The reality we're speaking of, in fact, is one that lately has gone unremarked even by liberals -- namely, the stark truth that the Republicans' theft of the presidency in the 2000 election remains the real wellspring issue of the 2004 campaign.
Without that theft -- and the widespread recognition of its nature by millions of voters, if only a handful of media pundits -- the depth and breadth of the opposition to George W. Bush would not be what it is.
Mind you, it didn't have to be this way. Bush could have recognized the need to reach out across aisles and govern from the center. He could have appointed moderates to fill his Cabinet and judiciary appointments; he could have taken a conscientious approach to the environment; he could have dealt openly with the public in formulating an energy policy; and most of all, he could have dealt with the war on terror -- and particularly the invasion of Iraq -- in a consultative, cooperative spirit that stressed traditional multilateralism.
Instead, the nation was fed a steady diet of extremist appointments, environmental pillage, arrogant secrecy, and a radical unilateralist approach to the challenges raised by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, directed from on high by a White House quick to paint their critics as unpatriotic traitors.
It was clear, in fact, that this was how Bush would rule from Day One. On Inauguration Day, he drove down Pennsylvania Avenue expecting to be greeted with hosannas -- and instead, was greeted with the largest peacetime protest of a presidential swearing-in ever. Since then, we've seen a president who clearly believes he was divinely appointed, and a governing party who believes in the birthright of wealth and power, whose continuing rule at every step reflects the unholy arrogance of the self-righteous.
And now, as reality sinks in and the fruits of that style of rule are reflected in sinking polls, they are reduced to hamhanded attempts to silence their critics -- even those on the floor of Congress. Critics such as Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat and an African-American, who this week was officially censured by House leadership for daring to utter the following words:
- I come from Florida, where you and others participated in what I call the United States coup d'etat. We need to make sure that it doesn't happen again. Over and over again after the election when you stole the election, you came back here and said get over it. No we're not going to get over it and we want verification from the world.
Of course, the 50,996,116 people who voted for Al Gore in 2000 (or those whose votes were counted, anyway) were browbeaten from the beginning by the right-wing propaganda machine, branded as "sore losers" and told, repeatedly, to "get over it."
But how, exactly, do you "get over" the assault on democracy that the election theft represented? Certainly not by enduring three-plus years of arrogant incompetence. Moreover, any American who cherishes democratic values -- particularly the bedrock principle of having one's vote counted, because it is the essence of political enfranchisement -- would not, should not, readily shrug this off. This is not, and never should be characterized as, a minor issue.
The GOP, of course, has studiously avoided confronting this reality, and Rep. Brown's remarks were simply too much to bear. As the story goes on to explain, Tom DeLay and Co. quickly sprung into action:
- Those comments drew an immediate objection from Republican members of the House. Leaders moved to strike her comments from the record. The House also censured Brown which kept her from talking on the House floor for the rest of the day.
[Via Holden at Eschaton.]
Interestingly enough, Joan Chittister of the National Catholic Reporter recently had a similar experience, this time in the field of publishing:
Chittister was asked to submit a piece to an unnamed publication as part of a roundtable discussion of what almost certainly was a simple, almost eighth-grade-civics-level question: "What do you think is the major issue in the upcoming November presidential election?"
As it turned out, however, the magazine was operated by a nonprofit organization, and its lawyers informed the editors that the responses produced for the piece might endanger its 501(c)3 status -- primarily because many of the pieces offered scathing assessments of the Bush administration's three-plus years of misbegotten rule.
So Chittister turned to the Reporter to publish her contribution. Here's the nub of it:
- I am convinced that the unspoken -- and secretly most impelling -- issue in the election of 2004 is the election of 2000. This election, in fact, will almost certainly be seen by many, both now and in the future, as an attempt to reconfirm the image of governmental integrity in the United States, to reassert real democracy, to reauthenticate the American ballot box. John Kerry himself spoke to the lingering impact of the last election when questioned about whether, as president, he would work to overturn the election of international leaders whose policies did not agree with our own. Kerry put it this way: "As far as I know," he said, "an election is still an election. Except in Florida."
Everywhere the subject never really goes away. Everywhere the continuing dissatisfaction goes deep.
So, there is a campaign issue beyond, but basic to, any of the other ones: Will this election be decided by the people or by boxes of uncounted ballots, a State Attorney General and the Supreme Court? The real American question is: What would have been lost by taking two more weeks to recount ballots in a way that honored the foundation of the entire American system of government?
But don't be fooled. This issue is not a trivial one, coming out of pique or fostered by sore losers. On the contrary. This is the issue that determines every other issue on the agenda. Worst of all, perhaps never have there been greater issues than now, and all at one time. Until we assure ourselves that our elections are safe, nothing else in this country is safe.
Because of those ballots, lost or stolen, misused or miscounted, obstructed or not, the country found itself with one set of programs rather than another.
As a result, the issues that only a ballot can decide are this time more momentous than ever.
It's probably just as well that the Democrats on the campaign trail generally are not talking about the 2000 election at this point. But it is not a moot point -- and trying to pretend that it is ultimately is nothing less than gaslighting.