John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.
Nichols writes about politics for The Nation magazine as its National Affairs Correspondent. He is a contributing writer for The Progressive and In These Times and the associate editor of the Capital Times, the daily newspaper in Madison, Wisconsin. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and dozens of other newspapers.
Nichols is a frequent guest on radio and television programs as a commentator on politics and media issues. He was featured in Robert Greenwald’s documentary, “Outfoxed,” and in the documentaries Joan Sekler’s “Unprecedented,” Matt Kohn’s “Call It Democracy” and Robert Pappas’s “Orwell Rolls in his Grave.” The keynote speaker at the 2004 Congress of the International Federation of Journalists in Athens, Nichols has been a featured presenter at conventions, conferences and public forums on media issues sponsored by the Federal Communications Commission, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Consumers International, the Future of Music Coalition, the AFL-CIO, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the Newspaper Guild [CWA] and dozens of other organizations.
Nichols is the author of The Genius of Impeachment (The New Press); a critically acclaimed analysis of the Florida recount fight of 2000, Jews for Buchanan (The New Press); and a best-selling biography of Vice President Dick Cheney, Dick: The Man Who is President (The New Press), which has recently been published in French and Arabic. He edited Against the Beast: A Documentary History of American Opposition to Empire (Nation Books), of which historian Howard Zinn said: “At exactly the time when we need it most, John Nichols gives us a special gift–a collection of writings, speeches, poems, and songs from throughout American history–that reminds us that our revulsion to war and empire has a long and noble tradition in this country.”
With Robert W. McChesney, Nichols has co-authored the books It’s the Media, Stupid! (Seven Stories), Our Media, Not Theirs (Seven Stories), Tragedy and Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy (The New Press), The Death and Life of American Journalism (Nation Books) and, most recently, Uprising: How Wisconsin Renewed the Politics of Protest, from Madison to Wall Street (Nation Books). McChesney and Nichols are the co-founders of Free Press, the nation’s media-reform network, which organized the 2003 and 2005 National Conferences on Media Reform.
Of Nichols, author Gore Vidal says: “Of all the giant slayers now afoot in the great American desert, John Nichols’s sword is the sharpest.” (Photo by Robin Holland / Bill Moyers Journal)
David Cobb, the Green Party presidential candidate who has devoted the past two months to the arduous task of pressing for a full review of the mess that Ohio officials made of the election in that state, called on Friday afternoon to proclaim a sort of victory. "I think we've finally got a movement going for election reform in this country," Cobb said.
To an extent, he's right.
At the grassroots level, there appears to be growing support for a count-every-vote, eliminate-every-opportunity-for-fraud standard that would radically alter the way in which the United States runs elections.
The decision of US Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, to sign on to the objection raised Thursday by US Rep. John Conyers Jr. and other House Democrats to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes from the 2004 presidential election sent a powerful signal that at least some -- though certainly not most -- Washington Democrats are listening to the grassroots of the party.
The challenge to the Ohio count, while it was based on legitimate concerns about voter disenfranchisement before, during and after the November 2 election, never had a chance to block the ultimate assignment of that state's electoral votes to President Bush. After a short debate, Republican majorities in the House and Senate were always expected to dismiss any objections and assure that President Bush would have a second term. And they moved quickly on Thursday to do precisely that--with the support of most Democrats. The vote in the House was 267 to 31 to reject the challenge; in the Senate only Boxer voted in favor, with 74 other Senators voting against.
But the lodging of a formal objection, and the debates in the House and Senate that followed it, focused attention on the mess that Ohio officials made of the presidential election in that state -- and on the lingering questions about the extent to which the problems were intentionally created in order to make it harder for supporters of Democrat John Kerry, particularly those in predominantly minority, urban and low-income precincts, to cast their ballots on November 2.
American elections never play out perfectly. But the dramatic imperfections in the 2004 presidential election in Ohio, as detailed in a new report (see below) circulated by Representative John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, deserve a more serious response than they received from the majority of Congressional Democrats. When Ohioans began to raise concerns about troublesome irregularities in the approach of Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell -- a Bush campaign apparatchik -- to conducting the November 2 election and counting the votes in the contest that ultimately decided the race between Bush and Democrat John Kerry, they initially got more encouragement from Greens and Libertarians than from national Democrats. But Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, took the complaints seriously enough to go to Ohio. There, he and minority staffers for the Judiciary Committee conducted hearings and investigations that cut through the hyperbole and got down to two basic conclusions: first, voting and vote counting procedures in Ohio were so flawed that they created circumstances where citizens were disenfranchised and, second, that legitimate questions about the problems with the Ohio election had not been resolved at the point when the state's electoral votes were cast for Bush. Accordingly, Conyers has announced that he will object to the certification of the results from Ohio when Congress is scheduled to review and approve Electoral College votes this afternoon.
Conyers has found a handful of allies among House Democrats in recent days, mostly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But as today approached, he had received little encouragement from Democrats in the Senate. (The staff of California Senator Barbara Boxer says she is "considering" going along with Conyers, and Wisconsin's Russ Feingold is reportedly doing the same. But neither had signed on as of this morning.) Barring a last-minute show of solidarity by Boxer, Feingold or another senator, the failure of Senate Democrats to side with Conyers appeared likely to block his formal objection, as federal rules require that a challenge to the counting of electoral votes from a particular state must be backed by at least one member of both the House and the Senate. Conyers, who has served four decades in Congress and been a central player in every major voting rights debate since the 1960s, wrote last week to all 100 senators asking that they sign on to his objection. Yet, even when he distributed materials itemizing and analyzing what he described as "the many irregularities we have come across as part of our hearings and investigation into the Ohio presidential election," he received no response from most. It was an eerie echo of what happened in 2001 when members of the Congressional Black Caucus tried to object to the certification of electoral votes from Florida only to be ruled out of order because no senator had backed their complaint. The scene of African-American members being gaveled into silence was one of the most powerful and poignant moments in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11, and it was impossible to imagine that it would ever be repeated. Yet, as the moment of truth approached this year, Conyers, the senior African-American in Congress, was forced to plead for an opportunity "to debate and highlight the problems in Ohio which disenfranchised innumerable voters."
It is important to note the language Conyers has used. He was not calling for overturning the election of President Bush. Rather, he was suggesting that, based on the evidence of voter disenfranchisement, flawed or corrupted voting machinery, and inappropriate procedures for counting and recounting votes in Ohio, it was inappropriate for Congress simply to rubber stamp the decisions of Secretary of State Blackwell and other officials in Ohio to award the state's electoral votes to Bush. Ultimately, that objection has little chance to get beyond the debating stage, as both the Senate and the House would have to agree to the objection in order to block the counting of Ohio's electoral votes -- and that is not going to happen in either of those Republican-controlled chambers. But Conyers is right to argue that a formal objection needs to be made, and that objection should be broadly supported by Democrats -- and, frankly, honest Republicans -- in both the House and the Senate. That it has not received that broad support is a sad statement about the seriousness with which most Democrats take their party's pledge to "count all the votes this time" -- and about the prospects for reform of erratic, unequal and unreliable voting systems that, as Conyers and his aides have ably illustrated, are prone to abuses that undermine democracy.
Thirty-three years ago this month, a member of the U.S. House from Brooklyn challenged her party and her country to think more boldly than it ever had before about what the occupant of the White House should look like.
Shirley Anita St. Hill Chisholm, who four years earlier had become the first African-American woman to win election to Congress, declared that, "I stand before you today as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency of the United States. I am not the candidate of black America, although I am black and proud. I am not the candidate of the women's movement of this country, although I am equally proud of that. I am not the candidate of any political bosses or special interests. I am the candidate of the people."
Chisholm, who died January 1 at age 80, ran as the "Unbought and Unbossed" candidate for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. She campaigned in key primary states as a militant foe of the war in Vietnam and a champion of the economic and social justice movements that had organized so effectively during the 1960s. And she did not mince words. A co-convener of the founding conference of the National Women's Political Caucus, she once announced, "Women in this country must become revolutionaries. We must refuse to accept the old, the traditional roles and stereotypes."
George Bush ended 2004 on a sour note.
But at least he maintained his record as the most disingenuous president since Richard Nixon.
When other world leaders rushed to respond to the crisis caused by last Sunday's tsunamis in southern Asia, George Bush decamped to his ranch in Texas for another vacation. For three days after the disaster, the only formal response from the White House was issued by a deputy press secretary. Finally, after a United Nations official made comments that seemed to highlight the disengaged nature of the official U.S. reaction to one of the worst catastrophes in human history, the president appeared at a hastily-scheduled press conference to grumble about how critics of his embarrassing performance were "misguided and ill-informed."
Politics is a game played by rules. And the most important rule regarding close elections is that you don't win by being conciliatory during the recount process. Indeed, the only way a candidate who trails on election night ends up taking the oath of office is by refusing to concede and then confidently demanding that every vote be counted -- even when the opposition, the media and the courts turn against you.
That is a rule that Al Gore failed to follow to its logical conclusion in 2000, and that John Kerry did not even attempt to apply this year. Both men were so determined to maintain their long-term political viability that they refused to fight like hell to assure that the votes of their supporters were counted. That refusal let their backers down. It also guaranteed that, despite convincing evidence that the Democrat won in 2000, and serious questions about the voting and recount processes in the critical state of Ohio in 2004, George W. Bush would waltz into the White House.
Maybe someday, if the Democrats really want to win the presidency, they will nominate someone like Christine Gregoire. Gregoire is the Washington state attorney general who this year was nominated by Democrats to run for governor of that state. She is hardly a perfect politician -- like too many Democrats, she is more of a manager than a visionary; and she is as ideologically drab as Gore or Kerry.
In RFK: A Memoir, the finest of the shelf full of books he produced during a career that was as prolific as it was meaningful, Jack Newfield succeeded in explaining the late Robert F. Kennedy better than any of the late New York senator's many biographers. "Part of him was soldier, priest, radical, and football coach. But he was none of these," wrote Newfield, who had chronicled his subject's transition from President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's "first-brother" to presidential candidate in his own right. "He was a politician. His enemies said he was consumed with selfish ambition, a ruthless opportunist exploiting his brother's legend. But he was too passionate and too vulnerable ever to be the cool and confident operator his brother was."
With Newfield's death Monday night at age 66, there will be a search for the words to describe the late journalist. In the end, if that search is successful, it will find its way back to the words that Newfield employed to describe Kennedy.
Newfield, who most of us came to know as the star reporter for New York's Village Voice newspaper from the 1960s to the 1980s, and who most recently was a regular contributor to The Nation, had many passions â€“ from boxing to baseball to civil rights and civil liberties. But the thing I loved best about Jack Newfield was that he loved politics. When he described Kennedy as a politician, he was not dismissing the man whose majestic 1968 presidential campaign he chronicled in an up-close-and-personal fashion that put the reporter just a short distance away from the scene where that campaign â€“ and so many of the hopes of Newfield's decade, the 1960s â€“ were dashed. Rather, Newfield was honoring Kennedy, about whom the reporter would say, "Though it's really unknowable, I think that if Bobby had lived to be president we would have ended the Vietnam War much sooner, renewed the war on poverty; we would have had a totally different policy toward blacks than Richard Nixon had."
The crowd at the Democratic Party's annual dinner in western Wisconsin's Vernon County was large, loud and longing for a little partisan passion.
Far from feeling beat down by the November presidential election result, the more than 100 rural Democrats who gathered in small city of Viroqua this week were ready to fight against the war in Iraq, against economic policies that favor big business over working people and family farmers and against the warping of the public discourse by a media that is more concerned about Scott Peterson's conviction than the future of Social Security.
Unfortunately, they couldn't find many reflections of their grassroots passion in the current leadership of the Democratic Party. The sense that the time had come for a fresh face was palpable.