by Joan S. Livingston
The first "Howl" was published in 1956 by poet
Allen Ginsberg and became an overwhelming success as a social
commentary on an entire cohort, known as the Beats, many of
whom are named in it and their experiences chronicled (e.g.,
Carl Solomon, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac).
It represents a kind of primal scream, as selected lines (including
the first and final; emphasis added) from this very
long poem suggest:
I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking
for an angry fix...
who passed through universities...among the scholars of war...[and] were
expelled...for [writing] crazy...odes on the windows of the
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue
to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge...
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity
Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own
good to eat a thousand years.
For many who voted in November's presidential election, the outcome of
the protest, contest, and cinematic multiplex of court cases created occasion
for another communal primal howl - one that continues to echo, and seems
to grow even stronger with each taunt to "Get over it" or the shrug, "Maybe
it won't be so bad" (a hopeful notion disproven with each day's new headlines).
As revelations continue to surface about the machinations of the Supreme
Court and the "irregularities" in Florida, with its 25 decisive electoral
votes, incredulity still mounts that an election should be so decided
in the home of democracy, a country that has helped other countries run
free, fair elections.
While the vote was close - with Al Gore clear winner of the popular vote
(and according to later statistical sampling and analyses, almost certainly
the Florida majority as well) - some groups unquestionably stood to fare
far worse under a Republican administration, particularly this one, than
others: the poor, people of color, women, gays, the "usual suspects" in
terms of society's unprotected and dispossessed - the people described
by both parties (one more cynically than the other) as those "left behind."
Not to mention those who cared about little things like the environment
and health care.
It's still hard for many of us to comprehend, given his ceaseless mangling
of facts and numbers, his lysdexic speech, the abysmal Texas record, and
his campaign centerpiece - returning wealth to the wealthy - how
Bush gained almost half the vote. The pundits simply labeled him "more
likable." Well, most of us usual suspects found Gore plenty likable.
In any event, whether one voted for Gore, Bush, or the late Pat Paulsen,
there is one Inalienable Truth about election 2000. As a result of the
Supreme Court's unprecedented stay of the efficient, deadline-minded Florida
count - on a Saturday no less, reeking of real desperation - and its subsequent
eleventh-hour refusal to allow the vote count to resume there, Bush passed
into the history books, and what now increasingly seems the Fright House,
as our nation's first President-Select instead of President-Elect. The
means by which this result was attained should alarm - indeed, enrage
- all of us.
If you were a Bush supporter, remember: The precedent has been set, however
unlawfully. So next time, the "election" might just be decided despite
your vote and tens of thousands of others by the once-Supreme, now Supremacist,
Court as well. And that is not democracy.
I saw the best minds of my time drawn by degrees like plants to
sunshine, finally fully facing one once considered
a mannequin man,
who'd stood stiffly behind the president at least a thousand times, for
a thousand photo-ops, a Tussaud's figure in his backstage
who'd been thought made of wood and a tree-hugger, too, just a place
where smart sap ran (a putative Pinocchio, conservatives smeared),
who emerged from the shadows, flesh and blood, a man of ideas and ideals,
during his drive to serve the U.S. as president after eight
years as veep:
who found his full true voice at his party's convention, "tree" limbs
around the stage, speaking his own words from his own
Yes, this was his "own man": Al Gore himself on stage.
People slouching on couches, half-dozing before TVs, began
to sit up and
listen. Undecideds decided; lukewarm liberals warmed up, many growing
red-hot. With his mastery of the finest detail and his big-picture
could make the numbers dance as skillfully as angels on the tip of
a pin, balancing programs as myriad as the military and Medicare.
No "fuzz" in his math, or from his mouth.
Gore was The Goods: Vietnam without dodge, working journalist in a job
Daddy didn't buy, over 20 years in the House, the Senate,
the White House.
And, unlike Clinton, he was unimpeachable (segue here to: "The Kiss").
In the opposite corner of the ring lurked and smirked a bantamweight,
born George W. Bush but known as Dubya and dubbed Dumbya by
some for his idiosyncrasies of speech and mind, the painful twisting of
neurons, his ignorance of politics both domestic and foreign.
limited credentials, light as feathers, one job botch after another -
his connections: heavyweight. Said the name "Bush" was his
He claimed early that brother Jeb had "guaranteed" him Florida, a battle-
ground with 25 victory-votes. We thought it was bluster, metaphor;
were clueless. Jeb and co-conspirator Katherine Harris, head of every
aspect of the state's elections, labored hard to ensure DUI
his believed Bush Birthright.
Harris's job included verifying the accuracy and consistency of all
polls, yet - tsk, tsk - the rate of "undervotes" (hanging
trimester, swinging) would prove more than twice as high, often obscenely
higher, in poor (Democrat, minority, working-class) counties.
could be read by hand (state law) but not by the machines - as
maker later testified in court; finding of fact. When he'd
sold the machines, the
manufacturer had explained to elections officials the necessity of hand
in any close election; this one was hair's-breadth. Harris
underpunches HAD to be counted. Jeb too. But "wouldn't be prudent. Not
at this juncture."
Like few of her peers, Harris had also taken the initiative of vetting
voter rolls (almost alone in the U.S. these listed both race
and party) of
"felons" (read "blacks"), actually paying a Republican firm to flense
in carefully selected areas, purging the names of thousands
Americans and white Democrats, the majority of whom had never so much
received a parking ticket, or who once committed a trivial
affecting voting rights), and yes, even a few real ex-cons - who'd done
time, done parole, whose citizenship rights had long been
But not on the lists Harris fed at the last minute to the counties.
Bush's own convention was triumphant street theater with its "inclusion
illusion," a hallful of Stetsons, with confetti and balloons
raining down so hard
they masked the lack of gist, giddily creating the sensation of early
W didn't pen a word of his own 17-draft speech - his
aides had long known
better than to let him talk unscripted! - and his Teleprompted hollow
a stark contrast to Al's lone laptop self-composition of spirited
The weeks before the election offered a seasick seesaw, a swash, of poll
numbers: Gore up 4 today, Bush up 5 the next. Graphs whose
intersected, moving like waves - yet all within the margins of error.
When Election Day dawned, voter protests were not far behind the sun's
rising and the polls' opening - first in Palm Beach, where
in the skies, overpunched for Gore, and fluttered - 19K! - into
filled in Palm and wherever people of color and other registered
turned away from polls on creative pretexts in violation of state and
By Election Night, battlegrounds fell like dominos to Gore, but one
became a moving question mark (follow the bouncing ball -
red? blue? still
white?). At first the anchormen called Florida for Al; then for W;
then the numbers began snaking - in one county a glitch quickly
transmogrified a Gore lead into an impossible MINUS 16K votes -
increasingly irritated newsmen finally called it "too close
to call," where it
remained for the next day's headlines, and the next's, and the next's.
A Satyricon of images followed - surreal people, surreal events
- and hooked
round-the-clock MSNBC junkies hungry for any news fix... In
besides the 2-punch flutter-byebyes was the seeming emergence of a "Jews
Buchanan" movement (the Hitler fan, whose punchhole lined
up directly with
the Gore-Lieberman box, said himself those votes weren't his)...It
days to learn the inaccuracy of the machines in poorer
affecting people of color. Though the undervotes required hand counts,
counties were advised that these were non-votes; thus, thousands
were simply tossed out, 27K in one black county alone...Still,
Bush co-chair Harris -
vampire blood-red lipstick on her Machiavellian maw - refused
to recuse or to count,
certifying a W victory with an alleged +500 surplus, a witch in hurried
A convoy of Ryder trucks, as syrup-slow as O.J.'s Broncho chase,
carry tens of thousands of ballots to a judge who then never
looked at one,
not even out of idle curiosity...Once-statesman James Baker III
Ministry of Disinformation, distorting facts like a funhouse
Gore of prolonging Indecision 2000 by resorting to court instead
when Bush was first to file, on "equal protection" grounds
disenfranchised voters, on "unequal rejection" grounds)...The
toting flurries of professionally (and speedily) printed "Sore
breaking down the doors of the Miami-Dade courthouse counthouse, rabid
youth, baring emotions and teeth (and signs) only Bush-backing
could buy...and given bullhorns, peripatetic in their usefulness,
from Miami to
the Supreme Court steps, where one Republican with a horn
could drown out
the voices of 50 asking only that votes be counted, to the VP's mansion,
Tipper and the VoteWinner heard day and night, "Get out of
(Uncle Duke's "compassionate fascism," per Garry Trudeau, or just
At last the courts, from Martin to Tallahassee, with Bush lead
Richard looking the Angel of Death (a white toupee?), while
best and brightest in the nation, toiled endlessly pro bono for Al. Believing.
Finally, W got his stay and his day in court. When the Supremes sang,
under their dark robes not 7 sets of wingtips & 2 of low-heel
pumps, but instead
5 pair of plank-thick elephant jackboots and 4 of lawful, nimbler, dissenting
The song the Supremes sang was not sweet. Five-four, it
had no harmony;
it had no beat. Elephants stomped: "We Rule (this time) That Votes
Do Not Count;
Knowing What the Votes Say, Oyez, We Rule: Do NOT Count
The date was 12/12/00. File it in your mind as infamous as December 7,
horrific as November 22. Remember The Maine? Remember THE
All the hearts and minds that had turned toward Gore like sunlight
broke, snapped like dry twigs, after the dark dealings in
the "sunshine" state.
The court's ruling marked a lethal precedent, an illegal president, and
culmination of an "election" in which one state's Macbeth-like
its legislative, branch (postmark: Austin), and the nation's judicial
chose to substitute their own personal, partisan preferences
for those of
actual voters to pick the winner in the make-or-break state and
thus the U.S.
Disbelief still runs like tears. See the
uncounted ballots in our outstretched hands, chads hanging
from our mouths like rotten teeth...
and the absolute heart of the Founders' poem of democracy
butchered out of our souls and America's,
with damage deep enough to last a thousand years.