Democratic Underground

October Surprise

October 20, 2004
By The Plaid Adder

In 2000, Nader garnered most of his electoral support by making the argument that the two major parties had grown so close together that there were no longer any significant differences. He's still trying to make that argument now, but just about nobody is buying it.

Especially this October, the differences have become pretty dramatic. You see, right now, even if you can't make head or tail of the ideological positions, there's one very easy way to tell the two parties apart. The Democrats are busting their asses to get voters to the polls, and the Republicans are busting their asses trying to keep voters away.

That has always just baffled me. I know many fine upstanding Republicans, and all right, fine, on many an issue dear to my heart I can still see room for honest disagreement. But how you go to bed at night knowing that your party depends on voter intimidation and election fraud to stay in power I do not understand.

I lived in North Carolina for a while, and it was an open secret there that Republican operatives routinely scammed heavily African-American districts any way they could - malfunctioning voting machines, deliberately deceptive mailings, intimidating phone calls, and all this over and above the outright race-baiting that was a central tactic of many Republican campaigns.

Now the rot has spread to the rest of the country. After all that brouhaha over Florida last time, there are once again charges that the Bush-controlled state government is using a doctored felon list to disenfranchise African-American voters.

In Nevada, the Republican-operated and Bush-connected firm Sproul & Associates is under investigation for having systematically destroyed the cards they were collecting from voters who registered as Democrats. In Ohio, the Republican secretary of state's shenanigans finally earned him a smackdown from the state supreme court.

My guess is that in every battleground state, if you dug deep enough, you would find corruption like this. For instance, Sproul & Associates' "Voters Outreach" company was responsible for registering voters in 10 different states. There's no reason to assume that they operated any more honestly in the other 9 than they did in Nevada.

Disgusting and frightening as it is to watch the Republican party trying to steal another election, there are two encouraging things about this picture. 1) News of this theft in progress is coming out before the election this time instead of afterwards. 2) What was it that Bush said about the insurgency in Iraq a year or so ago? "The severity of the attacks is a sign that the enemy is getting desperate?"

And that's how I read the news that's come out over the past few weeks. The Bush team is working overtime to try to steal the election because they already know, despite all the polls and all the public blustering, that there's no way their candidate is going to win it.

Instead of compulsively scrutinizing the latest opinion polls as if they were tea leaves, I would suggest that the best omen we could possibly have is the rising stench of desperation exhaling from Republican operatives all over the country.

Possibly the rankest whiff arose from the mouths of Dick and Lynne Cheney last week after Bush lost his third presidential debate. After watching the top of their ticket lose three out of three debates to Kerry, all they could come up with was, "He called my out lesbian daughter a lesbian! No fair!"

Folks, if you really want to know why the 'outrage' manufactured by these 'angry parents' over Kerry's mention of Mary Cheney in his response to the "Is homosexuality a choice?" question is a complete load of horsehockey, you're welcome to check out my rant on the subject here. For now, I will merely observe that by getting the media focused on that single exchange, Rove managed to temporarily obscure the obvious fact that Bush's performance was, once again, an unrelieved disaster.

It wasn't enough that Bush evaded all the jobs questions by turning them into questions about education (yo, George, it doesn't matter if the American workforce is educated 'for the jobs of the 21st century' if all the jobs of the 21st century have been outsourced to Bangalore).

It wasn't enough that Bush's tepid response to the question about why he didn't renew the assault weapons ban - because Tom DeLay told him it wouldn't get through anyway - was immediately blown out of the water by Kerry in a display of exactly the kind of steadfast resolve that Bush has been trying to brand as his trademark.

It wasn't enough that he outright lied - and better yet, accused Kerry of lying - about having told the country years ago that he was no longer concerned about where Osama bin Laden was.

And it wasn't enough that Kerry undercut Bush on the "faith" issue by wrenching the Bible out of Bush's sweaty hands and administering the smackdown that hypocrite has long had coming: "Faith without works is dead."

No, the crowning glory of Bush's 3rd debate performance was that he did, actually, no shit, drool on himself.

So, saddled with a candidate who has just revealed himself on national television to be - literally - a dribbling idiot, what's a Mayberry Machiavelli to do? After last week's column, it was brought to my attention that I was not the only person out there who had ever thought about fitting Bush up with an electroshock device. In fact, none other than Bush's campaign manager, Ken Mehlman, had jokingly identified the now-infamous 'bulge' visible under Bush's suit jacket as a "shock collar": "That's how we got him to stop scowling."

Now, it's normal enough for Bush's opponents to daydream about things like this, but when it starts coming from the guys who are supposed to be leading his team you have to wonder.

It suggests, among other things, that Bush's handlers are getting fed up with their inveterately untrainable pet. They're tired of cleaning up after him, and that rolled-up newspaper doesn't seem to be doing any damn good. They're finally finding out that Bush's inability to learn from mistakes is a problem for them - just as it has long been a much more serious problem for us.

Even the chatter about Rove's dirty tricks and the constant speculation about what he has up his sleeve for the final weeks of the campaign is, if you read it the right way, encouraging. For instance, we are all now timorously awaiting Rove's "October surprise." I'm going out on a limb right now to say that in my opinion, the October surprise is that there will be no October surprise.

First of all, once you have been expecting something since the start of the campaign, it ceases to be a surprise. Second, and I've said this before, I think that Rove and company have become so radically dissociated from reality that it is now impossible for them to manufacture perception.

For instance, producing Osama bin Laden on October 31st would certainly be a nifty surprise for them; but frankly I don't believe they can do it. This administration's incompetence in matters of intelligence gathering and foreign policy has been shown up at every stage of the Iraq campaign. Why should we assume that the same team that actually did not bother to put together a plan for the occupation before they started the war could also manage to finally get their mitts on the man who has been either dead or eluding them for the past three years?

The cessation of hostilities in Iraq would be nice; but it doesn't look as if the "Bad People" are planning to cooperate. The suggestion that Bush might make an eleventh-hour surprise visit to the troops in Baghdad is intriguing, but in the end I have to say I don't think it's realistic. First of all, Rove has already done that once, and clearly did not get very good bang for his buck. Second, the fact that there are now attacks taking place inside the Green Zone suggests that they cannot guarantee Bush's safety over there, and third, I think that after what our soldiers in Iraq have been through, the only way Rove could put together a backdrop of happy cheering soldiers for Bush to pose against would be to issue military uniforms to the members of the campaign staff. And even they would probably come out looking kind of glum.

No, in my humble opinion Rove is rapidly running out of ideas, just as he is rapidly running out of October. He has reached the phase of his career that every great artist dreads: he's starting to repeat himself.

The one thing we do know that Rove has lined up for us is that the Sinclair Broadcasting Group will be forcing its affiliates to air an anti-Kerry polemic called "Stolen Honor" in the days before the election, under the pretext that a tendentious misrepresentation of events that took place 30 years ago qualifies as news. Well, Rove has already played the Swift Boat smear card and wound up with nothing.

The increasingly successful boycott of Sinclair Broadcasting Group, and the startling ravings of its owner, are going to garner more press than the event itself. Their broadcast may have some effect or it may have no effect, but one thing it won't be is a surprise.

And whatever election fraud the Bush team engages in on November 2nd, that won't be a surprise either. That's one thing we have going for us now that we didn't in 2000. In the months after November 2000, the shock prevented our elected representatives - and, be honest, most of us - from taking action to stop the outrage in progress. Nothing like this had ever happened before. We were all afraid to find out what would happen if we refused to accept a tainted election.

Well, now we know what happens when you do accept a tainted election, and we know damn well we can't afford to let it happen again.

We can indeed count on the Bush team trying to steal Florida again, and who knows what else; but we can also count on Kerry not to be bullied into conceding the election, or to be suckered by any sweet talk about how he has to give up a legitimate victory so as not to divide the country. Four years after the candidate who won the majority of the popular vote accepted the Supreme Court's decision in favor of his rival because he thought it would be the best thing for the nation, we now know better. The best thing for the nation is to bring integrity back to the democratic process.

That's what thousands of individual citizens all over the country are doing right now. While Rove is sitting in his war room trying to come up with the dirty trick to end all dirty tricks, the rest of us are out trying to win an election the old-fashioned way: by working for it.

One thing that does not show up in any of the polling reports is the number of ordinary Americans who were never involved in the political process before who are up to their elbows in it now. People I know who have always voted but who would never have exerted themselves any further are suddenly donating money, writing letters, canvassing neighborhoods, and signing up to drive people to the polls. I'm writing this column from a hotel room in a swing state, where my partner is taking a week off work to help get out the vote. The fact that she's over there working the phone bank, like the fact that I'm sitting here writing my 33rd column, is a testament to how much has changed in four years.

The only good thing to come out of the debacle that was Election 2000 is the national realization that we cannot take democracy for granted. Our institutions will not, by themselves, protect us from ruthless abuses of power. Neither can our elected representatives, who become prisoners of the system once the party in power starts gaming it. We the people are responsible for preserving our own democracy. This year, all the evidence shows that we finally get that. And that's why this year, Bush will neither win nor steal himself a second term.

My partner just called; she's coming home from the phone bank. It's been a rough year to be a wedge issue. John Cornyn has called us box turtles; Rick Santorum has called us perverts; Alan Keyes has called us selfish hedonists; and now John Kerry has been pilloried for calling us all God's children. After four years of fighting to protect what we love about our country from the people who are trying to destroy it, I think we have earned the right to call ourselves patriots. And together with the thousands of ordinary Americans who have joined the battle this time around, I think we can also call ourselves the October surprise.


The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same can be found at the Adder's Lair at http://www.plaidder.com, but seriously, instead of wasting your time there, just grab a dozen of your closest friends and go help get out the vote.

Let's Go Blue!


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