Something Rotten in Ohio
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Outside the oil and gas junta that controls two and a half branches of our government (the half soon to be whole is the judiciary), there was a good deal of envy at the late British election among those Americans who are serious about politics. Little money was spent by the three parties and none for TV advertising. Results were achieved swiftly and cheaply. Best of all, the three party leaders were quizzed sharply and intelligently by ordinary citizens known quaintly as subjects, thanks to the ubiquitous phantom crown so unlike our nuclear-taloned predatory eagle. Although news of foreign countries seldom appears in our tightly censored media (and good news, never), those of us who are addicted to C-SPAN and find it the one truly, if unconsciously, subversive media outlet in these United States are able to observe British politics in full cry.
I say "subversive" not only because C-SPAN is apt to take interesting books seriously but also because its live coverage of the Senate and the House of Representatives is the only look we are ever allowed at the mouthpieces of our masters up close and is, at times, most reflective of a government more and more remote from us, unaccountable and repressive. To watch the righteous old prophet Byrd of West Virginia, the sunny hypocrisy of Biden of Delaware -- as I write these hallowed names, I summon up their faces, hear their voices, and I am covered with C-SPAN goose bumps.
At any rate, wondrous C-SPAN has another string to its bow. While some executive was nodding, C-SPAN started showing us Britain's House of Commons during Question Time. This is the only glimpse that most Americans will ever get of how democracy is supposed to work.
These party leaders are pitted against one another in often savage debate on subjects of war and peace, health and education. Then some 600 Members of Parliament are allowed to ask questions of their great chieftains. Years ago the incomparable Dwight Macdonald wrote that any letter to the London Times (the Brits are inveterate letter writers on substantive issues) is better written than any editorial in the New York Times.
In addition to Question Time, which allows Americans to see how political democracy works, as opposed to our two chambers of lobbyists for corporate America, C-SPAN also showed the three party leaders being interrogated by a cross section of, for the most part, youthful subjects of the phantom crown and presided over by an experienced political journalist. Blair was roughly accused of lying about the legal advice he had received apropos Britain's right to go to war in Iraq for the US oil and gas junta. This BBC live audience asked far more informed and informative questions than the entire US press corps was allowed to ask Bush et al. in our recent election. But Americans are not used to challenging authority in what has been called wartime by a President who has ordered invasions of two countries that have done us no harm and is now planning future wars despite dwindling manpower and lack of money. Blair, for just going along, had to deal with savage, informed questions of a sort that Bush would never answer even if he were competent to do so.
So we have seen what democracy across the water can do. All in all a jarring experience for anyone foolish enough to believe that America is democratic in anything except furiously imprisoning the innocent and joyously electing the guilty. What to do? As a first step, I invite the radicals at C-SPAN who take seriously our Constitution and Bill of Rights to address their attention to the corruption of the presidential election of 2004, particularly in the state of Ohio.
One of the most useful members of the House -- currently the most useful -- is John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who, in his capacity as ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee, led the committee's Democratic Congressmen and their staffers into the heart of the American heartland, the Western Reserve; specifically, into the not-so-red state of Ohio, once known as "the mother of Presidents."
He had come to answer the question that the minority of Americans who care about the Republic have been asking since November 2004: "What went wrong in Ohio?" He is too modest to note the difficulties he must have undergone even to assemble this team in the face of the triumphalist Republican Congressional majority, not to mention the unlikely heir to himself, George W. Bush, whose original selection by the Supreme Court brought forth many reports on what went wrong in Florida in 2000.
These led to an apology from Associate Justice John Paul Stevens for the behavior of the 5-to-4 majority of the Court in the matter of Bush v. Gore. Loser Bush then brought on undeclared wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the greatest deficits in our history and the revelations that the policies of an Administration that -- much as Count Dracula fled cloves of garlic -- flees all accountability were responsible for the murder and torture of captive men, between 70 percent and 90 percent of whom, by the Pentagon's estimate, had been swept up at random, earning us the hatred of a billion Muslims and the disgust of what is called the civilized world.
Asked to predict who would win in '04, I said that, again, Bush would lose, but I was confident that in the four years between 2000 and 2004 creative propaganda and the fixing of election officials might very well be so perfected as to insure an official victory for Mr. Bush. As Representative Conyers's report, Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio (3.2 MB PDF link), shows in great detail, the swing state of Ohio was carefully set up to deliver an apparent victory for Bush even though Kerry appears to have been the popular winner as well as the valedictorian-that-never-was of the Electoral College.
I urge would-be reformers of our politics as well as of such anachronisms as the Electoral College to read Conyers's valuable guide on how to steal an election once you have in place the supervisor of the state's electoral process: In this case, Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who orchestrated a famous victory for those who hate democracy (a permanent but passionate minority). The Conyers Report states categorically, "With regards to our factual finding, in brief, we find that there were massive and unprecedented voter irregularities and anomalies in Ohio. In many cases these irregularities were caused by intentional misconduct and illegal behavior, much of it involving Secretary of State Kenneth J. Blackwell, the co-chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Ohio." In other words, the Florida 2000 scenario redux, when the chair for Bush/Cheney was also the Secretary of State. Lesson? Always plan ahead for at least four more years.
It is well-known in the United States of Amnesia that not only did Ohio have a considerable number of first-time voters but that Blackwell and his gang, through "the misallocation of voting machines led to unprecedented long lines that disenfranchised scores, if not hundreds of thousands, of predominantly minority and Democratic voters."
For the past few years many of us have been warning about the electronic voting machines, first publicized on the Internet by investigator Bev Harris, for which she was much reviled by the officers of such companies as Diebold, Sequoia, ES&S, Triad; this last voting computer company "has essentially admitted that it engaged in a course of behavior during the recount in numerous counties to provide 'cheat sheets' to those counting the ballots. The cheat sheets informed election officials how many votes they should find for each candidate, and how many over and under votes they should calculate to match the machine count. In that way, they could avoid doing a full county-wide hand recount mandated by state law."
Yet despite all this manpower and money power, exit polls showed that Kerry would win Ohio. So, what happened?
I have told more than enough of this mystery story so thoroughly investigated by Conyers and his Congressional colleagues and their staffers. Not only were the crimes against democracy investigated but the report on What Went Wrong in Ohio comes up with quite a number of ways to set things right.
Needless to say, this report was ignored when the Electoral College produced its unexamined tally of the votes state by state. Needless to say, no joint committee of the two houses of Congress was convened to consider the various crimes committed and to find ways and means to avoid their repetition in 2008, should we be allowed to hold an election once we have unilaterally, yet again, engaged in a war -- this time with Iran. Anyway, thanks to Conyers, the writing is now high up there on the wall for us all to see clearly: "Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin." Students of the Good Book will know what these words of God meant to Belshazzar and his cronies in old Babylon.
Gore Vidal is a contributing editor to The Nation , and a novelist, playwright and essayist. His recent books include Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta and Imperial America , out in paperback this September (Thunder's Mouth/Nation Books).