It’s easy to dismiss what happened in Congress Thursday, when several members of the House, led by Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), stood up and challenged the awarding of Ohio’s 20 electors to George Bush, as “poor losing” or “grandstanding” or “conspiracy theory stuff,” as Republican critics and much of the media did.
Certainly the holding up of the official confirmation of Bush’s electoral victory for a second presidential term of office was not going to lead to a real investigation of the massive electoral fraud and misconduct that marred the Ohio voting, much less an overturning of the results of that state’s election or the outcome of the presidential race. Even if, as is probable, the election was stolen by Republicans, that party’s majority control of both houses of Congress and of the machinery of the federal government’s law enforcement and investigatory apparatus makes any legal challenge to the election impossible.
Still, the Democratic protest, led by members of the Congressional Black Caucus, was a critically important victory for progressives.
What happened in Ohio-and elsewhere across the country-during this recent election, was the deliberate, massive suppression of the votes of working class people, seniors and minorities, especially blacks, by the Republican Party, Republican election officials, and in Ohio, by the Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell, a man whose job is to protect the right to vote, but who, because he also served as co-chair of the state’s Bush reelection campaign, actively worked to subvert that right.
Most of the corporate media chose to ignore what happened, or to downplay it. Even the reporting about Thursday’s historic challenge to Ohio’s 20 electoral votes dealt mainly with the theatrical aspect of the event, not the abuses that it sought to highlight. And those abuses were horrific: deliberate shorting of voting machines in minority and Democratic election districts that led to hours-long waits in a cold rain for voters and that discouraged tens of thousands from even casting a vote; deliberate groundless challenging of thousands of black voters by Republican operatives aimed at further slowing the voting process; deliberately slow processing of absentee vote applications followed by an illegal refusal to permit those who didn’t receive their ballots in time to cast provisional ballots instead; an illegal effort by Blackwell to refuse to accept voter applications that were printed on thin paper instead of card stock, and then a deliberate delay by Blackwell’s office in certifying the vote count, so as to deny those seeking a recount the time to have one done properly.
Those and other vote scandals (which when taken together almost certainly stole the Ohio election from John Kerry) sadly will go uncorrected and unpunished. But because of the efforts of progressive forces-the Congressional Black Caucus, union activists, Green Party and Nader activists and others-to demand a recount in Ohio and to air, in hearings conducted by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), testimony about the vote fraud and misconduct, Bush now begins his second term under the same cloud of illegitimacy as the one that shadowed his first term.
This sense of illegitimacy is critical, and needs to be continuously pointed out by progressives the coming battles as the Bush administration and a strengthened Republican Congress try to ram through a radical right-wing agenda of undermining Social Security, the federal courts, women’s rights, affirmative action, the Bill of Rights, labor rights, environmental protection, etc.
The president is weak (an AP poll finds his disapproval rating at 49 percent, the lowest on record for a second-term president), and the Republican Congress is vulnerable, and this protest, if built upon, will further weaken them both.
Remember, prior to the 9-11 attacks, Bush was viewed as a poor president by a majority of the American public. Canny manipulation of public fears by Republican operatives after those attacks, and the engineering of a war against Iraq, bolstered the president’s popularity and enabled jingoistic Republicans to make major gains in both houses of Congress in 2002 and 2004. Now, however, with the economy stumbling and the war in Iraq turning into a bloody disaster, Bush’s standing is plunging back to its original low, and Republicans, in unquestioned control of Congress, will have to take the blame for everything that goes wrong, domestically and internationally, over the next four years.
The progressives who successfully organized the Congressional protest against Bush’s second-term election win have fired the first shot in the fight against the Republicans’ second-term agenda.
They did it with little help-indeed with considerable obstruction-from the Democratic Party leadership, which predictably favored slimy acquiescence to the Republican victory.
The task now will be for progressives to build on this victory, to push aside the conservative Democrats, the conciliators who would give up without a fight, and to work both on the streets and in the party and the government to ensure that no election is stolen again.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org