Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
Former Congressman Ben Jones had it right when he said last month, "I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs an exorcist." Zell "Zig Zag" Miller's vicious keynote speech Wednesday night was so over the top and below the belt that it left even some of the coolest members of the so-called liberal punditocracy stunned.
"I've never heard such a speech...so wildly inaccurate, filled with wild distortions by the basketful...just over the top angry," Time magazine's Joe Klein told CNN's Aaron Brown. The usually cool and crisp CNN analyst Bill Schneider seemed visibly shaken, even somewhat disheveled, as he described Miller's speech "as angrier that Buchanan's in '92." Chris Matthews seemed shocked after Miller exploded on his show and threatened him in an out-of-control screed. Jeff Greenfield almost pulsed with rage after listening to Miller's scurrilous and slanderous attacks on Kerry's character and credentials.
In a post-speech interview, Greenfield (and Judy Woodruff) pushed Miller to defend his serial distortions about Kerry's Senate votes on defense appropriations. But there was no time to ascertain the truth--as is almost always the case on cable TV. At the close of his show, Aaron Brown asked Klein--in his signature, 'aw shucks manner--"We all want our politics at a higher plane. Was the line crossed tonight? " Klein shook his head, looked disgusted, and admitted he didn't know how this latest round of Bush's scummy politics of personal destruction by proxy would play in the country (and in those all important swing states.)
Here's a modest proposal. How about giving over ten minutes on all cable shows, beginning tonight, to a "just the facts" segment. No shouting heads, no blustering anchors. Just bring on a representative from one of the non-partisan "truth squad" election monitoring groups like the Annenberg Public Policy Center's FactCheck.Org to ascertain the truth of the speeches and charges of the day. We have 60 days left until the election. Why not try to lift our politics out of the gutter which Bush's character assassins have thrown us into?
Cut Bush's Time in Half
At a Labor Day Rally yesterday--rescheduled by New York's unions to take advantage of all the Republicans in their city--the President of New York City's Central Labor Council Brian McLaughlin got it right when, referring to the Bush Administration's gutting of overtime protection, he said: "If George Bush can cut our time-and-a-half, then we should cut his time in half."
Zell Miller has hypocrite stamped all over his forehead. It's hard to imagine anyone more Janus-faced than the Democratic Senator from Georgia. In 1992, Miller nominated Bill Clinton at the Democratic convention. At a 2001 Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner in Georgia, Miller described John Kerry as "a good friend,""one of this nation's authentic heroes," and "one of this party's…greatest leaders."
But Miller's a cheap date. Earlier this year, the aptly dubbed "Zig Zag Zell" published A National Party No More, a book blandishing blurbs from Sean Hannity, Robert Novak and Newt Gingrich, which characterizes the Democratic Party as a fringe organization. Employing one-liners in place of logic, Miller wrote, "If this is a national party, sushi is our national dish. If this is a national party, surfing has become our national pastime." The Washington Monthlycalled it "a rather dreadful [book]"; a "toxic combination of corny folkisms" and "over-the-top jeremiads against fellow Democrats."
Miller's ideology is simplistic, and hubristic. He recently argued in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the struggle for the modern Democratic Party has been won by "Hollywood sleazemaker" Michael Moore and other assorted "Bush-bashers." Miller complained that America Coming Together was hiring ex-felons to help with its get-out-the-vote campaign, and that Democrats were joining forces with criminals everywhere. In Miller's opinion, radicals dominate party ranks, and moderates have zero influence. (He apparently doesn't know that in his own backyard, Inez Tenenbaum--the Democratic candidate for South Carolina's Senate seat-- is touting family values and supports the amendment banning gay marriage.)
When Miller delivers the keynote at the Republican convention Wednesday, he will bash his "good friend" Kerry and highlight his organization, Democrats for Bush. "Before it's all over, I think you're going to see a very impressive group of Democrats from around the nation supporting the Bush-Cheney team," Miller declared at a kick-off press conference in March. It's in large part a sham organization. According to the group's web site, the only other truly prominent Democrat in the group is former New York Mayor Ed Koch. The "Democrats for Bush" Steering Committee includes the not exactly household names Paul Berube (a pastor in New Hampshire), and Robert Allen Blankenship, (a retired sheriff in Arkansas.)
While the press lavishes attention on Miller, a more important story is being ignored; the Republicans who are deserting Bush in droves. US servicemen and women, senior diplomats, libertarians and social moderates are attacking Bush's foreign and domestic agendas.
*Numerous Republicans who served in high diplomatic and military positions under Reagan and Bush's father, for example, have formed Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change. As William Harrop, Ambassador to Israel under Bush's father, put it: I really am essentially a Republican. I voted for George Bush's father and I voted for George Bush. But what we got was not the George Bush we voted for." In the official statement, the group argues that the Bush Administration has weakened our security, and that it is time for a change."
* Nebraska Republican Congressman Doug Bereuter. Vice chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, this Midwestern conservative just two weeks ago told constituents that Bush's invasion of Iraq was "a mistake." (Click here to read John Nichols' online article about Bereuter's letter.)
*Conservative commentators like Pat Buchanan have argued that, "if prudence is the mark of a conservative, Mr. Bush has ceased to be a conservative."
*Bush's lying about Iraq, argues Ron Reagan, in this month's Esquire, has alienated Reagan Republicans along with many moderates who served under Bush's father. (Bush is still waiting for the Log Cabin Republicans to endorse his campaign and the GOP's anti-gay rights, anti-abortion agenda.)
*The Republican animosity towards Bush is also powerfully expressed in MoveOn.org's Real People ads highlighting ordinary Republicans who are voting for Kerry. (Click here to see the series.)
Like theDemocrats for Bush organization he leads, Miller is more a sideshow than a force to be reckoned with. (Or as Ben Jones, a former Georgia congressman, challenging Miller to a debate, summed it up: " I think that the devil has got into Zell Miller, and he needs a exorcist." He has convinced few important Democrats, if any, to join his quixotic crusade. Miller will be feted at this week's convention, but the GOP will be pinning their hopes on an empty vessel.
As speaker after speaker Monday night invoked the iconic image of President Bush standing amidst the rubble of Ground Zero in the days after 9/11, I had a different image--of the rubble we all stand atop today.Yes, in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Americans experienced a quickening of the national spirit.
As The Nation wrote about those days, "The extraordinary heroism of the firefighters, police and others in coping with death and destruction rebuked the mood of 'infectious greed' generated by this era of market dominance. Civil servants and soldiers, even government itself, were accorded new respect in the face of real danger and collective greed. These developments contained a hopeful thread of reconstructing our frayed democracy."
But three years later, our frayed democracy is under siege and we live amidst the rubble created not by terrorists but by an Administration that has pursued a faith-based, messianic and militarist foreign policy. It is rubble created by a White House that has violated the most essential trust in a democracy, killing close to a thousand Americans in a reckless and unnecessary war based on manipulated intelligence and the persistent exploitation of fear.
It is rubble in which lies about the links between the war on terror and the war on Iraq--masterfully exploited by Bush's surrogate character witnesses (or, more accurately, attack dogs) John McCain and Rudy Giuliani on Monday night--have grown roots. And it is rubble strewn with the lives of the millions of Americans who have lost jobs, who lack health insurance and who live in poverty.
And now we live under the rubble and garbage of a campaign of character assassination fomented and financed by Bush surrogates. For those GOP speakers this week who remind us of those days of unity and shared sacrifice amidst the rubble of 9/11, remind them of the rubble created by a President who has ruled through division and fear.
Remember the incessant media punditry during the Democratic National Convention--particularly pervasive on Fox and CNN--which echoed GOP claims that what viewers were seeing wasn't the true face of the party? (As Paul Krugman put it in response: "Apparently all those admirals, generals and decorated veterans were ringers.")
Well, it's going to be a lot easier to make the case that the GOP has had an extreme makeover when the party sends out its array of sort-of-moderate, pro-choice speakers while keeping neanderthals like Tom DeLay, Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback under wraps. But maybe it's only fair that GOP moderates dominate the prime slots at the convention. After all, if Bush is elected in November they will not be seen or heard from again for four more years.
Now that the damage has been done to Kerry's campaign by the Swift Boat Veterans, Bush is trying to play the good guy. After the demonstrably false charges against Kerry has made news for weeks--abetted by cable news shows which have effectively provided free campaign advertising for his attackers--Bush now wants to drop the debate over their respective wartime service. See the story buried on page A23 in the August 28 Los Angeles Times. (Unfortunately the paper's website makes it impossible to link to its articles.)
Bush's flip-flop came shortly after a video resurfaced on the Internet showing former Speaker of the Texas House Ben Barnes describing--and apologizing for--the sleazy way in which he personally pulled strings to get Bush into the National Guard.
On the video, Barnes states: "My name's Ben Barnes. I was Speaker of the Texas House when George W. Bush went into the National Guard. He got preferential treatment. I know. I gave it to him. His family sent a representative to my office and asked me to move their son up on the waiting list. And I did. It was wrong. He was jumped over hundreds of others in line. Some of them went off to Vietnam and died. I made a mistake supporting that war. And as other, less-privileged kids were going off to be killed, I helped the son of a congressman avoid combat. I wish I had not. But I think it's time people know. And it's time for George W. Bush to stop attacking the people who did serve."
I don't think the debate about Bush's service should be dropped. Why? Because this posturing flip-flopper of a President continues to needlessly send American troops to their deaths while campaigning as a resolute war president. Just watch the convention script this week.
We also still need answers to the unresolved questions surrounding Bush's stint in the Texas National Guard from 1968 to 1973. Specifically, what explains the gap in Bush's Guard service between April 1972 and September 1973, a 17-month period when commanders in Texas and Alabama say they never saw him report for duty and records show no pay was issued though Bush was allegedly on duty in Alabama.
The White House has released hundreds of documents--after Bush said in a TV interview in February that he would make all his military records available. But the files released so far haven't answered those questions, and some documents have yet to be made public. And since February, the White House spin-machine has banned all Guard and military commanders outside the Pentagon from commenting on Bush's military record. At least a half-dozen news organizations have filed requests for Bush's files under the Freedom of Information Act, but judging from this White House's systematic clampdown on information--including blocking the scheduled release of presidential papers from Bush I's period--it seems unlikely that the relevant documents will see the light of day--at least until after the election.
Last week, the price of oil futures reached $49.40 a barrel--the highest in 21 years of trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Oil prices are already up 50 percent this year, and some experts--notably energy consultant Daniel Yergin--believe there's a good chance that oil could reach a steady level of $50 a barrel in the next two months.
The surge in prices has several causes, including political instability in Venezuela and Russia, turmoil in Nigeria, global market speculation and increased Chinese demand. But, in the short term, it is the "fear factor"--the insecurity and instability created by the Bush Administration's Middle East policies, notably the invasion of Iraq--that has raised costs between $8 and $15 a barrel.
It is increasingly clear that the high cost of the war can be seen not just in the number of deaths, and the ballooning federal budget deficits but also in the record oil and gas prices. In a speech in Smithville, Missouri earlier this month, John Kerry squarely blamed the Bush team's wars and failed policies for oil prices hitting new highs.
If prices stay at these levels for three to six months, some economists believe the risk of recession grows dramatically. (And at $50 a barrel, oil would be about 70 percent above the average price of $29 a barrel that has prevailed since 2000.) In that case, the oil shock of 2004 may well affect the outcome of both the US election and the global economic recovery.
While it's hard to find a silver lining--what with a slowing economy, lost jobs and hard hit consumers--the situation may act as a brake on a possible US (or Israeli) preemptive strike against Iran. Such an "October Surprise" would be designed to display Bush's toughness in dealing with prospective nuclear threats, while diverting attention from the debacle in Iraq. But most nonproliferation and energy experts argue that a strike would be counterproductive, further destabilizing the region. And though chaos may be what Ariel Sharon wants, as well as the diehard neocons (what with Iraq such a disaster), cooler heads in the Administration worry about a strike increasing oil prices to $60 a barrel--perhaps the one thing that could ensure Bush's defeat in November.
High oil prices also act as a wake-up call--reminding us that oil is a finite resource and that we are fast approaching the point of peak production, after which global output will fall. It is a moment to launch what Kerry and leading progressive and environmental groups are calling for an "http://www.apolloalliance.org/ Apollo Project" to invest in energy independence. http://www.thenation.com doc.mhtml?i=20040830&s=hertsgaard">This call is good politics and good policy. In a recent poll, 86 percent of Americans placed a priority on reducing dependence on Middle East oil, with 63 percent believing that investment in a combination of renewable power, efficient technology and conservation is the answer to improving security.
But change will not come while there's another "fear factor" on our increasingly polluted horizon--a president who sits idly by while oil shock threatens our future. "If oil prices were Olympic events, George Bush would win medals," Senator Chuck Schumer said last week. He's fiddling while Rome is burning." Bush has compiled the worst environmental record in modern times, while allowing our laws, regulations and policies to be crafted and corrupted by oil and gas lobbyists, polluters and indicted CEOs.
Let's rid ourselves of the Bush "fear factor"--and then fight hard to craft a sane energy policy. It's one of the most urgent challenges facing this country and the world.
As is appropriate and necessary, there's currently much attention being focused on the patently false GOP-supported swift boat ad. But, there's more to the nasty air wars raging across a handful of battleground states this political season. Spending on political commercials has gone through the roof, distortion reigns supreme and Bush has made negativity the norm.
Last month, the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin reported that the campaigns are ignoring 60 percent of Americans who don't live in the swing states. Out of 210 media markets nationwide, only 93 of them are airing any political commercials. But in Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa and Florida the airwaves are thick with ads, and voters are under heavy bombardment in 14 or 15 additional states.
According to Ken Goldstein, director of the Advertising Project, the campaigns are fixed laser-like on "maybe two, two and a half percent of the voters" who "are actually persuadable in this race." But in the uncontested blue or red states (California, Texas, New York) where the outcome isn't in doubt, a kind of political famine has deprived voters of a firsthand look at this year's (nasty) give-and-take.
Bush is waging perhaps the most negative--and expensive--television assault on a challenger in modern times. Through mid-July, Bush had already spent $84 million on television advertising--most of it negative. His campaign, according to the Washington Post, is defined by "unprecedented negativity." Seventy-five percent of his ads, or almost 50,000 commercials through May 31st were devoted to attacking John Kerry. (Kerry, by contrast, went negative in only 27 percent of his ads during the same period.) In 30-second bombshells saturating the airwaves in swing states, Bush routinely misleads voters by charging that Kerry supported repealing wiretaps on terrorists; proposed a $900 billion tax hike on the middle-class; advocated a fifty-cent gas tax increase; opposed weapons systems that would have helped America fight terrorists, and failed to attend crucial Senate Intelligence Committee hearings.
The drumbeat of distortions is so nasty that even the watchdogs get tired of cleaning up so many White House smears. In April, FactCheck.org, which is sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, said wearily of Bush's ad attacking Kerry's voting record on military hardware: "We've de-bunked these half-truths before but the Bush campaign persists."
Bush's surrogates--or as Maureen Dowd calls them, "Third-Party political assassins"--have also been busy boys. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, well-funded by big GOP donors, is running an ad charging that one of Kerry's Bronze Stars for bravery and two of his three purple hearts were the result of Kerry fabricating events. Sen. John McCain urged Bush to denounce the smear. But Bush and his cronies have refused to condemn the patently false ad. (On Friday, the Swift Boat attackers announced that they were unrolling another anti-Kerry TV ad--this one sliming his antiwar activity.)
Meanwhile, Kerry's campaign is finally responding. Last week, it filed a complaint against the group with the federal elections commission. But by the time the complaint was filed, more than half the country has already heard about or seen the Swift Boat ad, according to the Annenberg Center (Click here to read David Corn'sNation weblog for more on this deceitful ad.)
What's clear is that this incumbent, wartime president and his strategists will use dirty tricks and character assassination to win. "This is the bitterest, most unsavory campaign in the nation's history," McCain said this week. "And it's only going to get worse."
The latest poll numbers have only fueled Bush's desperation. In key battleground states, most polls suggest the President is hurting. (USA Today's latest numbers show Kerry with a 10 percentage point advantage in the key swing state of Ohio. ) The White House has decided that the way to stop the bleeding is to attack Kerry as a flip-flopper and a liberal. (And to use surrogates to do some of their dirty work.) That means jettisoning the campaign's pledge to use August to roll out a second-term agenda. (Remember Karl Rove telling the New York Times, "We need, as we go into the convention, to put more of an emphasis on our agenda. This gives us a chance to tell people what he wants to do over the next four years.") Instead, Rove & Co have gone negative, big-time--revealing Bush as the real flip-flopper in this campaign.
The current campaign system is broken in many ways. When it comes to the air war, these negative ads do little but bestow big benefits on large media companies, advertising agencies and political consultants. According to the Campaign Media Analysis Group which tracks political advertising, candidates in 2002 at the federal, state and local levels spent a combined one billion dollars on political commercials (a four-fold increase from 1982). And the result? The public discourse was debased (remember Saxby Chambliss, who ran the ads that featured consecutive photos of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and Democrat Max Cleland, who lost three limbs in Vietnam?), and media operatives and companies made out like bandits.
To try to address this spiraling madness, Senators McCain, Feingold and Durbin are introducing the " Our Democracy, Our Airwaves Act." The bill is a modest reform. It recognizes that the airwaves are a public trust; it will cut the cost of political communication, will open up new room for fresh ideas, and even perhaps elevate the level of discourse. Let's take a sensible step to fix a system that, as our president has shown in dramatic and mean-spirited ways, is completely dysfunctional.
When the curtain goes up on the Republicans' Big Show this Monday, there will be gospel and country music performers, elaborate videos and celebrities doing what they can to help market (and soften) Bush's agenda.
There will be also a special program called "Preachers and Patriots," replete with celebrity benedictions, choreographed by the convention's director of entertainment--Frank Bredeen, former head of the Gospel Music Association. The goal, Bredeen says, is to to use entertainment to market the party's political ideas: "Just like Cadillac uses Led Zeppelin to market its ideas," he added.
But strip away the compassion-themed entertainment and fake moderation of this "Reinvention" Convention and you'd end up with a schedule something like the one that arrived in my in-box the other day. Thanks to the merry and sharp satirists who sent it along.
REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CONVENTION SCHEDULESeptember 30, 2004, New York, New York
6:00 PM - Opening Prayer led by the Reverend Jerry Falwell
6:30 PM - Pledge of Allegiance
6:46 PM - Seminar #1: Katherine Harris on "Are Elections Really Necessary?"
7:30 PM - Announcement: Lincoln Memorial Renamed for Ronald Reagan
7:40 PM - EPA Address #1: "Mercury: It's What's for Dinner"
8:00 PM - Vote on which country to invade next
8:15 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "The Homos Are After Your Children"
8:30 PM - Round-table discussion on reproductive rights (Men Only)
8:50 PM - Seminar #2: "Corporations: The Government of the Future"
9:00 PM - Condi Rice sings "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man"
9:30 PM - Break for secret meetings
10:40 PM - John Ashcroft Demonstration: New Mandatory Kevlar Chastity Belt
10:45 PM - GOP's Tribute to Tokenism, featuring Colin Powell and Condi Rice
10:46 PM - Ann Coulter's Tribute to "Joe McCarthy, American Patriot"
10:50 PM - Seminar #3: "Education: A Drain on Our Nation's Economy"
11:10 PM - Hilary Clinton Piñata Party
11:20 PM - John Ashcroft Lecture: "Evolutionists: A Dangerous New Cult"
11:35 PM - Blame Clinton
11:40 PM - Newt Gingrich speaks on "The Sanctity of Marriage"
11:41 PM - Announcement: Ronald Reagan to be added to Mt. Rushmore
11:50 PM - Closing Prayer led by Jesus Himself
12:00 Midnight - Nomination of George W. Bush as Holy Supreme Planetary Overlord
If you're a recovering Deaniac who believes that Howard Dean's presidential run inspired legions of young people to get involved in politics, leveraged the internet's power to break the grip of big money on politics, and gave the Democratic Party a much-needed spine transplant, you probably already know about the "Dean Dozens" and the newly-formed political action committee, Democracy for America. But, if you don't, here's the early report.
Since May, Dean's DFA, has endorsed more than 60 candidates running in local, state and national races--from school board member in Huntsville, Alabama, to mayor of Salt Lake County, Utah.
For years, progressives have talked about taking a page from the Right's playbook. That means many things--from building think-tanks and media outlets to pioneering new web-based communications. But if our whole is going to equal the sum of our parts, progressives need to recruit, train and support hundreds of candidates at all levels.
In his speeches off the convention floor in Boston, Dean seemed keenly aware of the Right's success in defining our politics over the past generation by building independent institutions and operational capacities. At several points, he even invoked Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition (CC) as an example of how one group had succeeded in changing the GOP by taking over the party's key operations and structures.
At "The Take Back America" conference in Boston during DNC week, a feisty Dean urged supporters to run for local office--even if just the local library board. The centerpiece of his message to progressives: Let's put aside our small differences and take back our party. Or, as Dean said---picking up on what the late Senator Paul Wellstone told us: It's time to strengthen the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."
Toward that goal, Dean and "Democracy for America"--working with savvy progressive groups such as Progressive Majority (PM), and 21st Century Democrats--are committed to giving back power to citizens, and finding and supporting the next generation of grassroots leaders.
DFA supports candidates who are "socially progressive" but also "fiscally responsible." Some of its more than 60 candidates across the country include Suzanne Williams, running for a seat in the Colorado State Senate, Eddgra Fallin, running for the Huntsville, Alabama, school board, and Mary Jo Kilroy running for reelection as Franklin County, Ohio Commissioner. "They probably won't all win," says a key supporter of Democracy for America, "But the point is that they are almost all new to the political process and they will win eventually."
In fact, several Dean Dozen candidates have already scored victories:
* In Georgia, Judge Gail Tusan fought back a conservative onslaught and won re-election in July.
* Following her support of equal rights for gay and lesbian couples, State Representative Alisha Thomas Morgan was challenged in a primary, and won with 87 percent of the vote.
* In Missouri, http://www.maria2004.com/index.html "> Maria Chappelle-Nadal won her closely fought primary to become the Democratic nominee for the 72nd State House District.
The latest Dean Dozen list includes three candidates for state representative in Hawaii--"running to unseat ultra-conservative Republican incumbents;" a candidate for the Colorado state senate and one running for the state house in Connecticut.
If you're an interested candidate, go to the DFA website for information. A " candidate questionnaire" can be filled out on the site. (Among the questions: "What role will grassroots organizing play in your campaign?") Some candidates receive DFA's endorsement because they are courageous enough to challenge conservative incumbents; others get the nod because of their deep community support, internet savvy, labor ties or links to grassroots organizations.
As Gloria Totten, veteran political organizer and Progressive Majority's director, put it, "The time is right for all the new organizing that is happening. George W. Bush and his wrong-headed policies have galvanized us." But, more importantly, she says, "There is an emerging leadership among progressives that is not willing to continue to be right on the issues and lose elections."
One of the best ways to give muscle to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, empower citizens, and build a politics of passion and principle--in November and beyond--is by recruiting progressives to take back power--from school boards to Capitol Hill. Howard Dean's "Democracy for America" is one of the key groups doing just that. Click here to learn more about DFA's efforts.
With the stakes so high, this election may well bring a massive surge in voter registration. Sadly, the potential for widespread voter disenfranchisement due to incompetence, fraud and outright intimidation is as high as it was in 2000.
Lessons were learned in the debacle of "Selection 2000," but government has done little to reform the process. In addition to the problems associated with butterfly ballots and "hanging chads," as many as three million Americans were disenfranchised by so-called voter registration "glitches." Applicants never got onto voting rolls; Voters were sent to the wrong polling places; some were given faulty information about ID requirements.
And, although these problems still haven't been corrected three months before the presidential election, there's hope because of the America's Families United Voter Protection Project (AFUVPP), one of several good organizations fighting effectively to avert another 2000 fiasco.
AFUVPP says that monumental roadblocks to voter registration and a clean election remain, including the failures of government agencies to process voter registration forms properly; purges of voters from the rolls; voters appearing at the wrong polling place by mistake; improper and confusing ID requirements; intimidation of voters, and problems with ballots and voting systems. Concrete examples abound: in St. Louis, Missouri, election officials told voter registration workers that of 30,000 applications submitted, two-thirds had been rejected. No reasons were given; the Voter Protection Project is investigating the matter. (Missouri's rolls were wildly inaccurate in 2000, sowing chaos on Election Day.) In another state, watchdog organizations can't verify that "applicants have been placed on the roles" because --astonishingly--the state has a statute prohibiting the copying of registration forms that can be matched against the lists of voter applicants!
There's also the problem of voter intimidation. In Louisiana in 2002, fliers were posted in one African-American community urging people to vote on Tuesday, December 10th even though Election Day was Sunday, December 8th. In Texas, a group of African-American students were told that they weren't eligible to vote in the county where they attended college. Forty years after Freedom Summer, voter registration drives continue to face hostility from local law enforcement and private attempts. AFUVPP points out one voter registration office which "was recently visited by a local sheriff, who inquired into irrelevant matters such as the project's funders and employees." These are only a few of dozens of roadblocks AFUVPP is currently addressing.
These problems--as prevalent and sinister as Florida's infamous butterfly ballots--threaten a fair outcome in November's presidential election and serve to mock and menace the promise of a free and fair election. Under our current jerry-built system, local election boards often get overwhelmed and election workers are underpaid and poorly trained; in many cases applicants aren't placed on the rolls due to sheer human incompetence. The AFU's Voter Protection Project is absolutely essential to ensure that every eligible voter has access to the polls, and that every vote cast in 2004 gets counted.
The folks at the Voter Protection Project understand that they can't wait until Election Day to take action. Therefore, to fix the problems in our system, the Project has already launched a sophisticated campaign in as many as 100 counties (and approximately 20 states). The AFUVPP is monitoring registration efforts to ensure applicants get on the rolls. When problems are reported, the AFUVPP works with and watches local officials to correct the mistake, and it "re-register[s] applicants where necessary." The Project will act to clarify the ID rules and processes, to address their implementation and to educatevoters. And AFUVPP is working with "local monitoring and advocacy coalitions" and lawyers to protect voting rights for all Americans.
The AFUVPP, in conjunction with AFU's registration workers and non-partisan voting rights coordinators, is scrutinizing those states that "purge"ex-felons from the rolls to ensure that people's rights aren't violated. It is monitoring electronic touch-screen voting machines (which 30 percent of voters will use on Election Day) to prevent any tampering and ensure a credible result. And finally, armed with lawyers, poll monitors and other volunteers, the AFUVPP will provide training, guidance and legal support to international election observers in six states to guard the process on Election Day.
In a recent interview, Penda D. Hair, the director of the AFUVPP, underscored the need to "start way before the election with voter registration" to avert another 2000 election debacle. "What happened in communities of color went well beyond chads and butterfly ballots," she said, adding that there was "suppression and lost votes," which had a "ripple effect" that undermined people's confidence in the result. Working with state and local leaders and organizations like ACORN and US Action, the AFUVPP is pleased "to have so many allies" in this broad-based civil rights struggle, but it also understands the hard slog ahead.
The NAACP's Julian Bond and People for the American Way's Ralph Neas recently warned: "The bloody days of violence and retribution following the Civil War and Reconstruction are gone. The poll taxes, literacy tests and physical violence of the Jim Crow era have disappeared. Today, more subtle, cynical and creative tactics have taken their place."
If you want to assist the AFUVPP in the fight against voter disenfranchisement, click here and see how you can make a difference. In 2004, the true lessons of the 2000 debacle--beyond butterflies and "chads" must not be forgotten. At stake, isn't simply our choice for America's next president, but also our faith in our nation's democracy.