Every so often, political hacks join high-minded commissions and say things that sound downright statesman-like. But then, with the passage of time, when dollar signs dance in their heads, they forget that they have a conscience and go back to prostitution. That appears to be the case here in California, where lawyers for the Republican Party have put forward an initiative so cynical and embarrassingly partisan, that Fidel Castro would blush. The New York Times put it succinctly in a scathingly powerful editorial yesterday: this initiative is an "elaborate dirty trick" by a "shadowy group" of California Republicans will "do serious damage to our democracy."
The story is really quite simple: President Bush is fast outpacing Richard Nixon as the modern president who can most effectively shred the constitution. Mr. Nixon avoided impeachment, conviction and a probable prison sentence for disgusting dirty tricks by resigning from office and receiving a subsequent pardon from his successor, Gerald Ford. At the time, Mr. Nixon suffered from a chronic inability to tell the truth about a "third rate burglary" in the Watergate building in Washington. A free press and a truly bi-partisan Congress ended the national misery of this threat to constitutional democracy by demanding the truth and then forcing Mr. Nixon to leave office.
Dirty tricks brought down Richard Nixon two years after he had reelection in 1972 by a near record landslide.
These days, the Bush White House and minions see the writing on the poll. Mr. Bush's affirmative ratings rival those of Mr. Nixon in his last days in office. Over the years, the Republicans have learned their lessons at the hand of Professor Rove. The teachable moment began in December, 2000, when the Republicans stole votes in Florida, used lawyers and liars to avoid a recount and then in a precedent-setting vote, had one member of the Supreme Court declare Mr. Bush as president.
Dirty tricks stole the 2000 election. Mr. Nixon would have been embarrassed by his lack of creativity.
Tom DeLay, who as the House majority leader put up with the inconvenience of having to achieve Congressional majorities to pass legislation, simply stole five new congressional seats in 2003 by using corporate money to bribe members of the Texas legislature to invent new Republican seats where formerly Democrats had been electable. Remember when the minority Democratic members of the Texas legislature fled the state so that there could be no vote on this literally corrupt power grab? Eventually, DeLay won and Democrats did not win back the House, by about five seats. DeLay's gone, but at what price?
Dirty tricks, paid for illegally by corporate funds, kept the House in Bush's hands for another two years.
Now a lawyer named Tom Hiltachk, who works for the California Republican Party and until a few months ago worked for Governor Schwarzenegger, has filed an initiative that would steal 20 or so Electoral College votes from California's 55, making it damn near impossible for a Democrat to win back the White House. Mr. Hiltachk would clearly have been right at home in Nixon's White House, Bush's Florida election-stealing operation and Tom DeLay's House seat grab. He understands the nuances and effects of big money on electoral politics, successfully serving the likes of Philip Morris, Blue Cross, Tenet Healthcare and Allststate Insurance (not to mention California Congressman Richard Pombo, until his untimely defeat last year). If Mr. Hiltachk's's initiative qualifies for and passes the June, 2008 California ballot, he'll go right up there with Nixon, Bush and DeLay in the pantheon of thieves of democracy.
Dirty tricks win out for Republicans, decade after decade, especially in the era of Bush and Rove. They are addicted to dirty tricks so we have to intervene. That's why Courage Campaign together with netroots and other activists around the country is circulating a petition to stop these dirty tricks.
But Mr. Hiltachk probably did not realize that his own law partner felt a civic duty to join with former Presidents Ford and Carter, among many others of high repute, to issue a report on how to avoid future "Florida's." Issued in August, 2001, the commission on which sat Mr. Hilchak's law partner Colleen McAndrews, said "The supposed disproportionate influence of small states may be counter-balanced by the "unit rule" adopted by 48 of the 50 states that allows the popular vote winner, whatever the margin, to claim all the state's electors. Put simply, the report says that so long as there is an electoral college, the best way to assure that large states have proportionate influence on the outcome of the presidential elections is winner take all, just as California and all but two small states have mandated for decades.
Why does this matter? Well, Mr. Hiltach and his cronies have adopted Goebbels-speak to say the opposite is true, that by some miracle of math, California's "prestige" would be enhanced by splitting up our Electoral College vote. Mr. Hilchak and his partner Ms. McAndrews owe us an explanation. Either Mr. Hiltach does not believe his own law partner, or he knows he's lying when he says his initiative will help increase the California's clout in national politics. Either way, it's another dirty trick.
There's one simple way to put this behind us. Imagine if hundreds of thousands of ordinary people in this country signed a petition to say "no more dirty tricks." And then every day, for as long as it takes, we force those who have the temerity to support this dirty trick to explain themselves.
What post-partisan leader could possibly favor this?