly Jews in Palm Beach county tried to do just that. It’s tough to read a ballot paper properly when you’re trying to squint round the side of your hand. Try it yourself. There used to be federal guidelines put out by the Justice Department in precisely the right way to grip your nose and still see straight, but ironically Al Gore did away with the regs as part of his Reinventing Government drive back in ’94.

“Public happiness,” Hannah Arendt once wrote, “is not isolating, but shared. It is the happiness if being free among other free people, of having one’s public faith redeemed and returned.” Never have we known such intense public happiness at what’s happening in Florida. Walk down the street and you hear “Gore” or “Bush” or “Florida” on every gleeful lip. Now that the supposedly democratic “mandate” is being reduced to farce Americans are having their instinctive lack of faith in the political process rousingly vindicated. Everyone knows that what’s true of Palm Beach county ?- incompetent technology, human frailty, wilful obstruction of inconvenient voters ? is true of at least half the counties across the United States.

Take the case of felons who have served time, probation and parole. 525,000 Floridians were den ied their vote on November 7 bec ause of felony convictions in their past, maybe passing a bad check 30 years ago. In the last 25 years, the number of ex-felons disenfranchised has increased from 1 percent to almost 5 percent of Florida’s voting-age population. At least 139,000 black ex-felons–9 percent of Florida’s blacks of voting-age were denied a vote.

The theoretical purpose of the ballot box is to register the choice of the voters. The actual purpose, unless the count is sufficiently lopsided to banish all uncertainty, turns out to be a jimmying of the count to match the exit polls being called by CNN and the network, or to consort with the wishes of whatever political machine happens to be in charge. When asked some years ago why his country has so many statutes, Ireland’s minister of justice once replied, “Our laws are mainly for guidance.” It’s the same with American electoral procedures. In the Florida courtroom of federal judge Middlebrook a counsel for George W. Bush acknowledged a built-in error rate for voting machines of anywhere from 2 to 5 per cent. Since the opinion polls regularly concede an error margin in their estimates of anywhere from 4 per cent to 6 per cent, this means that the more reputable polls may well be more reliable registers of the people’s choice than the machines that supposedly record the people’s conclusive judgement.

The Joys of Vote Fraud

Gazing at the assorted spokespersons for Gore and Bush we can exult in the tradition of vote fraud that ennobles America’s political history. Here was William Daley, chairman of Al Gore’s campaign, son of Mayor Richard Daley who helped fix the Cook county vote in Illinois in 1960, an important ingredient in the drive to put Jack Kennedy over the top, even as Richard Nixon’s men in southern Illinois toiled manfully to fix the vote the other way. Here too was James Baker, scion of the Texas oil industry that benefitted so hugely from Lyndon Johnson’s first stolen senatorial election.

Many an American success story stems from vote fraud. Take LBJ and Abe Fortas, put on the US Supreme Court by LBJ and then forced off it. In 1948 LBJ had “won” by 87 votes out of 90,000, with some precincts showing a heroic vote of 2000 above those registered. LBJ and his advisers feared a lawsuit and planned a strategy of delay, seeking changes of venue and so forth, maybe even a re-vote. Then up spoke a young lawyer, Abe Fortas.Leave the case in the unfavorable courtroom, he counselled. Lose. Then immediately appeal it up to the US Supreme Court, at which point Justice Black would intervene and rule in LBJ’s favor. Fortas rightly calculated that Black would be scared of the booming power of Strom Thurmond’s Dixiecrats in 1948 and would want to see the former New Dealer (by ’48 LBJ had swung sharply to the right) keep his seat. Both LBJ and Fortas duly prospered.

Take Cook county. The treasurer of the Cook County Democratic Party in 1960 when JFK needed votes in Chicago to put him over was a (Kentucky) colonel called Henry Crown, also the head of Chicago Sand and Gravel, regarded by knowledgeable observers as Mob-controlled. Crown, the money behind Daley, helped deliver dead Democrats in Cook County. The following year Crown bought roughly $300 millions worth of General Dynamics’ debentures, only to have the mortification of seeing General Dynamics rack up a huge loss, due to the collapse of its Convair 770 and 880 airliner program started by GD with the hopes of getting into the civil aviation market.

Just about that fraught time, the US Air Force was completing source selection for a tri-service fighter project. The selection panel opted for Boeing’s proposal and this recommendation was sent up to the Secretary of the Air force and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. At this point Henry Crown decided to call in his chips. He contacted Kennedy and reminded him of the favors done in Cook County. JFK muscled McNamara into selecting GD’s swing-wing F-111 design. McNamara toed the line, and GD duly produced a designed and engineering catastrophe, which eventually had to be recalled but which nonetheless retrieved the value of Crown’s debentures and set General Dynamics firmly set firmly on the road to commercial success. Attention all civics class teachers: America’s leading defense conglomerate today found its decisive turn of fortune in vote fraud in Chicago in 1960.

Nader As Villain

Until Florida’s voting procedures began to monopolise public attention, the villain of the hour was Ralph Nader, whose green vote seems at time of writing to have been a decisive factor in Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon, and New Hampshire. But for the votes for Nader in these states, Gore would have won. Depending on what the Republicans do, Nader could also turn out to have played a crucial role in Wisconsin and Iowa.

This was not lost on Democrats, some of whom left such finely crafted messages on the Vote Nader 2000 website as Nov 8, 15:02 as: “Instead of spitting on yourself, why not kill yourself. Save us the trouble of having to hunt you down.” “I hope to god that one of the trees that Nader saves falls on him and kills him.” “I hope someone kills you!” “May Nader die slowly in horrible agony from some loathsome disease!” (Al Berger) “Go to hell and die!! If I see a car with a faggot Nader bumper sticker I’m gonna smash it with a crowbar!!!” “An Arab can never be trusted. They will wait as long as it takes to do you in and this is exactly what Nader has done to the country.” “I hope you get run over by a communist (truck?) Burn in hell you stupid SOB and you can suck on my dick you piece of shit.” “Kids across the country will die because they’re too frightened to tell someone they are gay. Their blood is on
your hands.” “I don’t ever want to see your faggot face. You assholes handed the country to Bush. Bunch of environmental faggots.” “Ralph, please go see Dr. Kevorkian soon. How can you live with the guilt?” “The Arab terror brings down America.” Liberals are natural born psychopaths. We don’t recall this level of animus from Republicans when Perot’s Reform Party cost George H. Bush reelection in 1992.

Such sentiments weren’t confined to Democratic yahoos on the web. Lloyd Grove, who writes a gossip column for the Washington Post, had this item a couple of days after the election. “NEW YORK, Nov. 8 Al Gore loyalists are enraged at Ralph Nader, whose third-party campaign may have denied Gore the presidency. Around 2:30 a.m. today in Bill and Hillary Clinton’s hotel suite–where Miramax mogul Harvey Weinstein and Talk magazine mistress Tina Brown gathered with 50-odd beer-drinking movie folk and hangers-on (including yours truly)–it was apparent that the Clintons are no exception. After President Clinton ticked off the states, including Florida, where Nader was hurting Gore, Brown’s husband, Harry Evans, exclaimed: ‘I want to kill Nader!’ ‘That’s not a bad idea!’ Sen.-elect Clinton replied with a big grin–immediately followed by a collective cry of ‘That’s off the record!'”

Our Chat with Nader

Talking to Nader two days after the election we asked him what he thought of Grove’s story. “I called up Evans, and he was chagrined”, Nader told us. “He said everyone was drunk, and he apologized. But look at what Hillary Clinton said right after. Can you imagine what would happen if the Secret Service monitored a private citizen making a remark like that about a public political figure?” Nader called up New York’s freshly elected junior senator too, but it seems she was too busy with her proposed constitutional amendment discarding the electoral college to get back to him.

We asked Nader if he was disappointed at the Greens’ 3 per cent national showing. “I always knew the projected Green vote would drop when people got into the voting booth”, Nader answered. “You should see some of the scare tactics of the Gore crowd. Telling people that if they voted for me they’d been sponsoring back street abortions. In part we have been the victim of inflated expectations ? with people predicting that we were heading for 8 per cent. On election day I said I reckoned we’d get about 3.5 per cent.”

Who Needs 5 per cent?

Frankly, here at CounterPunch we’re glad the Greens didn’t get the 5 percent. Coming into that “party-building” money would have inevitably destroyed the party from the inside. The Greens really are anarcho-syndicalists in the best sense. The party is a collective of disparate political groupings, enviros, peace activists, and dissident labor forces. Trying to mould them together into a big political party with a grand strategic platform would, we think, be self-defeating. Another four years of Democratic migration to the right will only invigorate these organizations without risking the pitfalls of trying to become a “major party.” The Greens aren’t going to “win” until the system is overhauled. However, they can still monkeywrench the System, slice it open it up to show how diseased it is. Make the Gores of the world pay a price. And that ain’t bad.

We asked Nader when he would prefer Bush or Gore in the White House and he hemmed and hawed a bit. One can make the arguments both ways and we chewed over the alternatives in our chat. On the one hand a Bush victory deriving in part from Nader taking votes away from Gore would remind Democrats that they had better listen more carefully to Green demands in the years to come. On the other hand, Democrats in opposition can call for unity and a setting-aside-of-differences in recapturing power. If Gore wins the White House it will be far easier to Greens to organize amid ongoing Democratic misbehavior and betrayal. You can make the case both ways, which we duly did, with Nader agreeing with both. We don’t think he’s made up his mind on the matter, which is understandable.

We bid Nader to be of good cheer and not to be oppressed by vilification by the Democrats. “We’ve been writing that you’re our Robespierre, Ralph! With class actions suits instead of the guillotine!” “Oh my God,” he said laughing. “I hope no one you say that to knows any history. At least you didn’t say ‘You’re our Marat.” Nader voters didn’t vote holding their noses, so they didn’t screw up their ballots.

Ralph’s Favorite Books

Here’s some news for that dwindling and beleagured minority of the populace who readbooks: George Bush and Al Gore both asserted in the campaign their favorite book to be the Bible. Bush also confessed to having read a biography of Dean Acheson. Absent evidence that he’s read anything else, we can put that down as W’s number two pick as favorite book. Gore put Stendhal’s Le Rouge et Le Noir in second place. Early in October we asked Nader for his two top favorites and back came the answer “Alfred North Whitehead’s The Aims of Education and Harmony Ideology, by Laura Nader. We must confess we’ve never read Whitehead’s book, but we do know the one by Ralph’s sister. It’s an attack on the notion of “coercive harmony”, which Laura Nader, a professor of anthropology at UC Berkeley once defined as “basically a movement against the contentious in anything, and it has very strange bedfellows, from people with various psychiatric therapy movements, Christian fundamentalists, corporations sick of paying lawyers, activists who believe we should love each other We are talking about coercive harmony ? an ideology that says if you disagree, you should really keep your mouth shut.”

So if you want to understand what makes Nader run and why the shrieks of the Democrats don’t faze him, read his sister’s (the real Dr Laura) book.

W As Mommy’s Boy

It’s pleasing to see that Palm Beach County held the country’s future in the palm of its election officers’ hands. Back in 1979, down in that part of Florida we interviewed George Bush Sr’s mother Dorothy, a charming lady living in Hobe Sound, one of the most intransigeantly WASP enclaves in the universe. Like many in Bush’s family she referred to Poppy indulgently as a slightly eccentric and not particularly promising family offshoot who had made the truly odd decision to go and seek his fortune in Texas and the even odder decision to seek the White House. Not long thereafter we interviewed Barbara Bush, one of the nastier women we have ever encountered in the course of journalistic business. The way weread it, W as a kid was ranged solidly with Mom, marooned in the oil patch as George Sr galloped around the globe. You doubt Mom was angry? Please explain why she decided to look like her husband’s mother. W is a Mommy’s boy, as is evidenced by his habit of hauling around his “security pillow” wherever he goes.

Al as Manic-Depressive

And Al? Our feeling that he was hyper-manic amid the Florida count is buttressed by this communication from a CounterrPuncher in the Midwest. “I’ve sometimes wondered if Gore’s self aggrandizing lies are a symptom of the manic phase of a manic-depressive illness. The other day I was arguing with one of our more distinguished faculty members and was just about to truck the idea out, saying ‘those lies…’ when he interrupted me with ‘Oh, that’s manic-depression’, adding, before I could express the lovely satisfaction one feels when a baseless notion is validated. ‘Not a big deal. I’m manic depressive. Means I get a lot done–even if I drive my staff nuts.’ He then said (as he dashed off in a characteristically manic way) ‘He couldn’t have a severe case or people would notice that he’s medicated.’ It seems to me though that people have noticed that Gore occasionally seems (over) medicated.

The Bush family member I spent some time with in those months when George SR was trying to get the Republican nomination was John Ellis, a Bush cousin then working for NBC. On Election night 2000, it was Ellis, if you believe the Washington Post for November 13, who in his capacity as a member of the Fox election team looked at the Florida numbers and instructed the Fox network to call the state for Bush, which it duly did at 2.13am, swiftly copied by the other networks. The network owned Voter News Service, contrary to endless stories, never did issue a prediction.

Deny Gore, Deny the Holocaust

Soon we reached the point when to deny Al Gore the victory in Florida was to deny the Holocaust. Here’s what Michael Moore posted on his site over the weekend after the election: “Sixty-two years ago tonight, the Holocaust began in full force on what was called Kristallnacht. The German government sent goon squads throughout the country to trash and burn the homes, stores and temples of its Jewish citizens. Seven years and 6 million slaughtered lives later, the Jewish people of Europe were virtually extinct. A few survived. I will not allow those who survived to come here to this “land of the free” be abused again. They are our fellow citizens in our great democracy, and their voice, if I have anything to say about it, will never be snuffed out.”

Glorious Gridlock

Are the stakes really that high. Of course they’re not. That’s why everyone is having such a wonderful time. It makes scant difference which one is “elected”, or appointed by America’s minuscule reserve of “wise men” (we even saw Sandy Vanocur drafted in as just such a “wise man”). We have glorious gridlock, and the prospect of glorious gridlock for the next fouur years. If Bush makes it, we’ll probably get Al in four years after Bush is retired, just as his dad was, by a recession. If Gore makes it, we’ll get W in 2004 for the same reasons, then in 2008 it will be Hillary’s turn.

And our greatest president? Ford of course, who never even received a popular mandate either as veep or president, hence the only commander in hief indisputably elevated without vote fraud. New evidence of his sterling merits, just in from a new report by the House Budget Committee, Democratic minority staff: Table 2: Growth of Non-defense Appropriations by Presidency. Average annual percent change in real outlays, adjusted for timing shifts. Ford 1973-1977 7.2%; Nixon 1969-1973 4.3%; Bush 1989-1993 3.8%; Johnson 1965-1969 2.7%; Carter 1977-1981 2.2%; Clinton 1993-2001 2.0%; Reagan 1981-1989 -1.3%.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink co-written with Joshua Frank. He can be reached at: Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.