White like me
Saturday, January 08, 2005
Here's a disturbing piece out of Portland, from Willamette Week:
- Dreaming of a White New Year: "Ghost skins" plan to descend on Southwest Portland in the next month.
White supremacists have been seeking to mainstream themselves for years, particularly as the younger generation of former skinheads has aged and melted into larger society. The militia movement of the 1990s was a form of this mainstreaming, but it entailed stripping out the overtly racist and anti-Semitic content of the belief system, leaving it to revolve around conspiracy and monetary theories as the chief drivers of its political agenda.
If this story is accurate, then they're trying out a new strategy that keeps intact these more noxious elements and presents them in a guise of seeming social normalcy:
- Ramm, a Tualatin resident, is the national director of the Tualatin Valley Skins and, in some ways, the new face of intolerance. He and his fellow supremacists are self-described "ghost skins." They don't shave their heads, commit crimes or duck-step around town in boots and braces. While their identities remain murky, their goals are crystal-clear.
"We seek to enlighten the public on racial truths the media, schools and government are afraid to promote," says Ramm.
To perform this duty, he and an unknown number of like-minded Aryans are staging a "flyer outreach contest" Jan. 8 in Gabriel Park. Sometime after 1 pm, they will disperse through the surrounding Hayhurst, Maplewood and Multnomah neighborhoods armed with hate-promoting handbills. These are rubber-banded around rocks, stuffed into plastic baggies and lobbed onto the lawns and driveways of pre-assigned targets.
Ramm says judges will be manning a police scanner and the team who generates the most complaints wins 1,000 white-power songs, two racist DVDs and a 17-inch swastika.
According to the TVS website, the contest is a perfectly legal opportunity to "just say NO to the Oregon cesspool of Niggers, Spics, Kikes, Faggots, Ragheads, Chinks, Gooks, Roaches & leftist communist swine."
One of the aspects of right-wing extremism that is most frequently overlooked is its ability to blend into the landscape and present itself as normal. My encounters with various members and camp followers of the Aryan Nations, and my personal encounters with avowed neo-Nazis as well as Freemen and militiamen, made me realize that the stereotype was wrong: For the most part, many of these people passed as least nominally normal. They held jobs, paid taxes, took part in the PTA and local clubs, went to barbecues with their neighbors and went fishing with their coworkers.
James Aho discussed this in depth in his landmark 1992 study The Politics of Righteousness: Idaho Christian Patriotism. Aho compiled an extensive dataset on a large number of members of far-right "Patriot" groups and found that, by and large, they were better educated and better employed than the average American, contrary to the stereotype. (He did observe a particular trend in their education patterns; they hardly ever came from fields involving the humanities, and had an emphasis on technical, engineering and business fields.) For the most part, their lifestyles were indistinguishable from that of their neighbors.
It was this realization, concurrent with the recognition that what I was dealing with was genuine fascism, that sparked my long interest in fascism studies. It's one of the reasons I continue to insist that fascism is not such a distant phenomenon for we Americans.
If the "ghost skins" of Portland enjoy any success, it will signal a more deeply disturbing trend: a receptivity to this tactic, the object of which is "normalizing" white supremacist beliefs. Given the current political environment and latent intolerance, it seems likely they'll at least pick up some numbers on the margins; the bigger picture rests on their ability to actually mainstream themselves and gain acceptance.
Here's hoping the people in Portland who are standing up to them -- including the nonprofit Southwest Neighborhoods -- have some success as well.
Beyond the pale
Friday, January 07, 2005
The hatemongers of the right-wing pundit class are always pushing the envelope, trying to top each other with fresh outrages that continually redefine the boundaries of acceptable public discourse, grossly distorting that discourse along the way.
Every now and then, one of them will tread well over that line. Think of Ann Coulter's remark about wishing Tim McVeigh had blown up the New York Times building. Not only the remark, but people's reactions to it, become telling. They tell us a lot about the real characters of the people who would condone such filth, let alone utter it.
Michael Savage, who has had many such moments, has finally topped himself. Media Matters reports that he said the following on his Dec. 31 radio show:
- SAVAGE: It is the Savage Nation out here on the West Coast. We've had rain for five days. We have another five days of it. I need some aid right now. International aid. Because I may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder if this keeps up. Maybe I should go to the U.N. [United Nations] and see if I can get some special psychotherapy and sun lamps.
We shouldn't be sending as much as we're sending. Bush has a lot of gall writing a check for 135 million dollars. This is more a UNICEF deal, it's a U.N. deal, it's a Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, George Soros, Bill Clinton bleeding-heart-liberal deal. I don't want to send them any money. You know, a few airplanes with some medical supplies and a little lip service would have been fine for me.
You could take the argument that it's God's will, it's too bad and let's move on. And then let others help them. They're not in our sphere of interest. Primarily, they hate our guts in plain English. All right, well, the argument is, well, if you send them money, they're gonna like us, show 'em we're not anti-Muslim. That is such rubbish. That is such rubbish. They're gonna hate you anyhow, no matter what we ever do.
It's not a tragedy. I wouldn't call it a tragedy. It's a human disaster. It's not a tragedy in that sense. But, the issue is, theological questions suddenly arise. ... Now, for you atheists, you have no questions about this. It's a pure accident of nature. You don't ask yourself, "Was it God's hand?"
Apparently, Savage has now joined the Fred Phelps school of compassionate conservatism.
But as unconscionably inhuman as these remarks were, he was only getting started. In fact, what followed was genuinely dangerous:
- If you are a God-believing, God-fearing person, I am sure at some point you ask yourself, wait a minute. The epicenter of this earthquake and the resulting tidal wave was adjacent to the sex trade island of Phuket, Thailand ... and then it knocked out many, many regions of Indonesia, some of which are the most vicious recruiting grounds for Islamic terrorists. That's a fact of reality. Then going the other way, it hit Sri Lanka, ex-Ceylon. And as you well know, Sri Lanka is a viciously anti-Western nation, the home of the Tamil Tigers, who are not only separatists but anti-Westerners, anti-Christians, etc. You could argue, maybe this is God's hand, because some of their brethren struck Christian America. Maybe God speaks the truth but waits. Seeks the truth and waits. I don't know. You could argue: God struck them. Now, I don't argue that because I'm not a theologian. Nor do I believe that God is omnipotent. I believe God is omnipresent. But I don't think God has control over every act because there would be no free will and I don't believe in that. ... But then again, who knows? I'm one man amongst billions of people, with one man's opinion.
Many of the countries and the areas in these countries that were hit by these tidal waves were hotbeds of radical Islam. Why should we be helping them destroy us? ... I think what we're doing is feeding our own demise. ... I truthfully don't believe in foreign aid.
We shouldn't be spending a nickel on this, as far as I'm concerned. ... I don't want one nickel of my money going over there. ... I am sick of being bled to death by every damn incident on the earth.
If Michael Savage ever were perceived as the voice of America, we'd all be in big trouble. The rest of the world would see us as monsters, and they'd be right.
Digby the other day caught Rush Limbaugh playing footsie with the same kind of sentiments:
- CALLER: (Giggle) Well, I was pretty upset and even getting madder the more coverage I watched, and I was thinking, 'Why am I not feeling so charitable, and I'm seeing all these bodies,' and then I see this picture on the Internet that was sent to me, and it was them carrying a body along in Sri Lanka, it said Galle, G-a-l-l-e, Sri Lanka and they had a crowd of people watching and this guy in the middle is standing there looking at the body wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.
RUSH: I saw that picture.
CALLER: And I thought, it just validated the way I felt and I thought these are the same people that were the cheerleaders on 9/11, and we're going to go rebuild their world for them.
CALLER: Now, I love President Bush. I respect him. I voted for him, but when I saw him come out and I realized they were asking for more money --
CALLER: -- I got even madder, and I thought, 'I don't think we should be asked to give any more.'
Later in the show, a Sri Lankan man called in to correct the woman's misimpressions:
- CALLER: Yeah, Rush, hi. I wanted to answer the lady called earlier regarding to the guy is wearing a T-shirt. I don't know he was a dead guy or not. I'm from Sri Lanka. I've been listening to you for a long time. Sri Lanka is not a Muslim nation. Sri Lanka is 68% Singhalese people, that influence all the Catholics and the majority is Buddhist.
RUSH: Yes, yes.
CALLER: There are Muslims around that, you know, probably hate America, but we don't hate United States of America. The Singhalese people do not hate America. I just want to tell you that because we have our own problem for years with Tamil, and Muslim people. I just wanted to tell you that.
RUSH: That woman was calling from Pennsylvania, and there's picture going around the Internet, and I've seen it. Some aid is arriving while a body is being carted away, and there's a kid, a young man watching it all with a bin Laden t-shirt. She said the picture is from Sri Lanka. I don't know that it is. I don't know the picture is from Sri Lanka, but you have to understand the power of pictures. You know, there are going to be some Americans who are just going to recoil at the thought that we are bailing out and helping people who swear an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, whether it's in Sri Lanka or not. I don't think her comment was actually aimed at Sri Lanka per se, specifically. It was just in reaction to that picture she saw. What are the Muslim nations that were affected by this tsunami, if not Sri Lanka?
The ignorance that abounds here really is astonishing in both the Limbaugh and Savage transcripts. The epicenter of the quake was near Sumatra, one of the islands of Indonesia, a largely Muslim nation. (In case anyone has forgotten, it was also a noteworthy victim of an Al Qaeda attack, namely, the bombing in Bali.) Most of the rest of the victim nations are Hindu or Buddhist.
What's dangerous about these remarks is the way they play right into the hands of Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. As I long ago remarked, people who make all of Islam out to be our Enemy are furthering bin Laden's hopes, which is to draw us into an all-out global religious conflict pitting Islam against the West.
Savage has been playing this theme for a long time, but rarely has he stooped to such vicious and monstrous depths. These remarks, if repeated in the Muslim world as representative of American beliefs, have the potential to cause serious long-term damage.
Fortunately, no one really takes Savage that seriously. He remains firmly embedded in the public mind as a representative of far-right conservatism.
The flip side of this caveat is the fact that he's the third-most popular talk-show host on right-wing radio. If he's on the fringe, it's become a mighty big damned fringe.
Worst of all, you'll find all kinds of supposedly "mainstream" conservatives defending him, a la Limbaugh, as just an "entertainer."
Actually, Savage is a right-wing propagandist. He belongs to, and is a major spokesman for, the conservative movement.
And these remarks, it should be clear, place him well beyond the pale of what should be acceptable public discourse. He is a hate-monger and an unreconstructed bigot who deserves not even a scintilla of credibility. Any right-winger who refuses to renounce him -- let alone who condones him or supports him -- is making clear that they stand shoulder to shoulder with Savage in his bottomless moral abyss.
Savage's remarks should be a benchmark: Either repudiate them, and the man who spoke them, or stand confirmed as a moral wretch. It's a simple test. Let's see who passes.
Thursday, January 06, 2005
This cartoon is titled "America Haters." Talk about your classic case of projection. You've gotta love how the liberal antiwar type is waving from atop a heap of corpses. Doesn't get much more inflammatory than that, does it? (It can be found in the Jewish World Review.)
Of course, I just mentioned the increasing inclination by people on the rank-and-file right to talk loosely about rounding up and executing liberals. A lot of this is fueled, I think, by the pervasive identification of liberals (and the "liberal media") with the Enemy, that is, with terrorists. This cartoon fits precisely into this trend.
Another interesting recent example of this is the (I think) current edition of the NRA magazine America's 1st Freedom (though strangely, it isn't available online). The cover story, titled "Media Terror," is all about how the "liberal media elite" undermines our "freedom" and the "war on terror." The cover illustration features a terrorist-looking dark-clad figure (who just might be a journalist) strangling an eagle in his hand. Nothing like subtlety, huh?
[I saw this magazine during my trip to Idaho, and it belonged to someone else. If anyone knows how to obtain a copy for my files, I'd appreciate a note in my e-mail.]
Well, I think we're getting the message. The rabid right wingers don't hate America. They just hate their fellow Americans.
Brave new media, my ass
Remember how everyone was certain the blogosphere had blown Dan Rather out of the water by "proving" that the so-called "Killian memos" it displayed in its story on George W. Bush's military career were "fraudulent"? Wasn't that the basis for Time naming PowerLine "blog of the year"?
Not so fast, please. As Corey Pein explains in the latest Columbia Journalism Review, what those self-anointed "new journalists" of the blogosphere achieved was something well below even the crudest of journalistic standards in terms of getting to the truth of the matter. Mainly because their work was so bereft of factual basis:
- But CBS's critics are guilty of many of the very same sins. First, much of the bloggers' vaunted fact-checking was seriously warped. Their driving assumptions were often drawn from flawed information or based on faulty logic. Personal attacks passed for analysis. Second, and worse, the reviled MSM often followed the bloggers' lead. As mainstream media critics of CBS piled on, rumors shaped the news and conventions of sourcing and skepticism fell by the wayside. Dan Rather is not alone on this one; respected journalists made mistakes all around.
Of special note is the way the memos were "debunked":
- Haste explains the rapid spread of thinly supported theories and flawed critiques, which moved from partisan blogs to the nation’s television sets. For example, the morning after CBS's September 8 report, the conservative blog Little Green Footballs posted a do-it-yourself experiment that supposedly proved that the documents were produced on a computer. On September 11, a self-proclaimed typography expert, Joseph Newcomer, copied the experiment, and posted the results on his personal Web site. Little Green Footballs delighted in the "authoritative and definitive" validation, and posted a link to Newcomer's report on September 12. Two days later, Newcomer -- who was "100 percent" certain that the memos were forged -- figured high in a Washington Post report. The Post's mention of Newcomer came up that night on Fox, MSNBC, and CNN, and on September 15, he was a guest on Fox News's Hannity & Colmes.
Newcomer gave the press what it wanted: a definite answer. The problem is, his proof turns out to be far less than that. Newcomer's résumé -- boasting a Ph.D. in computer science and a role in creating electronic typesetting -- seemed impressive. His conclusions came out quickly, and were bold bordering on hyperbolic. The accompanying analysis was long and technical, discouraging close examination. Still, his method was simple to replicate, and the results were easy to understand:
- Based on the fact that I was able, in less than five minutes . . . to type in the text of the 01-August-1972 memo into Microsoft Word and get a document so close that you can hold my document in front of the 'authentic' document and see virtually no errors, I can assert without any doubt (as have many others) that this document is a modern forgery. Any other position is indefensible.
Red flags wave here, or should have. Newcomer begins with the presumption that the documents are forgeries, and as evidence submits that he can create a very similar document on his computer. This proves nothing -- you could make a replica of almost any document using Word. Yet Newcomer's aggressive conclusion is based on this logical error.
Many of the typographic critiques were similarly flawed. Would-be gumshoes typed up documents on their computers and fooled around with the images in Photoshop until their creation matched the originals. Someone remembered something his ex-military uncle told him, others recalled the quirks of an IBM typewriter not seen for twenty years. There was little new evidence and lots of pure speculation. But the speculation framed the story for the working press.
Pein goes on to mention the case of Utah State professor David Hailey, who was sucked into the blog controversy because of journalistically irresponsible behavior on the part the right-wing blog WizBang (described in detail here and here). Hailey himself has now published a response to the controversy.
Of course, I've been saying all along that these self-proclaimed "new journalists" had better learn that they're going to have face the same reality that was part and parcel of the world of "old journalism": Credibility is the coin of the realm, and you won't have it very long if you don't engage in fact-checking and testing your pet theses. If PowerLine, Little Green Footballs, and WizBang represent the future of blogging, we might as well give up now.
In any event, the blue-ribbon panel investigating the CBS memos is supposed to release its report soon. Popcorn, anyone?
Headin' for the big roundup
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Having made two post-election jaunts to the red state hinterlands of Idaho and Montana, I'm back to report that, well, things are getting ugly out there. In some cases, really ugly.
I've been talking for some time about the course that eliminationist rhetoric on the right would eventually take by the force of its own nature: pretty soon we'd go from talking about liberals as traitors to overtly wishing for violence to be visited upon them and discussing locking them up, followed in due course by such violence and incarceration becoming a reality.
Well, it is now becoming a commonly spoken sentiment on the right to wish for violence against liberals and to simultaneously suggest they and all "traitors" (including Muslim Americans) should be locked away. We're firmly into Phase II now.
Now, you won't hear this talk on the upper levels of the conservative movement. People like William Bennett will call for a "national renewal" aimed at enforcing a new moral code, while Ann Coulter will explain to her readership, a la the title of her most recent "bestseller", that the "preferable" way to address a liberal is with "a baseball bat." [Ha ha. Whatsa matter, you don't think that's funny? Someone should beat you up.]
And if you talk to supposedly "reasonable" conservatives, who will claim that talk like this remains relegated to the fringes and is just so much "hot talk." I've been hearing this for a long time, but I keep hearing more and more of the eliminationist talk.
You hear it when conservatives -- especially those red-state cultural conservatives from the working class who are most likely to vote against their own self-interest, and then blame liberals for how lousy their lives are -- get together among themselves for their communal liberal-bashing hatefests. They'll say it when they think no one else is listening. You can hear it from "fringe" radio figures like Michael Savage. Or you can read it in the unpublished letters to the editor that most publications choose not to run.
It's the natural outgrowth of the kind of rhetoric we've gotten from the national conservative punditry, manifesting itself on a less sophisticated but more direct and plain-spoken mode.
My very clear impression of the rank-and-file American right is that many if not most of them, at the behest of their leaders, now believe that opposing George W. Bush and the Iraq War, as well as his handling of the War on Terror, is an act of genuine treason worthy of the ultimate social condemnation, including incarceration and execution. They feel not only vindicated but profoundly empowered by the election result, empowered to silence their opposition, by force if need be.
These aren't just my impressions from hanging out in Deep Red Country. The evidence is abundant elsewhere as well. Consider, for instance, some of the letters to the editor received by Editor and Publisher after it published a piece by former USA Today publisher Al Neuharth (who is not exactly a liberal) questioning the administration's handling of Iraq.
One correspondent wished we had formed an alliance with Hitler (so we could have eliminated Commies and leftists from the planet first), while the rest called the offending authors "cowards and traitors", "unAmerican," "jackals," and the like. Then the threatening notes enter:
- Their dissent equals treason. The terrorists got him just like all the other rich liberals who side against our victory. They forget that wars end, and then the country takes stock of who was where.
More along those lines:
- Neuharth should be tried for treason along with a lot of other blowhards who should be spending their energies condemning the barbarism of our enemies, the same people who destroyed the Twin Towers.
... In the end William Joyce was executed for giving aid and comfort to the enemy during war time. Would that the same fate befall Al Neuharth!
The consummate expression of these attitudes was this:
- The Patriot Act will put both of you (Neuharth and Mitchell) on trial for treason and convict and execute both of you as traitors for running these stories in a time of war and it should be done on TV for other communist traitors like you two to know we mean business. This is war and you should be put in prison NOW for talking like this. Who the hell do you people think you are? You give aid and comfort to our enemies and aid them in murdering our proud soldiers. You people are a disgrace to America. Your families should be put in prison with you, then be made to leave and move to the Middle East ...This is a great Christian nation and god wants us to lead the world out of darkness with great leaders like President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. Communists like Al and Greg will soon be in prison and on death row for your ugly papers. We won the election and now you are mad. We own America and all the rights, you people are trash, go back to Russia and Africa and take your friends with before we put you on death row after a fair trial.
E&P had earlier been the recipient of a similar e-mail from a fellow named Joe M. Richardson voicing similar sentiments, while holding forth on the subject of the soldiers who dared to question Donald Rumsfeld (cited by Atrios):
- The duped soldier should be put at the very front of the action, no armor. The cooperating sergeant's career should be over and maybe become MIA. Pitts and all his cronies should be executed as traitors. We are fighting a war, the debate is over, you’re either for us or against us, there is no middle ground. I say start executing the leftists in our country, soon.
Bow-tied Beltway Republicans (and liberals, too) like to disregard talk like this as unrepresentative. But I don't think that's the case any longer. I think they're not just blowing smoke, they're deluding themselves. It's out there, and it's just about everywhere.
As Better Angels put it:
- As for ol' Joe: nothing that you say to someone like him will change his mind. What I'm afraid of is that there are many, many more like him, that they're the ones driving the debate, and that we won't be able to unhorse them until this noble, great, beloved country of mine lies in ruins--and even then, they'll be so congenitally unable to accept responsibility that they'll be looking for blame everywhere except where it lies--in themselves.
A lot of my regular readers wondered why I jumped all over Michelle Malkin for her noxious defense of the Japanese American internment. Aside from my extensive background in dealing with the subject -- enough to know that Malkin was perpetrating an outrage against memory and history -- the more pertinent concern was that I could see where this argument was heading.
Malkin's disingenuous disclaimers notwithstanding, it was clear she was creating a rationale for repeating one of American history's real atrocities by rounding up and incarcerating the nation's Arab and/or Muslim populace and placing them in concentration camps (given an appropriate GOP-style euphemism like, say, "homeland security centers"). Earlier this week, Bush appointee Daniel Pipes published an op-ed piece clearly advocating the view that such internment should be considered a viable option. (Eric Muller has the consummate commentary on Pipes' piece.)
As Juan Cole observed, in light of Pipes' piece:
- If the American yahoos ever start putting people in concentration camps, I think we may be assured that they won't stop with the Muslims or the Asians, and Mr. Pipes will come to have reason to regret his imprudence and, frankly, his demonic implication.
So will, I suspect, a whole class of willfully self-deluded conservatives and "moderate" liberals. As for the rest of us, well, who knows whether we'll even still be around when they finally reach their epiphany?
Replaying Florida in Washington
I don't know how many of you have been following the mini-drama regarding the governor's race up here in Washington state, but it's worth noting if only because of certain national implications contained therein. I have been tracking it while busily not posting here the past few weeks.
Christine Gregoire was not my first choice for the governorship, but then, Democrats failed to nominate anyone who was. Gregoire emerged as the winner in a mediocre field, and so it didn't surprise me when she ran a tepid, uninspiring campaign. In fact, it was awful. As it also happened, a good friend of mine worked for Gregoire's office for several years, and over the years he had provided me with a less than flattering view of her judgment and competence.
The only problem was that her opposition, Dino Rossi, was a real potential nightmare. A wholly owned subsidiary of the Building Industry Association of Washington, Rossi was big battering ram aimed right at the state's environmental protection laws. He also was something of a stealth candidate for the religious right, which he masked with an affable public image. There are also some latent issues regarding Rossi's personal ethics.
So I held my nose and voted for Gregoire. (My friend did not; he simply left the governor's race blank.) But I wasn't surprised when the initial returns showed Gregoire losing by 261 votes -- in a year when Patty Murray and John Kerry won handily at the polls statewide. In other words, a lot of people voted for Kerry, Murray ... and Rossi.
Since there were some 2.9 million votes cast, the narrow margin triggered an automatic machine recount, which further trimmed Rossi's margin to a mere 42 votes. At that point, Gregoire's last chance lay in filing for a manual recount, requiring a $730,000 up-front deposit on the part of Democrats. For awhile, no one was sure whether Democrats were even going to come up with the money for it.
At this point, Republicans went into their classic bullying mode, a la Florida 2000: Rossi won the first two counts. Why take it to court? Radio talk-show host John Carlson, the GOP's 2000 gubernatorial nominee, advised Gregoire to "concede already," based on his experience. There was, however, ahem, a minor difference of several hundred thousand votes in Carlson's case.
Indeed, with a difference of 42, it would have been be foolish not to file for a manual recount. It was, after all, the third and final step allowed by Washington law when it came to counting votes in this state's election. But the GOP went all-out to make it seem Gregoire was being outrageously partisan if she did file.
Predictably, when Gregoire finally decided to seek a manual recount, the Republicans were all aflutter, largely because Democrats simultaneously sued to have some disallowed ballots reconsidered:
- "I have faith in you, the voters of Washington," Rossi said. "Unfortunately, Christine Gregoire has faith in lawyers."
Other Republican leaders were furious.
"It's outrageous," said state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance. "The Democrats are flat out trying to steal this election by changing the rules."
Let's be clear: At every step of the process, the Democrats followed the letter of Washington law. The state's election statutes are very clear that there are three potential counts of the vote: If, after the general-election tally, a race remains within 1 percent of the total vote, a machine recount occurs automatically. If, after that count, one of the candidates requests it, a manual recount of all ballots occurs. The candidate, however, has to put up a deposit for the costs of the recount, which is reimbursed if the challenge is successful.
Those are the rules. And the most important one is this: Whoever comes out ahead in the final, manual tally is the winner. Period.
And, indeed, Gregoire promised to accept the outcome of the manual recount, even if Rossi won by only a single vote. Rossi, however, refused to match her pledge. That, of course, was the giveaway to what followed.
The GOP's outrageous tactics -- essentially trying to game the system by short-circuiting the legitimate outcome of the established process through a public-relations campaign waged largely over the right-wing talk airwaves -- made it absolutely essential to get behind Gregoire's recount. The principles at stake, particularly regarding respect for the process and the final count, as well as of the right of citizens to have their legally cast votes be counted, were the same ones that had been disregarded so easily four years before in Florida.
Had the legal process in Florida been allowed to proceed without interference from the federal courts, it's clear it would have produced the only equitable solution: a manual statewide recount of all legal votes. And as we now know, that in turn would have produced a different outcome than what the nation got -- namely, an illegitimate president appointed to his seat by a partisan judiciary, a violation of the vote-counting foundations of democracy itself, as well as of the separation-of-powers doctrine that makes the Constitution function.
The GOP prevailed in Florida by short-circuiting the legal vote-counting process through a combination of mendacity and bullying, all of it designed to stop legally cast ballots from being counted. The tendency to obtain and maintain power by undermining the tenets of democracy itself, as we've noted previously, have only continued unabated since.
Washington Republicans pretty early on resurrected the phony memes of the Florida debacle, particularly those that favored maintaining the original vote outcome giving Rossi the slender victory. This included the outrageous claim that machine recounts are "more accurate" than hand recounts, which turns all established precedents regarding vote counts on its head.
The anti-democratic nature of the party, though, really came to the surface when election officials in King County -- home to more than a third of the state's entire votes -- announced the discovery of several hundred ballots that had been improperly disallowed in the first count.
Now, this is the kind of clear mistake that manual recounts are intended to correct, and ordinarily it would be considered uncontroversial for them to be included in the recounts. Indeed, similar mistakes were uncovered in other counties and the votes, logically, counted.
But King County was one of the few places where the votes trended Gregoire's way, so Republicans -- playing the same kind of cherry-picking tactics they had earlier accused Democrats of using -- decided to contest the counting of those ballots in that county only, by filing a suit to prevent it. So much for having faith in the voters, not lawyers.
What was especially noteworthy was that all of the discoveries of mistakes in King County were mistakes that heavily favored Rossi. That is, what they actually signalled was the possibility that Republican operatives within the elections office had made "mistakes" that gave Rossi an illegitimate win and let him claim an initial victory. But using the reverse offense tactics that became famous in Florida, Republicans took to the airwaves charging that the discovery of these mistakes could only be explained by fraud or incompetence on the part of Democrats.
Chairman Vance (our state's own Karl Rove in miniature) inveighed at length against counting the King Coiunty votes (which eventually tallied some 735 ballots) by impugning the integrity of the elections office: "At this point it is impossible for us to determine whether they are colossally incompetent or completely corrupt," he said.
Eventually, the state Supreme Court ruled in Gregoire's favor, saying unanimously that the votes should be counted. A reading of the ruling itself makes clear that it is based on well established precedent in Washington law, dating back to a key 1926 ruling.
Nonetheless, Chairman Vance declared: "Throughout this process we've objected whenever someone tried to change the rules. The Supreme Court just changed the rules. Now we will aggressively fight by those new rules."
Sure enough, it was only a brief matter of time before the Rossi camp -- you know, the folks who previously attacked their opponents for trying to change the rules after the fact -- announced that they wanted another election -- at taxpayer expense, of course. Best of all was their rationale:
- "I would not want to enter my governorship with so many people viewing my governorship as illegitimate," Rossi said, reading from a letter sent to Gregoire last night.
Gosh, we certainly can't have people taking higher office in America when some portion of the populacec believes the election to be illegitimate. Heavens no.
Nevermind, of course, that both on the week of his inauguration and a poll taken just before his election, over 40 percent of Americans believed that George W. Bush had not been legitimately elected.
Washington can do better -- right, Dino? We just need to tap another $4 million out of the state budget so the voters can send you packing by another 120 votes. Indeed, all Gregoire needed to win, according to the rules, was the 10-vote margin the hand recount, independent of the additional King County votes, gave her.
Now it's Rossi who wants to change the rules.
As political-science professor Erik Olsen told the Seattle P-I:
- Asked what advantages or pitfalls might await Rossi should he refuse to concede, Olsen said, "There is something to be said in a democratic political culture for being gracious when you lose -- but I would not second-guess him if he has some legitimate legal challenges."
However, Olsen said there is a danger that Rossi could be seen as a sore loser.
"There is a real risk for Dino Rossi if he contests this election too much -- that he's excessively partisan, excessively ambitious and that he doesn't respect the process," Olsen said.
Er, too late.
We'd already been exposed to Rossi's, shall we say, less-than-circumspect style. As the Seattle Times reported, "Rossi had been using the title 'governor-elect,' and his family even toured the Governor's Mansion."
The demand for a new election only cemented the impression. Rossi, like the rest of the Republican Party, is a power-grabber.
The party's Stalinist side has been coming out since then. Anyone who fails to toe the party line on the election outcome -- which is, that Gregoire is an "illegitimate" governor and that there exists "massive" evidence of fraud -- is nastily and vociferously attacked. This includes even Sam Reed, the Republican Secretary of State, who chose to follow his legal and constitutional duty and certify Gregoire as the governor-elect:
- Now Reed believes the anger toward him is driven by a feeling he hasn't been Republican enough. For example, some think he should have backed the party's call for county auditors to reopen their tallies in hopes of getting more Rossi votes counted.
"There are people who think I should be using the position of secretary of state simply to weigh the scales on the side of my own party. I just don't accept that, and it would not be proper," he said.
"There are some people who have been dismayed that I wasn't a Katherine Harris who took the position, 'I'm a Republican, and by God that comes first.' "
It's clear that the difference between Florida and Washington is that we had the good fortune of having elected a secretary of state with genuine integrity, instead of someone willing to game the system for partisan gain.
Now the GOP is moving toward contesting the election, which can only take place on such grounds as "misconduct on the part of election workers; the ineligibility of a candidate to hold office; or the casting of illegal votes."
So far, there has emerged no credible evidence of any actual misconduct by any specific election workers, nor of a substantively organized effort to cast illegal votes. Stefan Sharkansky -- who seems to have worked himself into believing that Gregoire's imminent ascension to the governorship is actually the "tipping point" that will bring about her downfall (... er, okaaay ...) -- has been busily compiling evidence of "phantom votes" and the like, most of which involve mathematical anomalies not very dissimilar to those raised by Kerry supporters in Ohio, and none of which rise to the level of holding up in court as a challenge to the election.
The chief piece of evidence raised so far is a discrepancy of 3,500 votes in the final King County tabulations; tallies showed that many more votes than people who had actually signed in to vote. But, as always, the GOP was jumping the gun, comparing preliminary tabulations to the finished tallies, which will not be complete for another week and a half.
The GOP went hunting for more of these discrepancies, and today announced it had found more of them in counties that went for Gregoire. In all, it found some 8,500 "phantom votes." But as the story points out, these kinds of discrepancies are extremely common in all elections -- in fact, they're endemic, and will increase the greater the volumes of voters. The 2004 election tallied more votes than any in the history of the state.
Moreover, what the story doesn't point out is that the GOP did not seem to look for "phantom votes" in Rossi counties -- even though there is a statistical certainty that they will appear there as well.
If the reconciled numbers still reveal a substantial number of "phantom" votes -- greater than, say 1/10 of 1 percent of the final vote -- then there might be cause for concern about the presence of systematic fraud in the election. However, at best this anomaly would be cause for investigation only; it would not of itself serve as evidence of actual fraud on the part of election workers or voters. So far, the GOP has only been able to serve up speculation and not evidence.
In an op-ed in the P-I today by Republican mouthpiece David E. Johnson, we get a classic demonstration of conservative projection: It's Democrats who are taking the election to the courts and trying to litigate the outcome, not Republicans. That legally permitted step that Gregoire took in filing for the manual recount was, you see, a kind of litigation, not the normative political step that Rossi would gladly have taken as well were their roles reversed.
Besides accusing Democrats of employing the very tactic they themselves apparently intend to deploy -- that is, of contesting the election through the courts -- Johnson's piece also contains the obligatory egregious distortions, notably:
- The third, a manual recount with dubious ballots suddenly discovered in heavily Democratic King County that were not counted previously gave her the election.
There was nothing "dubious" about the King County ballots; they were legally cast, and improperly discarded the first time around. If anything needs investigating on that count, it is the circumstances under which they were originally disallowed. More to the point: They proved to be moot, since the manual recount gave Gregoire the victory even without those ballots; they only increased her victory margin.
Johnson also asks:
- Does anyone believe if Rossi had won the manual recount, the Democrats would be willing to concede the election?
Er, well, yes. Gregoire repeatedly said she would accept the outcome of the manual recount. There is no reason to believe she would go back on that word, unless Johnson can prove otherwise. And it was Rossi who refused to join her in that promise. Just who has respect for the voters' will here?
It's important to remember that, as George Howland in the Seattle Weekly points out, Republicans lost because they put all their efforts into playing a PR game in which they hoped to bully the Democrats into submission as they did in Florida. That was, of course, the larger purpose of Rossi's premature assumption of the governor-elect's title and the calls for Gregoire to concede. Meanwhile, Democrats went out and used the legal process, as it's designed to be used, to their advantage to scare up additional votes.
The Republicans failed because of incompetence, pure and simple, and now they're counting on clubbing Gregoire with the "illegitimate" label for the next four years. The irony is delicious. The hypocrisy, though, is what we've come to expect.