The 2004 election has receded in our memories under the weight of countless other events of the past year. But the lessons of what happened in Ohio and elsewhere should always be a point of debate in this country as they cut directly to our very basic right as citizens: the right to hold our leaders accountable with our vote.
The highly questionable results of 2004's presidential election felt all too familiar, harking back to the 2002 midterm and, of course, the 2000 election debacle. The outcome in all three instances swayed heavily in the favor of Republicans, yet the call for fair and transparent elections shouldn't be a partisan issue. Speaking for myself, I don't care whether the results favored Republicans or Democrats or Greens or Libertarians. If there appears to be election theft occurring, be it via electronic voting machines without paper trails or via back-room deals with Supreme Court justices, it's a subversion of our rights and our Constitution and the leaders elected via these illegal processes are illegitimate.
In Reading, Pennsylvania, for example, the Green Party is contesting the results of a city council election last month in which a Democrat won by a margin of 606-560 (Reading Eagle, Friday 12/09/05). The Greens discovered that around 22 voters signed in under false names and cast votes for the Democratic candidate. The upshot is that Mark Scott, our Republican county commissioner, has agreed with and sanctioned the Green's petition for an investigation. Should we accuse the Greens of being "sour grapes"? Of course not (the Greens know the 22 votes won't affect the outcome). Progressives stand for accountability -- for all politicians. Not just the ones whose brothers command battleground states and those who go hunting with Supreme Court justices.
Mark Crispin Miller has been at the forefront of watchdogging the Republican leadership for years and has recently released a new book titled Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too. If you've read his previous works, The Bush Dyslexicon and Cruel and Unusual, you know that Miller never walks the easy path towards proving his theories. Fooled Again is no exception. It's brilliantly written -- of course. But it also manages to organize and draw together the litany of inconsistencies; the myriad of suspicious deals, methods, and results which were largely ignored by the mainstream media -- and even the losing ticket -- in the days leading up to and through the election.
I had an opportunity to chat with Miller via e-mail regarding his book, the campaign, the Christian right, and why all sides don't take a more active role in guaranteeing fair elections.
BOB CESCA: Last month, John Kerry denied your report that he felt the 2004 election was stolen. First, what's your reaction to his denial? It seems to me as if Kerry has an opportunity to reform the voting system as a public servant fresh from the trenches and very battle-scarred, but he won't stand up for fear of being accused of something as trivial and historically irrelevant as "sour grapes". How many more questionable elections will it take before candidates and leaders like Kerry set aside their concerns over being accused of "sour grapes" and actually put democracy and the good of the nation first?
MARK CRISPIN MILLER: The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind.
I'm not kidding. The answer isn't clear, since what we're dealing with is an irrational refusal to confront, or even to perceive, a clear and present danger to American democracy. We're dealing, finally, with denial. Kerry's move -- "I did not discuss the last election with that man" -- may seem to have been merely prudent, cautious, self-protective, but it was actually insane. Kerry clearly thinks that he will run for president again. Now, let's pretend, just for the sake of argument, that any Democrats outside of his own family would support him after his abrupt concession on Nov. 3, 2004. Let's pretend that he could once again be nominated, and then run, again, in 2008. Let's assume as well that he would win (again). Why does he assume that the Republicans would not subvert that victory too? Does he think the system will perform correctly if it hasn't been reformed? Or does he plan to call for its reform? If so, when? If he wouldn't talk about it back when he was first ripped off, and if he still won't talk about it now, how could he then begin to talk about it as a candidate? The man is obviously out to lunch.
But this is not just about Kerry. As he himself told me quite frankly on Oct. 28 (and that discussion was not off the record), none of his colleagues on the Hill will talk about this all-important issue. The Democrats, with very few exceptions, suffer from the same affliction that prevents him from doing what must be done.
This, I think, is why the DNC released that fatuous report last summer, pointedly insisting that there was no election fraud committed in Ohio in 2004. Through that document they tried to put as much daylight as possible between themselves and John Conyers, whose report the party ought to have embraced and publicized. Instead, they've tried to hush it up, like some distasteful family secret.
Why do they keep fleeing the issue? Unless the Democrats get into it, they'll simply vanish as a party, just as Paul Weyrich and Grover Norquist and Karl Rove intend. The reason why the Democrats avoid the issue, even though the party's very existence is at stake, appears to be a bone-deep inability to face the very frightening implications
of what really happened in 2004. The Democrats don't want to know that the United States is clearly not a democratic country, or that the Bush Republicans are dangerous extremists, intent on building a one-party theocratic state-so that the opposition now must go beyond the usual horse-race strategizing, and get re-acquainted with this nation's revolutionary heritage. Which means, I reckon, that the opposition has to move beyond the Democratic Party.
And of course the Democrats don't want to go there. The problem is compounded by the press, which has consistently sidestepped the issue, or even ridiculed those who have tried to talk about it. And by "the press," I mean not just the likes of CNN and Newsweek and the New York Times, but even the left/liberal and progressive media, which, by and large, have also basically concurred with the Republicans in claiming that last year's election
was essentially legitimate.
BC: Going back to 2004. Election day specifically. As the initial exit poll numbers broke in the media showing a Kerry/Edwards lead in many of the swing states and beyond (even North Carolina and Virginia were leaning Kerry), what was your first reaction with regards to the ultimate outcome? Then, later in the night, states which were leaning heavily towards Kerry began to fall into the red category, how did you react at that point? In other words, were you convinced prior to the election that the fix was in?
MCM: By Election Day I had been warning publicly for months that the regime would steal its "re-election." Throughout the summer of 2004 I did a show called Patriot Act at the New York Theater Workshop, here in the East Village. (It's available on DVD, at patriotnation.us) The show ended with a declaration that this administration has no "exit strategy" -- that it intended to remain in power, whatever that might take. The show climaxed with a mordant bit about the power of Diebold et al. to keep Bush/Cheney in the White House. But by Election Day, despite my own prior knowledge, I was convinced that Kerry/Edwards would prevail. That's what the evidence suggested--and that's what it still tells us. I did not believe that Bush had won, and said so in a comment to Salon. I've been saying so ever since, and with ever more abundant evidence.
BC: Those of us who are new-media-savvy understand the potential and innumerable capabilities of internet and network technology. With this technology being so prevalent and it's capabilities known to so many, why is it so unthinkable for some to understand that an operative within a campaign could, given the access, sit at his kitchen table eating supper on election night and add or subtract votes which are being tabulated on networked servers and thus influence the outcome of a presidential election?
MCM: Because it can't happen here. That's the creed we're up against -- a creed based on an absolute estrangement from the wisdom of the Framers. The republic's founders understood that "it" can always happen anywhere, including here. That, indeed, is why they had the wit, and took the trouble, to devise our system with its checks and balances. They would have been amazed that anyone could be naive enough to say that "it can't happen here." As that notion is based not on reason or on history but on ideology, it doesn't matter if the risk is wholly plausible--not even if you have a wealth of evidence to make the case that it has happened here. In fact, resistance to that case seems to grow more intense the stronger it becomes. It's a faith-based notion, and so evidence and logic by themselves cannot dislodge it. The only way around the problem is to give up merely arguing with those who keep refusing to believe it, and to take the case directly to the people, insofar as that is possible. I think the people grasp that what has happened here has really happened here. It's those who have a strong material and psychological investments in the status quo--politicians, media types--who won't accept reality.
BC: Why is the rigging of the 2004 election seen as a "fringe" issue? If it was acceptable to question the veracity of the Swift Boat group or Dan Rather, then why can't the veracity of Diebold, ES&S, Triad, and the rest of the chief suspects be equally questioned by the mainstream press? If it's perfectly reasonable to believe that card-counters have successfully defrauded casinos, and that internet criminals can steal your credit card number *and* your identity -- why are accusations of election theft seen as so loony?
MCM: I'd take your argument still further.
By now we've generally conceded -- that is, the mainstream media concedes -- that Bush/Cheney lied us into a disastrous war, or else deceived themselves and all the rest of us to get us there. And we concede that Bush & Co. conspired to out a CIA agent who was working to prevent another terrorist attack on US soil. And we concede that this regime responded to Katrina, then to Rita, with (at best) depraved indifference, even though they knew exactly what was coming. And we concede that, prior to 9/11, they had lots of solid evidence of an impending terrorist attack right here at home, and yet did nothing to prevent it. (And, moreover, we concede that they've done nothing to improve security on our railways, on our highways, on our borders, in our ports or even in the air.)
And rational observers also will agree that Bush & Co. swept into Haiti and threw out that nation's first democratically elected government; that Bush & Co.'s Iraq is no democracy, since Jay Bremer drafted all its laws, its government was not elected, and Iraqis have no writ of habeas corpus and no freedom of the press; that Bush bends over for the oligarchy running China (he says he likes the way they treat their journalists); and that his regime whole-heartedly supports the tyrannies all over Central Asia and the Arab world (Iran and Syria excepted). Bush and his men have praised the leaders of "New Europe" for defying their electorates, and have assailed the leaders of "Old Europe" for trying to do what their electorates prefer.
Meanwhile, here at home, the Bush regime has thrown out habeas corpus, junked the Bill of Rights (we now have special "First Amendment zones" for dissidents), used public revenues to subsidize right-wing religious proselytizers (while giving nothing to religious groups that don't back the regime), handed the entire economy to its own corporate cronies, and veiled the workings of the federal government behind an iron curtain of illegal
secrecy. We grant they've done all this-and yet it seems outrageous to suggest that they committed rampant fraud in the election? After they used Bush v. Gore, and other means, to steal the race four years before?
That's a loony argument.
BC: In the unlikely event you were stuck in an elevator with Diebold CEO Walden O'Dell; a well-reputed network news reporter (say, Christian Amanpour); and a functioning video camera, what would you say to or ask of Mr. O'Dell?
MCM: I'd ask him why Diebold has long resisted paper trails. When he's done not answering that question, I would then ask him why he thinks that democratic ballots should be counted secretly, with the results based merely on the say-so of a private vendor.
BC: The right-wing strategy is to control government at every level from the school boards on up. Can we expect that similar election fraud is taking place in local elections -- this most recent election day for example?
MCM: On this last Election Day, there were four important propositions on the ballot in Ohio, all concerning the reform of the election system in that state. For all four propositions there was, according to the polls, much popular support. (Why would there not have been?) And then, amazingly, those propositions lost by margins similar to the victory margins that had been predicted. In short: yes. Those propositions were, strategically, far more important to the long-term standing of the Bush Republicans than were the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey.
BC: How many of the electoral problems in 2004 do you think Bush is aware of? Was his claim of a "mandate" following his three percent margin of victorysimply part of the White House propaganda machine -- part of the Rovian strategy of furthering his non-reality-based empire? Anyone knows that three percent, whether legitimate or not, doesn't equate to a mandate by any stretch. So how could this be believed by anyone with a brain?
MCM: I don't think Bush believed it. As he gave that speech, he came across not as the winner, basking in his victory, but as the angry and resentful loser. I think he knew he hadn't won, and was pissed off about it.
BC: Joe Conason said recently that he thinks the Democratic candidate for 2008 should be Al Gore, citing Gore's victory in 2000 and his long-held stance against the Iraq War. Do you agree with Conason?
MCM: I think Joe's right. Gore has been improved immeasurably by his self-exile from the world of politics. It's loosened up his tongue. He tells the truth. If he could retain that spirit as a candidate for president--and if he would confront the issue of electoral reform--he could both win and serve as president. I just can't see him backing down a second time.
BC: How much of a margin of victory does Dem candidate in 2006 or 2008 need to beat the cheating machines and practices of the GOP?
MCM: It would have to be immense. If the theocrats were to "win" despite a ten-point disadvantage going into the election, they and the media could spin it not as a suspicious circumstance but as a stroke of genius on Karl Rove's part. For the absurdity to register, I think the Democrats would have to be ahead by, say, some 20 points--which they may think they can pull off. But it's a very risky sort of calculus. Confronted with such fraud as Bush's people have committed, the Democrats should be attempting to expose it, not just hoping they can somehow override it.
BC: In the same way the "nuclear option" regarding the filibuster could backfire against the Republicans should the Democrats eventually regain a Congressional majority, doesn't the election tampering beg counter-fraud by less than ethical elements within the Democratic infrastructure? And as a result, is it not true that the ultimate end of this process, should it be allowed to continue un-restrained, is the across-the-board disenfranchisement of all American voters? Hence a fascist state -- be it under the banner of a blue donkey or a red elephant?
MCM: That's certainly the danger here--which is tragically ironic, since the Democrats don't need to cheat. Despite themselves, they have majority support, because the people in this country never have supported, don't support and never will support a radical agenda like Bush/Cheney's.
BC: The election fraud aside, one thing I've written a lot about is the religious right. You went to great lengths in Cruel and Unusual to expose what you called the Christo-fascist movement in America and how it extends to the highest levels of our government. How much of this movement is truly about Jesus and Christianity and how much of the movement is simply about consolidation of power under the guise of biblical morality?
MCM: There are actually two questions here, both of them important.
First, there's the explosive question of the Christo-fascist right's theology. Just how Christian is it? That is, how does it relate to Jesus's teachings? For all the movement's fierce religiosity, it seems to contradict the revolutionary thrust of Christianity on every fundamental point.
In the face of such a movement, what would Jesus do? Considering its vengefulness, self-righteousness and violence, and its devotion to big money, worldly power and war, I have no doubt that he would see it as a towering evil, like the Roman Empire, and do whatever he could do against it. Then there's the question of the movement's sincerity. Is it genuinely pious, or do its leaders merely pose as true believers in a ruthless bid for ever greater power? Are Bush, Falwell, Paul Weyrich and Ralph Reed just faking it, and laughing up their sleeves as they bow down in prayer? I think that they do mean it, that they are sincere; and so it's just as dangerous to dismiss their fervor as it would be to laugh off the fanaticism of the Islamists. In fact, they're all cut from the same cloth, both sides enabling one another to keep up the slaughter. We minimize such madness at our peril. Faced with unreasonable movements, reasonable people often tend to make that very dangerous mistake: projecting their own rationality into the crusading lunatic. It is a common misconception on the left, which always feels most comfortable theorizing that the rational Big Money is in charge behind the scenes, manipulating all the pious dummies for its own cold purposes. I wish it were that simple, but it isn't. Between the corporate sector (or certain parts of it) and the religious ultra-right there's a profound convergence. This, and no merely economistic view, can help account for the apocalyptic streak that drives Bush/Cheney and their most ferocious followers and backers.
BC: Along the same line of thought in the previous questions, do you believe that the Christian right understands what could happen as the result of a permanent blurring of the line between Church & State? For example, if any of the Christian Churches become an official adjunct department of the federal government or take a more political role in the national discourse, doesn't that leave religious doctrine open to be legislated against? Or its finances taxed and regulated? Blowback, if you will.
MCM: Again, the question is itself too rational. In the future they imagine, there will be no-one to legislate against the theocratic state, nor anyone to tax or regulate it. There is no need for any sort of pluralism in the sort of state they want to set up here (and, for that matter, everywhere). As far as they're concerned, history is linear, and it will shortly culminate in Jesus Christ's return. That's the only "lesson" they can draw from "history" as they conceive it.
BC: The core tenet of progressive ideology is the idea that government -- any government -- should be held accountable for its actions. Yet the right-wing machine has managed to form a cult of die-hard supporters around the president so much so that they're blinded to his laundry list of dangerous inadequacies as a leader. How did they manage to form this cult around a man so undeserving of cult-leader status? McCain, I could maybe understand. Reagan, okay. But George W. Bush?
MCM: The cult is not that large and never has been. By and large, it comprises many paranoids much like himself. At most it represents some 20% of the electorate. It's a serious mistake to see all evangelicals as Dubya's doubles. A few weeks ago the Wall Street Journal reported a new trend in US evangelical churches: mobilizing their parishioners to do what they can to slow global warming. Neither the right nor the evangelical community is monolithic in its politics.
BC: On a personal note... George Carlin talks about how he positions himself as an observer and not a participant in the human condition. How do you keep this from consuming you emotionally? Are you able to remain, in a way, clinically detached? Do you consider your work a patriotic obligation -- a way to serve your country and the Constitution?
MCM: Do I sound clinically detached? All I know is that if I didn't do this I'd have trouble living with myself.
BC: When do you suppose the mainstream media -- mainly the cable news outlets -- will realize that rubberstamping (or ignoring the misdeeds of) a president with 35% approval numbers can only hurt their business models and ratings? Do the Fox Newses and Sean Hannitys and Rush Limbaughs of the world realize that if they, too, began to question the actions of Bushco, their ratings might actually increase and their corporate masters might be happier with the bottom line?
MCM: Fox is a rightist propaganda operation. What it mainly sells is paranoid resentment, for which there'll always be a market. In any case, News Corporation, Fox's parent company, owns so much of the media that Fox can keep on spewing bilge forever, even if it goes into the red. If it did start losing money, it would be to Rupert Murdoch what the Washington Times is to Sun Myung Moon. Murdoch will spend money sheerly for the sake of his political agenda, as he's done in publishing Newt Gingrich and Deng Mao Mao (Deng Xiaoping's daughter), among other readerless auteurs, at HarperCollins.
BC: What will historians of the future say about the Bush years? More importantly, what will historians of the future say about the Americans who, en masse, have allowed this regime into power and subsequently turned a blind eye?
MCM: They're the Silent Minority. By now, most of our fellow-citizens do seem to get it -- the needless war, the crackpot foreign policy, the fiscal recklessness, the malign neglect of everyone who's not a Bush Republican, the long assault on civil liberties, etc. And yet the gravest crime of all-the deliberate subversion of US democracy -- has still gone largely unremarked, mostly notably by many liberals and progressives. Where are they? It's time for all of them to read the writing on the wall.
Mark Crispin Miller's blog can be found here.