Jake Gittes is in every scene in the 1974 movie, “Chinatown”, leading audiences back to where he started. So it seems with Florida and the national elections.
There is plenty in Florida to focus the 2008 presidential race: a miserable economy that is as clear a threat to US national security as terrorists in Waziristan.
It turns out that those who helped pump up the greatest financial bubble in American history — through the rampant growth of the housing sector — are common to Florida as locusts, the state that leads the nation for the second year in a row in mortgage fraud.
What is making the nation poorer, though, is the seeming inability of the Democratic candidates for president to forestall a bitter and divisive convention in June.
Who is responsible for the nation’s economic dolor needs to be addressed by the presidential candidates pronto. The examination should begin in Florida, but it won’t happen so long as the mainstream media hovers over the state’s Democratic primary controversy like eye-in-the-sky news helicopters chasing OJ Simpson down the interstate.
This is the place that most clearly manifested the political origins of the housing boom: where the “ownership society” dreamt by Florida builders, Karl Rove, and Jeb Bush gave little criminals, who had been selling underwater real estate to gullible buyers for a century, the opportunity to stand under the money tree shaken by Wall Street wizards of mortgage backed securities and other poisonous debt instruments.
A year ago, the Florida state legislature-controlled by an unassailable Republican majority-moved the date of the presidential primary to January in order to gin up attention for the state’s importance relative to other early primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire, traditional early barometers of the presidential race in the United States.
The Democratic national party leadership warned the state party and responded by wagging its finger angrily: if you do this, we will not seat your delegates at the national convention.
It should have been inconsequential. A year ago-the prospect of a tight Democratic primary seemed an unlikely outcome. Today, what happened in Florida is shaking like a temblor through the nation. The prospect of having to watch Democratic party nomenclatura selecting its candidate will not play will with the American public.
Just like the movie, “Chinatown”, tracks back to the manipulation of water supply to feed California’s fast growth in the late 1940’s, the nation is paying the price in very heavy terms, for the abuses of the past. A close examination in Florida would show how how mortgage securitization, without rules, supervision or limits, was like an iron rail running parallel to the big iron rail serving the needs of development-power plants, water and wastewater infrastructure, roadways, and airports. The most dangerous engine in US economic history moved forward on these rails, propelled by the fuel of campaign contributions from the cars behind.
Instead of sorting out what happened, the Democrats are struggling to seat delegates at the June Convention.
This week, DNC chairman Howard Dean roamed Florida, seeking resolution to the impasse through a revote of the state primary by mail. The Florida Democratic Party tried to put pressure on the process in a press statement earlier in the week, “It is important to remember that the Democratic nominating process does not end until June 10. The Florida Democratic Party continues to work with our leadership, Sen. Clinton, Sen. Obama and the Democratic National Committee to ensure this state is fully represented at the National Convention it is very possible that no satisfactory alternative plan will emerge, in which case Florida Democrats will remain committed to seating the delegates allocated by the January 29th primary.”
But as the hours unwound to Friday, it became increasingly apparent that even if money for the revote, some $10 to $12 million could be legally and efficiently raised from deep-pocketed donors- issues of disenfranchisement cannot be overcome.
For the foreseeable future, Republican candidate John McCain will be solidifying his base of support and building ground operations, and the mainstream media will be salivating to June.
As a result, the political reporters will not be delving into Florida where law enforcement and the court system are inadequate to the purpose of untangling the volume of economic crimes. The crime spree has been so serious, in Miami some banks have stopped lending to buyers of some condominium projects at any interest rate.
Add to this distress, the massive complexity; legal barriers to establishing underlying ownership of insolvent, toxic financial debt totaling trillions of dollars related to mortgage securitization, insurance claims of counterparties, and you can see why the nation’s credibility as a superpower is in pieces.
But still, one state’s apparent inability to conduct an election, to count ballots and petitions, resonates. It’s like Gittes, pulled away from a tragedy he helped to unfold in the movie, “Come on, Jake, it’s just Chinatown.”
Only this time it’s not a movie. It is Florida. Again.
ALAN FARAGO of Coral Gables, who writes about the environment and the politics of South Florida, can be reached at email@example.com