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Relativity or are Republicans evil? (Or do they just act that way?)

By Michael Hammerschlag


January 10, 2001 | There was a point in this terrible election where it became all clear, like a B & W photo in developer, that they were going to get away with it—that the Republicans would manage to stop the recount and force their man into the White House.. against all reason, facts, and fairness.

That point was when Bob Dole and Christine Whitman, moderates of whom one might have expected a dollop of justice, paraded down to Florida and added their voices to the congealed impervious mass of Republicans parroting the amazing lie that humans couldn't fairly count votes . . . though we had managed quite well for 200 years. It was a betrayal of integrity, of honesty, of decency, that left one breathless in its audacity. Wasn't there one Republican who had any bedrock respect for our constitutional principles, who had any principles beyond their own party's self-promotion, who would publicly speak out against this intellectual violence? As in the impeachment, apparently not. A candidate that had campaigned on "bringing back integrity" endorsed the most cynical untruth possible, one that dwarfed Monica. Republicans mobilized every branch of government in their service- it was total war, while Democrats wrung their hands, and pundits relentless pressured the winner (by one-third million votes then) to concede.

If Katherine Harris couldn't deliver Florida by her machinations (ordering supervisors to stop legitimate hand counts, throwing thousands of out-of-state innocent "felons" off the rolls—30 percent of all blacks), then maybe the Fl Supreme Court. or US Court of Appeals would (they didn't). If not them, the Florida legislature prepared to usurp their own voters; will in the most naked abuse of power we have seen in ages. If not them, the Supreme Court prepared to throw out every principle they espoused to cobble together a decision so shoddy that every American election in history would be invalidated by its application. For the Bushmen, losing was not an option.

But if losing wasn't an option, then this wasn't an election and we aren't a democracy—which brings us back to the conundrum of preventing a fair recount. Future eons of schoolchildren will ask, "Why did people let this happen?" Simply, the Democrats didn't care enough, and the Republicans were willing to do anything to win. Add 98 million couch potatoes who couldn't get off theirs' to vote. And pundits just didn't like Al.

Democracy and our entire electoral process rely on good will, on public-spirited decency far more than people realize. Election officials (which I've been a couple of times) aren't supposed to be impartial, indeed, they aren't allowed to be impartial—you must be a member of one of the two parties to be a poll worker. The theory is of balanced power and a passionate interest, but in practice, it often relies on people to: 'due unto others as you would have them (lest they) do unto you.' If this overweening principle collapses far enough, the entire system breaks down and isn't easily reconstitutable, which is why all-out political war is rightly feared by many. In this election, the Bush forces shredded that principle and demonstrated a deep contempt for democracy.

If conditions had been reversed and Bush was ahead by 700 votes, do you think for one second that Gore would have opposed recounting the votes? He is such a civic stickler that he wouldn't even let the black reps talk about their motion to contest Florida electors when the Loser-in-Chief was certified the victor Saturday. The Republicans have been fighting no-holds-barred for 20 years now, since 1980, Reagan, Terry Dolan, and NCPAC; and almost rabidly since Clinton's ascension. Democrats, however, have maintained a befuddled civility as if they couldn't quite understand why the Republicans hated them so much, as the Republicans—fueled by hate radio—became dominated by extremists and fringe fundamentalists.

Nothing demonstrated this vicious hatred better than the demonstrators picketing and harassing the vice president at his home to "get out of Dick Cheney's house," as the presidency was corruptly and violently ripped from his pocket. At some point hatred and lies must be classified in their larger category: evil.

Politics all involves some damage to the truth, but when one repeats an egregious lie over and over, until half the country repeats (or believes) that untruth, you haven't just damaged the system, you've damaged the very language and changed the firmament on which the system sits. And nothing is ever the same again. It's been so in every dictatorship, as rulers conditioned their people to accept constantly rising levels of outrage, of violence, of enemies—internal and external—that must be warred against. And this lie involved the voting that's the very basis of democracy. The next step of shifting relativity, already floated by Bushmen and perhaps soon to be picked up by vapid commentators, is to seal the votes—to prevent all this uncertainty and instability.

This is a different Bush, not one of noblesse oblige, but one of simmering anti-intellectual resentments; a compassionate conservative who drives his heart-surgeried veep pal out of the hospital like a plow horse, who goes golfing 800 miles away as his daughter recovers from emergency surgery with orders to "clean out her room;" an Ivy league graduate so bereft of ideas that he had to reach a quarter century back to staff his administration; his Corporation USA/Bush; a West Texas product who believes that millionaires should be in control and what's right for corporations is right for America. We are moving from the best public speaker in a century to the worst. Contrast this man with the Gore that warmly and graciously greeted every senator in the historic swearing-in*, including his sworn opponents. It's a matter of class. Bush only values money, power, and loyalty. Witness White House Counsel appointee Alberto Gonzales (who helped Bush avoid jury duty in DUI case), a potential Supreme Court nominee, as he swore his fawning fealty, his undying loyalty to Bush at his public debut. He would have kissed his ring, if Bush had one. It was embarrassing, and chilling in its exposition of the quality of Bush's nominees.

The Ashcroft nomination could be seen as an act of contempt—offering up an extreme right-wing ideologue for top cop, but it's something else. It's a test: a sop to the hard right, who will be suitably energized if he is defeated, and some red meat to aggrieved Democrats to chew on. He isn't supposed to be confirmed. If he is, the shell-shocked Dems will have demonstrated how weak and directionless they are (frightened?), and set themselves up to be steamrollered on a variety of issues. And America, prosecuted by a religious fanatic, judged by the Supreme Republicans, will take another giant step towards the terrifying shifting landscape of a dynastic reactionary relativistic ether, where the truth itself will. . . . depend.

And red is gray and gray is white, and we decide which is right. —- Moody Blues

*You have the President of the Senate: the vice president who became president but had the election stolen from him, greeting his running mate, the real next vice president but now senator again, and the president's wife, who is now also a senator, while the president watched from the gallery; and the opposition beamed with pride, as if they hadn't banded together en masse to strip the presidency from veep, who would in two weeks,. . . . be nothing. If this were a TV movie with Alan Alda, you'd turn it off for being too absurd.

Michael Hammerschlag has written commentaries for the Seattle Times, Providence Journal, Honolulu Advertiser; Moscow News, Tribune, and the Guardian; was a TV reporter and produced a documentary series on the presidential primaries. His website is; e-mail

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