Subject: ON THE RETURN OF THE BALLOT
SNATCHERS (2004) : FROM THE CENTER
FOR THE ADVANCED STUDY OF AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS,
30 November 2004
Dear Colleagues and Friends of CEIMSA,
While a cynic might proclaim, "Better an electoral coup d'état than a military coup d'état in America!", many of us continue to think that coups d'état create more problems than they resolve; in a word, that democracy is not a privilege, but rather a necessity if we are to create a good life for ourselves in a congenial environment. The private profit motive has polluted our environment terribly. It is almost a prehistoric relic in terms of its usefulness today. It belongs in a glass cage, placed deep in some museum, next to displays of cannibalism, slavery, pyramids, and ritual sacrifices to angry gods, perhaps with a slide show of how people dressed, ate, and died in that era. It's obsolete, to say the least! The old order seems to be loosing its legitimacy entirely today. It is now protected by a new authoritarianism at every level of governance. What is the role of democracy in this crisis and how can it be expanded? These questions are addressed by two influential scholars in the essays below.
Much has been written on the shortcomings of democratic elections, and the recent presidential elections in the
By way of introducing the essays of these two important American scholars, I would like to briefly remind European readers of the uniquely American context of the recent presidential elections: 1) in a world population of 6 billion +, there are almost 300 million U.S. citizens; 2) of these 300 million Americans (of whom 21% are less than 15 years old) about 2/3 are eligible to vote, and barely over 1/2 of these eligible voters (perhaps 106 million) actually voted in the elections of 2000, and slightly more (perhaps 120 million) voted in the 2004 elections. (These numbers are, of course, only rough estimates.)
Months before the presidential elections, congressional districts prepare for what is called the "primary elections", and in these summer months, preceding the November elections, the local electorate are mobilized with the hope of placing their bets on "a winning horse" (a presidential candidate who has a chance of winning the national election). For historic reasons the selection of this early nominee is usually a binary choice: campaign financing assures that those of who actually do go to the trouble to vote are often motivated negatively; namely, to support "the lesser evil": the pragmatic concern of voters to select "a possible winner" thus limits them to choosing between two representatives of the same social class interests.
The "realistic" choice, for example, in the 2004 election was between Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, whose family fortune is estimated at around $900 million, and George W. Bush, whose private fortune is worth some $21 million. Not only do Bush and Kerry represent the same social class interests, but by virtue of the fact that Kerry is about 50 times richer than Bush, the former was the bigger winner in latter's successful first term strategy to reduce taxes for the rich and eliminate the inheritance tax. John Kerry, like Bill Gates and other super rich families in America, was Bush's electoral "base", the constituency he aimed to please. Bush the bulldog, made Kerry the billionaire a much richer man and, in addition, has presented him with a whole new line of guaranteed investments for future profits in government contracts. Can anyone wonder why Kerry did not contest the election? In south
I'm registered to vote in
Nevertheless, the limitations of electoral democracy are painfully obvious, today. Another form of democracy, sometimes called industrial democracy, invites closer participation than simply periodic elections. These two forms of democracy are not mutually exclusive. In the local institutions which largely govern our lives, egalitarian organization and free speech would challenge authoritarian management techniques and necessarily modify the priorities of institutional policies as they now exist in capitalist
The Kerry defeat by Bush is not the stuff of tragedy, not even in
Francis McCollum Feeley
Professor of American Studies
Director of Research
Université de Grenoble 3
from Professor Bertell Ollman :
November 26, 2004
Department of Politics
New York University
WHAT CONSTITUTES A "STOLEN ELECTION"?
by Bertell Ollman
To the question "A Stolen Election?" (THE NATION, Nov. 29) - and after offering different interpretations for some of the evidence collected by those who answer "yes" - David Corn, the political correspondent of the magazine, replies with a resounding "maybe" (while directing most of his doubts and sarcasms at the "conspiracy theorists"). Could the two sides in this dispute be using different definitions? Stealing an election, after all, is not the same as robbing a bank. Nor is the kind of evidence that allows us to claim that one has taken place the same as making this claim for the other - unless we catch the winning candidate piling boxes of unopened ballots into his pick-up truck (or plane). Stealing an election is more like fixing a deck of cards, where one player is guaranteed to come out on top.
As regards the recent presidential election, then, we must ask - 1) whether the process of voting, including the machines and methods used and the conditions that applied, lacked the transparency needed for everyone to see and to understand what was going on; 2) whether checking the result to ensure that votes were attributed to the right party and that all were counted and counted correctly was often impossible; 3) whether large numbers of voters from groups likely to vote for the losing candidate experienced great difficulty in registering or voting, either at the poll or by absentee or provisional ballot; 4) whether most of the ADMITTED incidents of blocked or lost or changed or added votes favored the winning candidate;
5) whether key people in positions to create these "problems" - such as the Republican owner of the company producing most of the electronic voting machines, the Republican Secretaries of State of Florida and Ohio, and President (sic) Bush himself - had said or done things earlier which showed that they could not be trusted; 6) whether these and similar problems surfaced in 2000, and, if so, whether the declared winners in that election - in the White House, in Congress and in the states - acted to obstruct the kind of reforms that would have done away with such problems in this one; and 7) whether the Zogby exit poll and the Harris last minute voting poll, both of which were accurate within 1/2 point in the 2000 election and which don't suffer from any of the problems that plague our national electoral system, were more credible in giving Kerry a sizeable victory than the "official" count that differed from their figures by over 5% (well over the margin of error for polls of this sort).
Now, think -
It is important, therefore, that we
don't focus in a single minded way on the details of this past election, as
revealing as many of them are (and, no doubt, will continue to be) because they
often allow for other interpretations and it is unlikely that we will ever know most of what happened. But
that shouldn't keep us from insisting loudly, and again - on the basis of the
kind of evidence that applies to elections and not bank robberies - that this
was a stolen election. Remember, the more widely this view (this accurate view)
gets accepted and repeated, the less legitimacy Bush will have as president and the more difficulty he will
have in getting people to cooperate with his policies, both at home and abroad.
Sovereign power has always required a minimal degree of popular acceptance that
is based on reason and not force to be effective, and in democracies that has
come largely from democratic elections in which people freely choose their
leader. But can anyone
who learns what really happened in our presidential election do
anything but laugh (or cry) on hearing that the goal of
Furthermore, if we accept that Bush stole the election, that also means that "value voters" did not determine its outcome, but that the massive turnout of youth and minorities did - in which case, the pressure that many Democrats and some others feel to adopt a more value oriented politics would be replaced by a pressure to adopt programs that better serve the interests of these, often first-time voters.
What I am proposing is that the Left, progressives of all
kinds and degrees, take advantage of Bush's more or less open theft of the election (of the advantage they
have taken of us) to pursue a politics
of deligitimation, which starts with not being afraid
to apply the proper name to what happened (THEFT) and to say who did it (BUSH
and the REPUBLICANS). While many on the Left may need to be convinced, our
government is well aware of the power
that comes with legitimacy and of the role that democratic elections play in
providing it, or it would not have devoted as much effort and fortune in trying to stage such elections in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Unfortunately, the Administration also seems to believe
that sham democratic elections can have the same effect as real ones. Why else
would they have tried to pull the same shoddy trick twice right here in the
In forging a politics of deligitimation - not so incidentally - we shouldn't expect much help from Kerry and the other leaders of the Democratic Party. Recall the heart-rending scene in Michael More's movie "9/11", where several black members of Congress tried to get at least one Democratic senator to sign a letter calling for a debate on the 2000 election. Without success. That Democratic Party leaders, then and now, conceded so quickly only shows that they care more about legitimating the current governmental system and maintaining social stability than they do about the declared interests of their voters and the principles of democracy. And, if we need a slogan to help power our new movement, how about - "One, Two, Many Ukraines"? This is the message that the "Nation's" political correspondent should be conveying to his readers.
from Professor Noam Chomsky :
by Noam Chomsky
The elections of November 2004 have received a great deal of discussion, with exultation in some quarters, despair in others, and general lamentation about a "divided nation." They are likely to have policy consequences, particularly harmful to the public in the domestic arena, and to the world with regard to the "transformation of the military," which has led some prominent strategic analysts to warn of "ultimate doom" and to hope that
(*) Please visit : <http://www.zmag.org/asiawatch/chinawatch.cfm>
Though significant in their consequences, the elections tell us very little about the state of the country, or the popular mood. There are, however, other sources from which we can learn a great deal that carries important lessons. Public opinion in the
(CCFR) and the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the U. of Maryland (PIPA), to which I will return.
One conclusion is that the elections conferred no mandate for anything, in fact, barely took place, in any serious sense of the term "election." That is by no means a novel conclusion. Reagan's victory in 1980 reflected "the decay of organized party structures, and the vast mobilization of God and cash in the successful candidacy of a figure once marginal to the `vital center' of American political life," representing "the continued disintegration of those political coalitions and economic structures that have given party politics some stability and definition during the past generation" (Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers, Hidden Election, 1981). In the same valuable collection of essays, Walter Dean Burnham described the election as further evidence of a "crucial comparative peculiarity of the American political system: the total absence of a socialist or laborite mass party as an organized competitor in the electoral market," accounting for much of the "class-skewed abstention rates" and the minimal significance of issues. Thus of the 28% of the electorate who voted for Reagan, 11% gave as their primary reason "he's a real conservative." In Reagan's "landslide victory" of 1984, with just under 30% of the electorate, the percentage dropped to 4% and a majority of voters hoped that his legislative
program would not be enacted.
What these prominent political scientists describe is part of the powerful backlash against the terrifying "crisis of democracy" of the
1960s, which threatened to democratize the society, and, despite enormous efforts to crush this threat to order and discipline, has had far-reaching effects on consciousness and social practices. The post-1960s era has been marked by substantial growth of popular movements dedicated to greater justice and freedom, and unwillingness to tolerate the brutal aggression and violence that had previously been granted free rein. The Vietnam war is a dramatic illustration, naturally suppressed because of the lessons it teaches about the civilizing impact of popular mobilization. The war against South Vietnam launched by JFK in 1962, after years of US-backed state terror that had killed tens of thousands of people, was brutal and barbaric from the outset: bombing, chemical warfare to destroy food crops so as to starve out the civilian support for the indigenous resistance, programs to drive millions of
people to virtual concentration camps or urban slums to eliminate its popular base. By the time protests reached a substantial scale, the highly respected and quite hawkish Vietnam specialist and military historian Bernard Fall wondered whether "Viet-Nam as a cultural and historic entity" would escape "extinction" as "the countryside literally dies under the blows of the largest military machine ever unleashed on an area of this size" - particularly South Vietnam, always the main target of the US assault. And when protest did finally develop, many years too late, it was mostly directed against the peripheral crimes: the extension of the war against the South to the rest ofIndochina - terrible crimes, but secondary ones.
* State managers are well aware that they no longer have that freedom. Wars against "much weaker enemies" - the only acceptable targets -- must be won "decisively and rapidly," Bush I's intelligence services advised. Delay might "undercut political support," recognized to be thin, a great change since the Kennedy-Johnson period when the attack on
The world is pretty awful today, but it is far better than yesterday, not only with regard to unwillingness to tolerate aggression, but also in many other ways, which we now tend to take for granted. There are very important lessons here, which should always be uppermost in our minds - for the same reason they are suppressed in the elite culture.
Returning to the elections, in 2004 Bush received the votes of just over 30% of the electorate, Kerry a bit less. Voting patterns resembled 2000, with virtually the same pattern of "red" and "blue" states (whatever significance that may have). A small change in voter preference would have put Kerry in the White House, also telling us very little about the country and public concerns.
As usual, the electoral campaigns were run by the PR industry, which in its regular vocation sells toothpaste, life-style drugs, automobiles, and other commodities. Its guiding principle is deceit. Its task is to undermine the "free markets" we are taught to revere: mythical entities in which informed consumers make rational choices. In such scarcely imaginable systems, businesses would provide information about their products: cheap, easy, simple. But it is hardly a secret that they do nothing of the sort. Rather, they seek to delude consumers to choose their product over some virtually identical one. GM does not simply make public the characteristics of next year's models. Rather, it devotes huge sums to creating images to deceive consumers, featuring sports
stars, sexy models, cars climbing sheer cliffs to a heavenly future, and so on. The business world does not spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year to provide information. The famed "entrepreneurial initiative" and "free trade" are about as realistic as informed consumer choice. The last thing those who dominate the society want is the fanciful market of doctrine and economic theory. All of this should be too familiar to merit much discussion.
Sometimes the commitment to deceit is quite overt. The recent US-Australia negotiations on a "free trade agreement" were held up by
audience to ask their doctor whether this drug is "right for you (it's right for me)," sometimes not even revealing what it is supposed to be for. The right of deceit must be guaranteed to the immensely powerful and pathological immortal persons created by radical judicial activism to run the society.
When assigned the task of selling candidates, the PR industry naturally resorts to the same fundamental techniques, so as to ensure that politics remains "the shadow cast by big business over society," as
On the eve of the 2000 elections, about 75% of the electorate regarded it as a game played by rich contributors, party managers, and the PR industry, which trains candidates to project images and produce meaningless phrases that might win some votes. Very likely, that is why the population paid little attention to the "stolen election" that greatly exercised educated sectors. And it is why they are likely to pay little attention to campaigns about alleged fraud in 2004. If one is flipping a coin to pick the King, it is of no great concern if the coin is biased.
In 2000, "issue awareness" - knowledge of the stands of the candidate-producing organizations on issues - reached an all-time low.
Currently available evidence suggests it may have been even lower in 2004. About 10% of voters said their choice would be based on the candidate's "agendas/ideas/platforms/goals"; 6% for Bush voters, 13% for Kerry voters (Gallup). The rest would vote for what the industry calls "qualities" or "values," which are the political counterpart to toothpaste ads. The most careful studies (PIPA) found that voters had little idea of the stand of the candidates on matters that concerned them. Bush voters tended to believe that he shared their beliefs, even though the Republican Party rejected them, often explicitly. Investigating the sources used in the studies, we find that the same was argely true of Kerry voters, unless we give highly sympathetic interpretations to vague statements that most voters had probably never heard.
Exit polls found that Bush won large majorities of those concerned with the threat of terror and "moral values," and Kerry won majorities among those concerned with the economy, health care, and other such issues. Those results tell us very little.
It is easy to demonstrate that for Bush planners, the threat of terror is a low priority. The invasion of
illustrations. Even their own intelligence agencies agreed with the consensus among other agencies, and independent specialists, that the invasion was likely to increase the threat of terror, as it did; probably nuclear proliferation as well, as also predicted. Such threats are simply not high priorities as compared with the opportunity to establish the first secure military bases in a dependent client state at the heart of the world's major energy reserves, a region understood since World War II to be the "most strategically important area of the world," "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history." Apart from what one historian of the industry calls "profits beyond the dreams of avarice," which must flow in the right direction, control over two-thirds of the world's estimated hydrocarbon reserves - uniquely cheap and easy to exploit - provides what Zbigniew Brzezinski recently called "critical leverage" over European and Asian rivals, what George Kennan many years earlier had
called "veto power" over them. These have been crucial policy concerns throughout the post-World War II period, even more so in today's evolving tripolar world, with its threat that Europe and Asia might move towards greater independence, and worse, might be united: China and the EU became each other's major trading partners in 2004, joined by the world's second largest economy (Japan), and those tendencies are likely to increase. A firm hand on the spigot reduces these dangers.
Note that the critical issue is control, not access. US policies towards the
There are many other illustrations of the same lack of concern of planners about terror. Bush voters, whether they knew it or not, were voting for a likely increase in the threat of terror, which could be awesome: it was understood well before 9-11 that sooner or later the Jihadists organized by the CIA and its associates in the 1980s are likely to gain access to WMDs, with horrendous consequences. And even these frightening prospects are being consciously extended by the transformation of the military, which, apart from increasing the threat of "ultimate doom" by accidental nuclear war, is compelling Russia to move nuclear missiles over its huge and mostly unprotected territory to counter US military threats - including the threat of instant annihilation that is a core part of the "ownership of space" for offensive military purposes announced by the Bush administration along with its National Security Strategy in late 2002, significantly extending Clinton programs that were more than hazardous enough, and had already immobilized the UN Disarmament Committee.
As for "moral values," we learn what we need to know about them from the business press the day after the election, reporting the "euphoria" in board rooms - not because CEOs oppose gay marriage. And from the unconcealed efforts to transfer to future generations the costs of the dedicated service of Bush planners to privilege and wealth: fiscal and environmental costs, among others, not to speak of the threat of "ultimate doom." That aside, it means little to say that people vote on the basis of "moral values." The question is what they mean by the phrase. The limited indications are of some interest. In some polls, "when the voters were asked to choose the most urgent moral crisis facing the country, 33 percent cited `greed and materialism,' 31 percent
selected `poverty and economic justice,' 16 percent named abortion, and 12 percent selected gay marriage" (Pax Christi). In others, "when surveyed voters were asked to list the moral issue that most affected their vote, the Iraq war placed first at 42 percent, while 13 percent named abortion and 9 percent named gay marriage" (Zogby). Whatever voters meant, it could hardly have been the operative moral values of the administration, celebrated by the business press.
I won't go through the details here, but a careful look indicates that much the same appears to be true for Kerry voters who thought they were calling for serious attention to the economy, health, and their other concerns. As in the fake markets constructed by the PR industry, so also in the fake democracy they run, the public is hardly more than an irrelevant onlooker, apart from the appeal of carefully constructed images that have only the vaguest resemblance to reality.
Let's turn to more serious evidence about public opinion: the studies I mentioned earlier that were released shortly before the elections by some of the most respected and reliable institutions that regularly monitor public opinion. Here are a few of the results (CCFR): A large majority of the public believe that the US should accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court, sign the Kyoto protocols, allow the UN to take the lead in international crises, and rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the "war on terror." Similar majorities believe the
It is instructive to look more closely into popular attitudes on the war in
objections of about 90% of the population, taking its orders from Crawford
These results indicate that activists have not done their job effectively.
Turning to other areas, overwhelming majorities of the public favor expansion of domestic programs: primarily health care (80%), but also aid to education and Social Security. Similar results have long been found in these studies (CCFR). Other mainstream polls report that 80% favor guaranteed health care even if it would raise taxes - in reality, a national health care system would probably reduce expenses considerably, avoiding the heavy costs of bureaucracy, supervision, paperwork, and so on, some of the factors that render the US privatized system the most inefficient in the industrial world. Public opinion has been similar for a long time, with numbers varying depending on how questions are asked. The facts are sometimes discussed in the press, with public preferences noted but dismissed as "politically impossible." That happened again on the eve of the 2004 elections. A few days before (Oct. 31), the NY Times reported that "there is so little political support for government intervention in the health care market in the United States that Senator John Kerry took pains in a recent presidential debate to say that his plan for expanding access to health
insurance would not create a new government program" - what the majority want, so it appears. But it is "politically impossible" and has "[too] little political support," meaning that the insurance companies, HMOs, pharmaceutical industries, Wall Street, etc. , are opposed.
It is notable that such views are held by people in virtual isolation. They rarely hear them, and it is not unlikely that respondents regard their own views as idiosyncratic. Their preferences do not enter into the political campaigns, and only marginally receive some reinforcement in articulate opinion in media and journals. The same extends to other domains.
What would the results of the election have been if the parties, either of them, had been willing to articulate people's concerns on the issues they regard as vitally important?Or if these issues could enter into public discussion within the mainstream?We can only speculate about that, but we do know that it does not happen, and that the facts are scarcely even reported. It does not seem difficult to imagine what the reasons might be.
I brief, we learn very little of any significance from the elections, but we can learn a lot from the studies of public attitudes that are
kept in the shadows. Though it is natural for doctrinal systems to try to induce pessimism, hopelessness and despair, the real lessons are quite different. They are encouraging and hopeful. They show that there are substantial opportunities for education and organizing, including the development of potential electoral alternatives. As in the past, rights will not be granted by benevolent authorities, or won by intermittent actions - a few large demonstrations after which one goes home, or pushing a lever in the personalized quadrennial extravaganzas that are depicted as "democratic politics." As always in the past, the tasks require day-to-day engagement to create - in part re-create - the basis for a functioning democratic culture in which the public plays some role in determining policies, not only in the political arena from which it is largely excluded, but also in the crucial economic arena,
from which it is excluded in principle.
Noam Chomsky is the author of Hegemony or Survival:
Professor of American Studies/
Director of Research at CEIMSA-IN-EXILE