[sixties-l] The Empire Has No Clothes

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 01/09/01

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    The Empire Has No Clothes
    The Globe & Mail, December 15, 2000
    America has been the world's democratic role model until this election
    stripped our illusions and revealed the naked lust for power that
    passes for politics
    by Todd Gitlin
    Canadians may reasonably wonder whether Americans have gone smash out of 
    their minds. In recent weeks the same question has been frequently posed by 
    chad-addled Americans themselves, as they struggled to invoke the sense of 
    downright weirdness that poured over the land. Some high- (or low-) lights:
    The selfsame scion of a blueblood political family who insisted that he
    "trusted the people" and not "Washington" delegated as his power-
    brokers his father's former secretary of defence, his father's former
    secretary of state and campaign manager, and, as his future chief of
    staff, Washington's top auto-company lobbyist and servant of the globe-
    is-not-warming brigade.
    A tribune of "progressivism" declared that a government headed by
    two men from big oil companies who are unconvinced the globe is
    warming would be no different than a government headed by a
    man who had tried, and failed, as Vice-President to impose an energy tax 
    against the unremitting opposition of oil companies and their hired 
    representatives in the Republican Congress.
    Misled and bewildered, unable to get the on-site help guaranteed
    under the law, Palm Beach County Jews cast thousands of ballots for the
    most anti-Semitic presidential candidate of the century.
    To cap it all, fervent defenders of states' rights appealed not once, but
    twice, to the U.S. Supreme Court in far-off Washington, where
    steadfast self-proclaimed proponents of judicial restraint shut down
    Florida's hand vote-count, a count that had been ordered by
    Florida's own Supreme Court, claiming that this legal exercise in
    democratic procedure was perpetrating "irreparable harm."
    Conservatives lauded the Rehnquist Five for daring to stand up for equal 
    protection of the law to shut down a partial recount when it was the Bush 
    camp that had steadfastly resisted a full state-wide version.  "Rarely," 
    wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissenting (and conspicuously not taking 
    the traditional trouble to do so "respectfully"), "has this Court rejected 
    outright an interpretation of state law by a state high court."
    This rarity was the measure of what was at stake. Power was at stake. It 
    was, it always was, as simple as that.
    The comedy is not that the country took so long to produce a 
    president-elect, but that the establishment's post facto rituals of 
    reassurance will, for a time, persuade some Americans, while to others 
    these rituals are laughably transparent.
    What matters is a tragedy: The Supreme Court judged George W.  Bush's risk 
    of "irreparable harm" more significant than voters' risk of not getting 
    their ballots counted. Five justices declared that time had run out for 
    democratic procedure, after the Bush team did everything they could to run 
    out the clock, appealing to the federal courts, stopping the vote every 
    time they could, blasting Mr. Gore for availing himself of legal rights to 
    protest and contest the results, whereupon the justices were shocked, 
    shocked to discover that there was no time to count all the votes.
    "The majority effectively orders the disenfranchisement of an unknown 
    number of voters . . .," wrote Justice Ginsburg. There is the nub of the 
    matter: disenfranchisement. This is the real drama: The rest is smoke and 
    One achievement of the recent passion play is the revelation (not nearly 
    well enough reported) of evidence of violations of law and democratic 
    practice on a tremendous scale in Florida and elsewhere before, on, and 
    after election day. Before election day, many Florida voters' names were 
    purged"cleansed" is the nice word used by the Republican-run company hired 
    by the State of Florida, with Katherine Harris, Bush delegate, presiding 
    over frequently false claims that they were felons and thus ineligible to vote.
    On election day, many eligible Florida voters found their names missing 
    from the registration rolls. African-American precincts were saddled with 
    obsolete voting and list-checking machines, while white districts had 
    state-of-the-art laptops to smooth their way. This was segregation by 
    technology. Some were stopped on the way to the polls on pretexts all too 
    familiar from the long history of racial oppression in the South. Haitian 
    Americans, promised Creole translators, did not get them.  Later, in Miami, 
    a vote count in progress was shut down by a "bourgeois riot" the term of 
    choice in the Wall Street Journal, including prominently Republican 
    officials who jetted down from the North. Now the bourgeois rioters take 
    power behind a screen of bipartisanship.
    Repeatedly during the endless campaign we were told that fat and happy 
    Americans were indifferent to these candidates whom prosperity drove 
    helplessly toward the centre, so that rival brands Gore and Bush were 
    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. Hard-core 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 Jr. 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.
    Behind the masquerade, there is a muted war going on. It is the latest 
    episode of the social-cultural civil war of the Sixties. It is, indeed, "a 
    war for the soul of America," in the 1992 words of one of its most 
    passionate exponents and unwitting recipient of thousands of Jewish votes 
    in Palm Beach County. It is back in earnest and with a vengeance.
    On one side, Mr. Gore is Bill Clinton with the polish peeled away.  (No 
    wonder he acts wooden.) Mr. Clinton is the walking, talking personification 
    of everything conservatives hated about the Sixties: the smart-talking, 
    Ivy-Leaguing, draft-dodging, non-inhaling, person-of-colour-loving, 
    gay-embracing, Hillary-marrying, sumbitch who not only got the girls, he 
    had the gall to win.
    And on the other side, in the person of the easy-schmoozing, empty suit 
    George W. Bush, a candidate sufficiently rightish to gladden their hearts, 
    and sufficiently raffish to make the Republicans look like the Party of 
    Fun, but at the same time sufficiently mealy-mouthed to win, their very own 
    Bill Clinton.
    They had been hungry for a long time, and at long last they were about to 
    sup. The cup was on its way to the lip. Then look what happened.
    No wonder they pulled out the stops, the states-righters in the Supreme 
    Court riding in at the last minute, a naked cavalry, shedding their robes 
    of judiciousness to intervene against, a vote count. The Court divided on a 
    question of principle. What could be more fundamental for a democracy than 
    the right to vote and to see one's vote count? For five justices, order, 
    Republican order. For four, the right to vote.
    What a civics lesson! We had become rather casual about civics, with 
    roughly half the voting-age population apparently indifferent to the 
    exercise of the franchise. But the issue 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. Within the 
    lifetime of the next president of the United States, people took their 
    lives into their hands for trying to vote, in Florida, too.
    Bipartisan wishfulness will coat the nation's airwaves, and it remains to 
    be seen whether activists on both sides succeed in returning to the classic 
    political divide between right and left, the question of who decides. For 
    decades, such lip service was paid to the sacredness of the vote while 
    institutions were indifferent. While electoral shoddiness and corruption 
    were widespread, no one cared much. Incumbents remained incumbent and the 
    big elections weren't so close. The word "disenfranchisement" seemed to 
    have passed into the graveyard of textbooks.
    Now, with abundant evidence of vote-tallying malfeasance on a hitherto 
    undreamed-of scale belatedly surfacing, we shall see whether partisanship 
    crystallizes around the essential issue: Whose democracy is this, if 
    anyone's? The rejuvenated NAACP is organizing statewide hearings on 
    extending the franchise -- 35 years after the Voting Rights Act was 
    supposed to settle the matter. Politicians will resist, maneuver, co-opt. 
    Who knows, dormant populations may come to political life.
    In any event, the conflict deserves to be stark, far starker than Mr.
    Bush or Mr. Gore wish to make it. Those who extended executive and judicial 
    hands to stop the count chose the convenience of bureaucrats and 
    politicians over the rights of the people. The question now is whether, at 
    this clarifying moment, America will get the partisanship it deserves.
    Todd Gitlin, professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York 
    University, is the author of Sacrifice: A Novel, The Sixties: Years of 
    Hope, Days of Rage and other books.

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