Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner


Some Relief

We wake up today in a safer country, with the Constitution more secure than it was yesterday. The American electorate tends to be lethargic and ill-informed but there appear to be limits to what it will endure. We can all be grateful for that. The media are hailing the Republican rejection as dramatic.  It wasn't as dramatic as I had hoped it would be, but, still, I'm happy to take it. It will be decades before historians lay out in an undeniable manner the serious threat the Bush administration directed against fundamental American political institutions. It has been no less than an attempt to institute a presidential dictatorship in the interest of creating an imperial nation. It has been disheartening to observe how many Americans have been willing to go along with it. But, today, we can feel we have a fighting chance to maintain a democratic republic, and that's a cause for rejoicing.


Truth and Campaigning

You'll notice that Mr. Bush has made a number of statements since the election which testify that he will lie any time he thinks there's political advantage to be had from it. If anyone took time to analyze all he has said about the decision to drop Donald Rumsfeld -- admittedly a task that might require weeks -- it would be revealed that the president has contradicted himself so many times his statements fashion a kind of spaghetti junction, crossing back on themselves so frequently, there is no clear sense to be made from them -- except that whenever he speaks he's trying to wiggle out of something he has said before. I guess he has concluded that in the immediate aftermath of the voting no one will hold him to account. Some of his opponents might be agreeing with him. But they should recall that he will continue to exercise presidential power for more than two years. Happy as the election results are, we are not finished with George Bush. So we ought to start right now recording his announcements so we can use their falseness when Bush attempts to continue pushing the policies he has pursued all along.


Phrases

The projection of Nancy Pelosi into the national limelight may mean that we'll hear more talk of "San Francisco values." Exactly what is meant by the term, aside from a slur against homosexuals, remains obscure. I doubt that most people who employ it as an insult have a clear definition in mind. Clarity, after all, has not been an element of the Republican program. The leaders of the GOP use words not to convey meaning but primarily to promote a visceral reaction among their supporters. The lasting legacy of the Bush administration may be a political discourse of ejaculation, in which meaning plays virtually no part. The Democrats would be wise to reject sloganeering and try to introduce a conversation of meaning to the electorate. If they could lay to rest the Karl Rove notion of politics, it would be a fine contribution to America.


Fishy Business

I am now staying in the 13th Congressional District of Florida, where peculiar things occurred during the recent election. The Republican candidate Vern Buchanan appeared to have received about 350 votes more than his Democratic rival Christine Jennings, out of total of 237,861 votes cast. It turned out, however, that more than 18,000 ballots in Sarasota County registered no choice in the Congressional race. If that number is accepted as legitimate, we have to believe that 13% of the electorate chose deliberately not to vote for their own representative to Congress. And to believe that, you would have to believe, in turn, that Sarasota County is dramatically different from an adjoining county in the same district, where only 2% of the ballots had no choice registered. The number of no-votes in Sarasota County is not credible. There are only three believable explanations for the strange results.

  • One: the voting machines were generally defective.
  • Two: the voting machines were rigged not to record a percentage of the votes cast in the county where the Democratic candidate was known to have an advantage.
  • Three: the machines were rigged not to record some percentage of the votes cast for Christine Jennings.

The third explanation gains weight from the testimony of more than a hundred voters who say their vote for Ms. Jennings was not registered the first time they entered it. There have been no reports of similar complaints from voters for Mr. Buchanan. One might say this is simply a local issue. But that would be shortsighted. It affects not only the behavior of the Congress of the United States but also the trust we can place in the way our elections are conducted. If local authorities cannot offer a credible explanation for the anomalies then Congress itself needs to launch a full-scale investigation. In a democracy, there is nothing more important than recording votes accurately. It's reasonably clear that was not done in Florida's 13th district.



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Harvard Square Commentary, November 13, 2006