Yes, We're the Great Pretenders
Three days before the election, I took part in a television panel with former White House flack Joe Lockhart, who was doing his best to hold up his end of the tattered Gore-Lieberman banner. When the show was over, I asked him what he really thought and he said, "I'm pinning everything on the Electoral College." It now takes an effort of memory to recall, but this was what all the Democratic elite were saying that week. So the sudden moral emphasis on the popular vote is slightly unseemly, especially in view of the fact that the vote hasn't been counted yet. In California, for example, more than a million absentee ballots were received, in a state where absentee votes have historically favored the GOP. This count still has not been made. And it doesn't have to be certified until December 16. On its own, it could draw down Gore's proclaimed popular majority to something more like the tie that prevails nationwide and in Florida as I write. I have three California voters in my family, all of whom as it happens voted absentee (and all for Nader) this year. Their ballots hadn't counted or been counted as of November 29. So when I hear Bush or Gore vary their silly routine about "counting votes" and "votes counting," I reserve the right to throw up.
I've been tempted to exercise this right every time I hear some fool on TV say that the current fiasco proves what a wonderful system we have. Please. Por favor. Je vous en prie. It proves nothing of the kind. What it does is expose the huge bias against democracy that is built into the system. Those million uncounted votes in California would have elected two senators if they were cast in Montana or Delaware, thus enabling any two tiny rural white states to outvote Illinois or New York, and would have elected no senators at all if they were cast in Washington, DC, which is legally disfranchised. And even if the whole pile of absentee votes had gone to Bush in California, they would still have been "represented" by exclusively Gore electors in the Electoral College. (Which is why the Republicans do not protest the injustice, since the Electoral College has become their last best hope.) Other democratic countries do not watch in respectful awe as America avoids "blood in the streets" in a contest between two bloodless candidates. Other democratic countries say, Wow, whatever system we may have, it's not as flagrantly fouled up as the Yankee one. If this were a seriously pluralistic system, a Gore-Nader coalition government would now be in the cards; a ridiculous notion I grant you, but by no means as ridiculous as two hereditary princes simultaneously trying on the crown while going back to their corporate fundraisers to hire fresh teams of attorneys. Meanwhile, one Pretender hasn't even quit as governor of Texas and one Vice Pretender hasn't resigned as senator from Connecticut.
By a combination of luck and pluck--natural luck and Nader's pluck--we got the Platonically ideal result, whereby both of the machine nominees lost. Since the Constitution can't recognize a tie at the electoral stage, I am writing this during the perfectly absurd moment when both defeated and discredited glove-puppets claim to have won. I can merely point out that the much vaunted "hand recounts" took on, in subjective form, the very same character that the machine process possessed in objective form. They tried to squeeze every American mind into one or another of the preordained columns. In Broward County, the gruesome figure of County Commissioner Suzanne Gunzburger at first declared that a ballot marked for any Democrat was a vote for Gore. This flatly negated the well-announced fact that many Florida citizens wished to vote for "none of the above" or to split their ticket for Nader. (I didn't see, all month, even one article that described the obstacles and frustrations faced by the third-party voter.)
In his 1906 poem "On a General Election," Hilaire Belloc wrote:
The accursed power that stands on Privilege
(And goes with Women, and Champagne, and Bridge)
Broke--And Democracy resumed her reign
(Which goes with Bridge, and Women, and Champagne).
But to see the duel of the pretenders, you would imagine that vast issues of principle were at stake between them. (Seeing that phony Jerrold Nadler talk about "a whiff of fascism" in Florida would have been funny if it were not so grotesque.) The narcissism has turned almost to vandalism, with the whole apparatus of bourgeois democracy being trashed to no serious purpose. In just one week, attacks on the independence of the judiciary, on the integrity of public officials and even on the political neutrality of the armed forces--all for nothing! Let us always remember that these two crews were so intent on grabbing the sweets and rewards of office that they were prepared to depict their whole system as practically rotten in order to take command of it--and all the while shouting about how it was God's own country.
Just two weeks ago, I wrote a stupidly optimistic column about the sudden opportunity for a national seminar on democracy--and how to get it, rather than "celebrate" it. Since that date, every molecule of oxygen in the room has been sucked up by the party machines and their hirelings. The mass media, which are the recipients of the soft-money fruit of the "process," have behaved abysmally by excluding any question or topic that is not chad related. This is not even the much-derided "horse race" coverage; it is more like the proceedings of some tenth-rate Gaming Commission in a slot-machine county. Once again, voters and citizens are relegated to the roles of spectators and consumers. And party allegiance, which was becoming weaker and more discredited, has been revived in the most primitive way. Worse still, when the squabble is over and some kind of orderly carve-up has been arranged, we can look forward only to the "healing process," when people will pretend to welcome back "bipartisanship"--as if it had ever even promised to go away. Thank you. Good night. And God bless America.