[sixties-l] Fwd: Back to the Civil Rights Barricades

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/06/00

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    >Back to the civil rights barricades
    >What's at stake in Florida is nothing less than the right to vote and to
    >have it count. And once again an angry, elitist GOP is on the wrong side.
    >By Todd Gitlin (from Salon.com)
    >Dec. 4, 2000 | What is really driving conservatives wild with selective
    >indignation? Why did Republicans put aside their law-and-order scruples to
    >run riot at the Miami-Dade County Building during the on-again, off-again
    >manual recount the day before Thanksgiving? What drove a Republican Wall
    >Street Journal columnist to commend this "bourgeois riot" (his words) on
    >the grounds that conservatives had belatedly learned from liberals that
    >they had to get tough?
    >Why does the National Review cover scream, "Thou Shalt Not Steal"? How is
    >it, when the diehard opponents of judicial activism are the ones who took
    >the fast lane to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of George W. Bush, when
    >the opponents of hand recounts in Florida want a hand recount in New
    >Mexico, when the sticklers for election law who demand acceptance of
    >thousands of absentee ballot applications completed by Republican
    >operatives, that Al Gore is cast as the candidate who will do anything and
    >say anything to win? Why do both Democrats and Republican faithful now
    >tremble with rage?
    >Repeatedly during the endless 2000 campaign we were told that fat and happy
    >Americans were indifferent to these candidates whom prosperity drove
    >helplessly toward the center. We watched rival brands Gore and Bush, forced
    >to differentiate themselves at the margin, showing off their respective
    >woofers and tweeters in the form of rival prescription drug plans and the
    >like. But the core partisans understood that the campaign was not the coded
    >dumb show the candidates were performing.
    >Hardcore conservatives, especially in the reconstituted Confederacy that is
    >the base of their base, well understood that Dubya was their guy. The press
    >forgot, but they did not, that Bush was the good ole boy who dropped in at
    >Bob Jones University and the fella who supported South Carolina's right to
    >fly the Confederate flag. On the other side, most of the Democratic base,
    >especially blacks and union voters, however unenthusiastic about Gore,
    >understood him to be the only alternative to Republican indifference, and
    >turned out for him with pragmatic glee.
    >The campaign took place in front of a curtain, but backstage, behind the
    >masquerade, the center-leaning "positioning" and the closely guarded talk,
    >a muted battle was in progress.
    >It is muted no longer. It is the latest episode of the social-cultural
    >civil war of the '60s. It is indeed "a war for the soul of America," in the
    >1992 words of one of its most passionate exponents (and the unwitting
    >recipient of thousands of Jewish and black votes in Palm Beach County), Pat
    >Buchanan. It is back in earnest and with a vengeance.
    >It has a lineage. To the right, Gore is Clinton with the polish stripped
    >away. (No wonder he acts wooden.) To Southern and Western conservatives the
    >vice president is the Big Green Monster in Waiting, ever and always a
    >hardcore environmentalist who is soft on labor and liberals (while the left
    >only wishes that might turn out to be so). The centrist Gore's left-wing
    >bona fides are confirmed by his association with President Clinton, the
    >walking, talking personification of everything conservatives hated about
    >the '60s: the smart-mouthed Ivy Leaguer; the draft-dodging, noninhaling,
    >minority-loving, gay-embracing, Hillary-marrying sumbitch who got the girls
    >and had the gall to win the presidency.
    >They loathed him long before they or anyone else heard of Whitewater or
    >Monica Lewinsky. In the early months of 1993, the first days of Clinton's
    >first term, a right-wing publisher was already selling a calendar called
    >"365 Reasons to Hate Bill Clinton." They seized chance after chance to
    >disable him, only to flop. In 1994, Newt Gingrich handed them sweet revenge
    >by taking back Congress for the GOP, only to overreach badly. Enter
    >Lewinsky and Ken Starr, whereupon an unscrupulous gang of the right fought
    >like crazy, scored many points, tied Clinton up in knots, only to lose again.
    >The right still hates the Clintons -- and Gore by extension -- with a
    >virulence that, if it came from the left, would be viewed as felonious.
    >Just a few weeks ago, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi was
    >heard wondering darkly whether Hillary Rodham Clinton would make it to the
    >Senate -- "she might get hit by lightning" -- just as, after the 1994
    >Gingrich victory, Jesse Helms said that if President Clinton wanted to
    >visit North Carolina, he "better have a bodyguard."
    >Right-wingers like Lott and Helms understand, far better than the holdout
    >left, that the Clintons' centrism was liberalism chastened, liberalism
    >picking itself off the floor after more than a decade of ignominious
    >defeat. The Clintonian Third Way was a moderate means to a radical end --
    >terminating the Republican dominion that kicked in with Richard Nixon and
    >solidified with Ronald Reagan, threatening to mire the country in
    >tax-cutting, deficit-building, anti-government paralysis for decades to come.
    >Since Reagan's glory days, of course, it has been downhill for members of
    >the far right. Sure, they held the White House for 12 years, but couldn't
    >take Congress, or Hollywood, or the networks, or the universities (not to
    >their satisfaction, anyway). In 1994, they captured Congress for a man of
    >the '60s, Newt Gingrich, but still had no president. The wily Clintons
    >outsmarted them at every turn. Finally, in the affable empty suit of young
    >Bush, they came upon a candidate who for a time seemed like he could be the
    >Clinton of the GOP -- sufficiently raffish to make them look like the party
    >of fun, sufficiently mealy-mouthed to reassure the uncommitted center --
    >but in their hearts they knew he was right. They had been thirsting in the
    >desert for a long time, and at long last they were about to taste the
    >elixir of revival. The cup was on its way to the lip ...
    >Then look what happened.
    >No wonder they're furious enough to riot over Florida. So far, they have
    >turned to the streets in numbers greater than the Democrats. Whatever they
    >say about the unimportance of Washington, they know perfectly well where
    >the power is. Talk about entitlement.
    >Thus our current passion play. The issues are legal and technical, but the
    >passions welling up are familiar, fierce, fundamental. We may be tired of
    >the '60s, but they're not tired of us, because the collision of principles
    >that took place then is still producing aftershocks.
    >For the left, the stakes are evident, or should be: Let the people decide.
    >This slogan of Students for a Democratic Society was an abstraction, but in
    >the background was knowledge -- knowledge of the terror and oppression that
    >befell huge swaths of America when people were kept from deciding their
    >political fate. What could be more fundamental for a democracy than the
    >right to vote and to see one's vote count?
    >Defending idiotic electoral arrangements, smirking at subliterate Florida
    >voters (the Weekly Standard's Matt Labash called the agitation about the
    >Palm Beach ballot "the dance of the low-sloping foreheads"), the partisans
    >of the right now reveal themselves to be the lovers of oligarchy we always
    >feared they were. Like the John Birchers of yore, they are essentially
    >insisting that this is a republic, not a democracy. Against this hauteur,
    >the left clamors for the right to vote and the right for votes to be
    >counted. Many pent-up passions collide now.
    >Long overdue. We had become rather casual about civic boilerplate, with
    >roughly half the voting-age population apparently indifferent to the
    >exercise of the franchise. But the issue of the franchise -- that it be
    >universally available and authentically tallied -- is bedrock. Not so long
    >ago, the country trembled because the civil rights movement properly
    >recognized that the right to vote is a foundation of democratic
    >self-government. This is not ancient history. Within the lifetime of the
    >next president of the United States, people took their lives into their
    >hands for trying to vote. In Florida alone, on Christmas night of 1951,
    >Harry Moore, the head of the state NAACP, and his wife, leaders of a voter
    >registration campaign in Jacksonville, were murdered, their house blown up
    >by a bomb. These murders, along with others throughout the old Confederacy,
    >were never solved.
    >Since Election Day, the NAACP has conducted lengthy hearings in Miami,
    >mainly out of view of the press, collecting much testimony to the effect
    >that African- and Haitian-Americans had their right to vote systematically
    >infringed. Now the Justice Department is belatedly investigating. Newspaper
    >after newspaper -- on Sunday, it was the Washington Post -- has shown ways
    >in which the ballot problems that plagued Florida hurt minorities and the
    >poor far more than the white and affluent. It's clear why the Bush campaign
    >has resisted all efforts to count Florida votes more effectively: A
    >computer model used by the Miami Herald shows that if the many
    >well-documented ballot problems hadn't plagued the state on Election Day,
    >Gore would have won by 23,000 votes.
    >And where Democrats defend the hitherto disenfranchised, Republicans stand
    >up only for overseas soldiers, some of whose ballots without postmarks
    >weren't counted. Invoking the military, the GOP makes it seem as if antiwar
    >demonstrators were once again burning the American flag, all over Florida.
    >Familiar battle lines are being drawn.
    >Although the 24/7 chat shows obscure it, we have returned to a core and
    >classic political divide between right and left: the question of who
    >decides. But politicians on both sides have largely booted it. For decades,
    >political incumbents threw up obstacles in the way of reforming archaic
    >voter registration laws and procedures. (What, me worry? I'm in office.)
    >Much lip service was paid to the sanctity of the right to vote, while
    >ignoring the declining number of voters who chose to exercise it.
    >Institutions were indifferent. A motor-voter law passed -- finally signed
    >by President Clinton after two vetoes by Bush pre -- but enforcement
    >lagged, most of all at the state and local level much beloved by GOP
    >rhetoricians. This could be the election that confirms what many nonvoters
    >say when asked why they don't vote: "My vote doesn't count." If it turns
    >out the apathetic are right, and dutiful voters are wrong, look out,
    >If it takes seriously the battle cry of democracy, the left, in other
    >words, has a chance to overcome the pettiness of recent years, the
    >identity-group infighting, the Nader nihilism, and go to the heart of the
    >matter, giving Rush Limbaugh and George Will something truly to worry
    >about. The hand count is the perfect metaphor. The GOP is in the
    >politically tough position of defending the rights of machines, not people,
    >to count ballots; of arguing that the convenience of bureaucrats matters
    >more than the rights of the people when setting election deadlines. But
    >despite their entitlement, choosing our leaders is not their prerogative,
    >no more than it was in 1776, or the 1960s.
    >Isn't it clear that the patriots are those who refuse to consign power to
    >either machines or mobs of various descriptions -- the ones who smile
    >through congressional lobbies, or the ones storming the Miami-Dade County
    >Building? Isn't it clear that democracy is no idle piety -- that as a
    >nation we are either committed to it or not?
    >Perhaps we tremble a bit now because we sense what is deeply at stake.
    >- - - - - - - - - - - -
    >About the writer
    >Todd Gitlin is professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York
    >University, and the author of "The Sixties," "The Twilight of Common
    >Dreams" and a new novel, "Sacrifice."

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