The vote grabbers
Fooled Again: how the right stole the 2004 election and why they'll steal the next one too (unless w
Americans believe many myths about their democracy, but the honesty of US elections - in particular of presidential elections - must be one of the most treasured. Plenty of elections in America, from the school board to the White House, have been rigged, fixed, corrupted or stolen. The 1960 election of John F Kennedy is now acknowledged to have been dubious, especially in Illinois, where the Democratic machine bought up or scammed enough votes to throw the state into the Democratic column, thus deciding the election. Richard Nixon, correctly concluding that America would shun a sore loser, put on a sweaty smile and graciously accepted his "defeat", enabling him to run again and take the White House in 1968.
But two wrongs don't make a right, and there is a growing sense that there was something rotten about the 2004 elections, especially in Florida and the vital swing state of Ohio. In Fooled Again, Mark Crispin Miller makes a persuasive case that in 2004 - as in 2000 - the Republican Party and its corporate and religious allies fielded a multitude of programmes and projects designed systematically to suppress the Democratic vote, particularly among minorities, while inflating Republican support.
Miller recalls this strategy being inadvertently revealed by the Republican representative Peter King on the White House lawn in the summer of 2003. "It's already over," exulted the tipsy congressman about the coming election. "It's all over but the counting. And we'll take care of the counting."
And take care of the counting they did. J Kenneth Blackwell, co-chair of the Bush/Cheney campaign in Ohio, orchestrated several high-handed bureaucratic stratagems designed to disenfranchise supporters of the Democratic Party, which had succeeded in registering thousands of new voters. In September 2004, invoking an obscure, previously unenforced election law, Blackwell ordered county election boards to reject all Ohio voter registration forms except those printed on white, uncoated paper of a certain text weight, knowing full well that most of the rejected forms would belong to counties - poor, working class, black and Hispanic - which mainly voted Democrat.
Then there were the dirty tricks, reminiscent of the "black ops" used by the CIA in third-world elections, such as phoning voters to tell them, falsely, that their polling place had changed, handing out fake flyers instructing Democrats that they were not to vote until 3 November (the day after the election) and despatching "volunteers" to show up at the homes of Democrats and offer to take their absentee ballots to the election office.
Nor were the Republicans and their henchmen above using old-fashioned intimidation, à la the Jim Crow South, to keep black Americans from the polls. Hired goon squads bussed in from Texas challenged mystified black voters to produce documents confirming their eligi-bility to vote; voters were photographed, using telephoto lenses, from ominous-looking SUVs with smoked-glass windows; rumours were circulated that voters owing child support, traffic fines or college loans would be arrested if they tried to vote. And in Democrat-majority precincts a lack of working voting mach-ines, along with police harassment and other obstacles, led to long lines of frustrated voters, many of whom gave up and went home without casting their vote.
Miller cites numerous statistical oddities: "In Mercer County some 4,000 votes for president - representing nearly 7 per cent of the electorate - mysteriously dropped out of the final count." In another county, the number of Bush votes actually ex-ceeded the number of registered voters, producing voter turnout rates of 124 per cent. The author meticulously recounts many more abuses and chicanery, not only in Ohio but in Florida, Iowa, New Mexico and other crucial states.
Naturally, Republicans and right-wing pundits have derided those making such claims as "sore losers" and "paranoid conspiracy theorists". The then House whip Tom DeLay, currently under indictment in a money-laundering scandal, called challenges to the legitimacy of the election "an assault against the institutions of our representative democracy".
If Fooled Again merely chronicled the theft of a presidential election, it would be yet another damning indictment of Bush and the modern-day Republican Party (as if another were needed). But Miller goes further, exploring the right wing's contempt for the democratic processes it so enthusiastically recommends to other nations, and the extreme fanaticism and paranoia that leads the "Busheviks", as Miller calls them, to feel that they are above the law and beyond the democratic process. Their aim, Miller points out, is "not to master politics but to annihilate it . . . treating the opposition the way corporations treat competitors".
Miller also indicts the liberal press for its shocking squelching of major stories in the weeks before the election, such as the revelation that Bush indeed cheated during the first debate by wearing an electronic device that allowed his handlers to feed him talking points. And he pours scorn on the timidity of the Democratic Party, particularly John Kerry, whose hasty concession to Bush precluded any legal challenges or calls for recounts, ironically making him in no small part responsible for the mess America is in.
Fooled Again is a must-read for anyone who cares about democracy in America - and its survival in an age of trimmers and would-be tyrants.