Democratic Underground  

While Watchdogs Sleep
April 3, 2003
By Burt Worm

There's something missing in Lewis Lapham's otherwise excellent list of "Causes for Dissent" in the April 2003 of Harper's. Lapham cites ten reasons to oppose the received opinions being passed off as conventional wisdom by the Bush administration and their stenographers in the US media. In his customary mordant style, Lapham dissects the sickness American discourse has succumbed to in the age of Bushist agitprop, fear- and warmongering, moral inconsistency with respect to Iraq and North Korea (for example), and arrogance ("insolence of office" he calls it), to touch on about half of the symptoms he probes. But as enjoyable - and as positively enraging - a piece of contrarian pugilism as Lapham's piece is, he never goes near what I view to be the quintessential cause for resistance of the Bushists and their degraded agenda for the nation, the mother of all causes for dissent: George W. Bush's illegitimate "presidency."

I don't know why Lapham omitted this key to all Bushist mysteries, whether the fog of war made him forget or whether he simply doesn't think it's important. I do think it's important. For me, the war, rather than making me forget, has brought November 7-December 12, 2000 into sharp historical relief. For me, the war is fundamentally illegitimate because the administration waging it is fundamentally illegitimate. Granted, if I accepted the hypothetical legitimacy of this regime, I would still oppose the war on all the other grounds for which I currently oppose it. But a bad war is made all the worse because these hands on the reins of power, these hands that have destroyed the US's standing among nations and unnecessarily endangered the lives of Iraqis and Americans, should not have been there to lead us down this tragic path in the first place.

We must not forget this essential fact about the Bushists: they did not win the presidency legitimately. I repeat: This is not mere opinion but hard fact.

The evidence for Bush's defeat in Florida is enumerated on several Web sites, news agency archives and a small library of books. It resides in the findings of the NORC study, released in November 2001 under the misleadingly "reassuring" headline that Bush really would have won the Florida vote. In fact, this would have been true, according to the NORC study, only if the state-wide manual recount of undervotes that Justice Antonin Scalia had stopped on December 9 had been permitted to continue to its finish or if Gore's legal team had won the right to "cherry-pick" the traditional Democratic strongholds on Florida's Gold Coast. As is well known among dissenting Democrats (and other outraged democrats), however, Gore would have won in every single instance in which machine-discounted "overvotes" as well as "undervotes" were manually recounted statewide.

The evidential crux of Bush's illegitimacy lies in this other indisputable fact: the standards for the recounts that defeated Bush in every instance of the NORC study were different shades of what is known as "the Florida standard," which was twice affirmed in Florida Supreme Court decisions rendered decades before Election 2000. In essence, the state's highest court ruled that in manual recounts, "hypertechnicalities" (their term in both decisions) should be weighed less than determination of the voter's intent. This means, for example, that ballots on which the voter has punched out the candidate's slot on his or her line and then written in the same candidate's name on the write-in line should not be disqualified (as they are automatically in machine counts) because the voter has made clear his or her intent. As the NORC study makes glaringly clear, if the Florida standard had been applied as it should have been in the very first week of the election mess, there would be no doubt about the legitimacy of President Gore.

These facts are extremely well-known; it seems almost ridiculous to persist in retelling them. And yet, who, lately, has taken the trouble to recount them, to keep this outrage afire in the public discourse, as it should be?

Of course the Bushists have been adept, since September 11, 2001, at keeping critics at bay by impugning the patriotism of anyone brave or foolish enough to challenge their competence and morals, let alone legitimacy. The Bushists have used the rich opportunity Gulf War II affords them to demonstrate anew their mastery at squashing dissent.

Some may believe that the little public relations setbacks the administration has been suffering in this war that is more difficult in practice than on paper are signs that the Bushist machine is not quite as formidable as it seems; that the essential hubris of people like Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Perle, ticking away like a time-bomb inside them, must necessarily implode the administration from within. I, however, am pessimistic.

It is a mistake to bet against the Bushists based on a wish to see them do badly. These illegitimate men - these bastards?- are being permitted, by the media and by the Democratic "opposition," to do as they please with their ill-gotten power without anyone raising the slightest objection to the illegitimate means that enabled them to pursue their illegitimate ends. Only once in the buildup to this war did I ever hear a single, accidental pundit - Hedrick Hertzberg of the New Yorker in a segment on The News with Brian Williams, of all places - question the legitimacy of the war based on the dubious legitimacy of the administration. Indeed, the Senate Democrats actually rewarded these sons of bitches with the most imperial executive war powers since Richard Nixon!

If Bush's illegitimacy rested only on the little pieces of evidence embedded (pardon my French or freedom, as the case may be) in the NORC study, even I might allow the fog of this pathetic, destructive war to cloud out the sinking feeling I carry that something horrendous happened to our democracy in the late autumn of 2000. But the violation cuts deeper than a mere miscounting of the votes. Let us never forget that the votes were not just miscounted; they were prevented from being counted at all. Even if Bush had won some or all of the NORC recounts applying the Florida standard, his alleged "victory" would not stand on the bedrock of democratic rule, an impartial accounting of the voters' intent as exhibited by their ballots, but on suppression of that accounting. One need only conjure the image of James Baker III repeating his lies about the votes being counted and recounted and recounted again to reconnect with the con enacted shamelessly and in full view of the stupefied American media.

The patterns we are witnessing unfold between the Bushists and their sleeping watchdogs in the press and in the Democratic Party were well set by December 12, 2000. The Bushists are being permitted to wage this illegitimate war just as cluelessly now as they were permitted to subvert democracy back then.

It is unlikely that the Bushists will be shepherded toward justice for their crimes against democracy by our sleeping watchdogs. Our only hope lies in the possibility that the people will not shirk their responsibility to speak out about this painful fact about our "president" relentlessly. Our dissent is fundamentally legitimate. Our knowledge of that and of Bush's fundamental illegitimacy is our power, if we choose to use it.

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