We learned a few things from Dan Burton's hearings into the Clinton pardons. We learned that Bill Clinton's pardon of billionaire expatriate Marc Rich was no last-minute rush job. According to testimony by White House aides and lawyers, Rich's pardon application was the subject of multiple White House meetings over a span of weeks, with White House lawyers opposing clemency for Rich every step of the way. Clinton, always his own worst enemy, alone assented to the lobbying efforts of Rich lawyer and former White House counsel Jack Quinn.
We also learned that Burton, while filling a few nights' bandwidth on the scandal-dependent cable news channels, would evade every attempt to place the pardon controversy in perspective, rejecting repeated requests by Democrats to call witnesses and solicit evidence on pardons past. This is not to make excuses for Bill Clinton, but Burton's refusal to examine past abuses of the presidential pardon starkly reveals an inquiry called merely to humiliate and punish a political enemy and those who worked for him, rather than to explore policy questions.
If Congress were serious, these hearings would necessarily address pardons by Clinton's predecessors, starting with Bush the First. Poppy Bush's pardons of Caspar Weinberger and other Iran/contra felons have been widely discussed but still deserve closer scrutiny: Not only did Weinberger & Co. break federal laws, abuse high office and deceive Congress; their pardons gave every appearance of protecting Bush himself from investigation. Then there is Armand Hammer, who in 1989 gave $100,000 to the Republican Party and another $100,000 to the Bush-Quayle Inaugural Committee just weeks before Bush pardoned him for illegal campaign contributions. And now comes Time.com's special report on Bush's last-minute pardon of Edwin Cox Jr. for bank fraud after James Baker wrote a note to the White House counsel, with a copy to Bush, describing Cox's father as "a longtime supporter of the President's." The elder Cox later pledged at least $100,000 to the Bush presidential library. CNN followed up with a report that the Cox family was a substantial contributor to the Bush family's campaigns and the GOP, including $31,500 to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.
The point is that Clinton's pardons of Rich et al. are scarcely unique outrages. Clinton exercised his unreviewable pardon power in ways that reveal much about his character but provide no hint of illegality. So what is the purpose of further hearings, beyond retribution? Surely not some constitutional amendment aimed at curtailing presidential pardons, which despite the abuses by both Clinton and his predecessors remain the only tool for a courageous executive to correct a serious injustice (a category for which a few of Clinton's pardons qualify).
The Clinton pardon fiasco does raise some important issues. Quinn invented a giant loophole in the law barring revolving-door influence-peddling in order to lobby his former boss. And cash for clemency remains an outrage whether it's about Marc Rich or Armand Hammer. But such pardons are scandalous in the same way that Congressional legislation friendly to corporate donors is scandalous. The pardon flap matters primarily because it further erodes public confidence that anything in our constitutional democracy can survive the polluting power of big-money donations.
Future Marc Rich-type pardons can be cured only by radical campaign finance reform--a far cry from the partisan dart-throwing on display in Dan Burton's hearing room.
New information recently uncovered at the National Archives reveals that subsidiaries of the Eastman Kodak company traded with Nazi Germany long after America had entered the war. A number of US firms have been identified previously as having been involved with the Nazi regime; most recently IBM was cited in a lawsuit filed in early February. The archive documents also provide a glimpse of the attitudes of some US and British government officials during that period who were unwilling to impose any sanctions against the firm, recommending instead that Kodak continue trading to preserve its market position. Though there is no current evidence that Kodak headquarters in Rochester, New York, exercised direct control over its operations in Germany during the war, it did control branches in neutral Switzerland, Spain and Portugal--all of which did business with the Nazis, providing markets and foreign currency.
Kodak's Swiss branch bought photographic supplies from Germany in 1942 and 1943 for 72,000 wartime Swiss francs, from occupied France for more than 24,000 Swiss francs and from Hungary (a German ally) for 272,000 Swiss francs. For 1943 alone, these transactions were described by the American Embassy in London as "fairly substantial purchases from enemy territory." "The idea that he has been helping the enemy seems never to have occurred" to Kodak's Swiss manager, noted Howard Elting Jr., a US vice consul in Switzerland, in November 1943. "I pointed out to him that our sole interest is to shut off every possible source of benefit to our enemies, regardless of what American commercial interests might suffer."
But other officials disagreed. In early 1942 Kodak's branch in Spain imported items from Germany worth at least 17,000 Reichsmarks. In March 1942, more than three months after America had declared war on Germany, Willard Beaulac, chargé d'affaires at the American Embassy in Madrid, recommended to the Secretary of State that Kodak headquarters be given "an appropriate license" for its Madrid subsidiary to import "films, chemicals, spools, and other supplies from Germany." He reasoned, "Shutting off of German sources of supply would seriously embarrass the company without serving any useful purpose since the demand for services in the Spanish market which could not be met by Kodak would simply be taken over by its German and Italian competitors. The position of these competitors in this market would thereby be considerably strengthened and the recapture of the business by Kodak after the war greatly handicapped." An official at Britain's Trading With the Enemy Department in 1943 agreed that Kodak should "continue to get supplies from Germany so that the market may not be lost to German competition." (But licenses were not granted. Kodak executives had known that licenses were required. Their branch in Turkey had been given a British license in 1940 to import from Hungary. It was revoked in February 1942.)
A.D. Page, legal adviser to Kodak in London, told the British government in 1943 that Kodak branches "have been able to obtain some goods from Kodak factories in Germany, France and Hungary," which he said "resulted in their being able to maintain the Kodak name alive in their territories and to supply their customers with more goods than they would have been able to do had they been limited to purchasing from England and America only."
Kodak's Portuguese subsidiary helped the enemy in still another way: It sent its profits to the company's branch in the Nazi-occupied Hague in mid-1942, a dispatch from Kodak Lisbon to the general comptroller in Rochester revealed. No penalties for Kodak's trade with the enemy were ever imposed by the United States or Great Britain, according to available records.
German historian Karola Fings discovered that in 1941 Kodak had transferred its German operations to two Kodak trustees and an attorney to represent Kodak's interests in case of war with America: Carl Thalmann, supervisory board chairman of Kodak's German operations; Hans Wiegner, a board member; and Gerhard A. Westrick, a German attorney who acted as an intermediary between US corporations and the Third Reich. (Wilhelm Keppler, Hitler's personal economic adviser, was dubbed "a Kodak Man" by US military intelligence for his close business and personal connections to the firm, Edwin Black writes in IBM and the Holocaust. Once Hitler had come to power, Keppler advised a number of US firms on letting their Jewish employees go.)
Kodak's revenues and employees in Germany increased during the early years of the war as the company expanded to manufacture triggers, detonators and other military hardware. "Business doing well," Thalmann cabled Rochester at the end of 1942. The branch in occupied France also thrived. In May 1943, C. de Julian, a former staff member of Kodak in Italy and son of the Kodak manager in Madrid, wrote to Kodak executives: "Anticipating that the Management would surely be interested to know the state of affairs of the French Kodak Company, I succeeded in getting a permit to stop in Paris." He reported that the branch had made so much money during the war that it had purchased real estate, a coal mine and a rest house for the staff.
In Germany Kodak used slave laborers, according to Fings and Roland Wig of the Milberg Weiss law firm, which has been active in Holocaust-related lawsuits. At Kodak's Stuttgart plant, there were at least eighty slave laborers, and at the Berlin-Kopenick factory there were more than 250 slave laborers. Asked to comment, a Kodak spokesman said that in recognition of its use of slave labor, Kodak had contributed $500,000 to the German fund for the victims of forced labor, adding: "I have every confidence that Kodak did not do business with any enemy country during the war and that it cooperated fully with US government regulations and sanctions. At no time was Kodak in violation of any proscriptions from the US or UK war offices. The Swiss subsidiary was never notified to stop trading. Once it received notification it stopped."
The US State Department declined to comment. A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington said he was unable to respond without a search of the documents.
Kodak was not the only US firm that maintained relations with the enemy; others involved included Standard Oil, ITT and Ford [see Ken Silverstein, "Ford and the Führer," January 24, 2000]. To set the historical record straight, Kodak and the others should divulge the full extent of their wartime transactions with Germany and the Axis nations. And the US government should release all files that pertain to any trade with the enemy by American companies.
On a related subject, Professor Saul Friedlander, the historian who chairs the commission investigating Bertelsmann's Nazi past, said that a final report, which could be as long as 500 pages, is expected to be released by the end of the year.
It's grimly appropriate that the legislative weapon Senate Republicans (joined by six anti-labor Democrats) used to kill OSHA's ergonomics regulations--the Congressional Review Act (CRA)--is a holdover from Newt Gingrich's Contract on America. Passed in 1996, the CRA is a ten-megaton regulations-buster that enables Congress to obliterate a federal rule by a majority vote with minimal hearings and debate. Once voted down under CRA, a new rule on the same subject needs authorization by an act of Congress. (Labor Secretary Elaine Chao promised to consider new rules, providing cover for wavering legislators, while Ted Kennedy's call for further discussions was spurned by GOP senators, nostrils flaring at the scent of total victory.) The attack on OSHA's rule, which orders employers to eliminate ergonomic hazards after an employee is diagnosed with a workplace-related musculoskeletal disorder (MSD)--like back injury, carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive strain injury, tendonitis--was a top priority of business lobbying groups. In the truncated debate GOP senators recited a parade of horribles (the regulation would cost astronomical sums to implement, was not backed by scientific opinion, did not deal with a real problem) and cast the rules as another Clinton eleventh-hour regulation (actually the standard was first proposed by Labor Secretary Elizabeth Dole in 1990 and issued last year after nine weeks of public hearings and testimony by hundreds of witnesses). The Bureau of Labor Statistics says every year more than 600,000 workers suffer serious job-related MSDs. The AFL-CIO reports women suffer 64 percent of repetitive motion injuries, even though they are 46 percent of the work force and 33 percent of all employees who are hurt on the job. The GOP House leadership immediately rammed the bill through to give George W. Bush a famous victory. Since W. took office, labor has been dealt a series of blows for its support of Al Gore. Bush has issued executive orders hurting union political activities and revoking a rule requiring union contractors on federal projects. Congress's OSHA standard repeal, however, is surely the most painful defeat--literally--to real workers.
BUSHISM OF THE WEEK
Speaking in Omaha on February 28, during his tour to tout his tax plan: We "understand how unfair the death penalty is, er...the death tax."
ON THE WEB: email@example.com
President Bush's determination to give the superrich an eternal tax shelter by repealing the estate levy has revealed contradictions in the nonprofit sector and confusion about what it values and where it stands. Read Mark Rosenman's web-exclusive "Charity for All" at www.thenation.com.
NEWS OF THE WEAK IN REVIEW
Among the revelations attending the Robert Philip Hanssen spy flap was that the FBI does not administer lie detector tests to veteran agents. One worry, apparently, is that electronic prying might elicit embarrassing personal data. We suggest that what's the practice at the FBI, guardians of the nation's internal security, should apply to private-sector polygraphing.
Unchastened by the widespread denunciation of their election decisions, the Supreme Court's conservative bloc seems determined to continue using its one-vote majority to ram through an assault on Congressional power. Two recent cases illustrate how indifferent the conservatives have become to traditional notions of the separation of powers, fidelity to constitutional and statutory text and their own rhetoric about judicial restraint. This time the victims were the disabled and the environment.
In 1995 Patricia Garrett, a director of nursing at the University of Alabama Hospital, was demoted after taking time off for lengthy breast cancer treatment. She sued the state for damages under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and won in the lower courts. In February, however, the Court's five conservatives ruled that the Eleventh Amendment barred her suit and dismissed it (University of Alabama v. Garrett).
In six decisions since 1993, the five conservatives have ruled--usually over angry dissents by the other Justices--that suits against a state are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment, which authorizes Congress to enforce rights guaranteed by that amendment by "appropriate legislation," has, however, been held to override the Eleventh Amendment. Garrett tried to use that precedent. The 5-4 majority refused. As they read the legislative record supporting the ADA, Congress had not shown a need for the law.
The Eleventh Amendment merely denies federal courts the authority to hear suits against a state by residents of another state. The conservative majority has, however, interpreted it to incorporate the ancient and now-discredited sovereign immunity doctrine, the notion that "the king can do no wrong." As a result, state governments do not have to compensate their victims for state misconduct, no matter how egregious. And the conservative majority has applied this even to suits by a state's own residents, as in the Garrett case, and to suits in state courts for state violations of federally created rights, despite the express language of the amendment limiting it to suits by out-of-staters in federal courts.
As for Section 5, Rehnquist recognized that it grants Congress leeway in deciding how to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment, particularly when it comes to finding the facts and shaping a remedy. But then he cavalierly dismissed thirteen Congressional hearings, a report by a national task force that took testimony in all fifty states, census results and other studies as well as about 300 examples of state discrimination against the disabled, all cited in Justice Stephen Breyer's dissent. Even if all this did show a pattern of discrimination, Rehnquist wrote, Congress hadn't proved that the discrimination was "irrational," which he has defined elsewhere as "patently arbitrary." To comply with such a rule, however, Congress would have to evaluate the evidence for each of the instances of discrimination it relies on, an obvious impossibility and never before required of a legislative body. As a result, states can now violate Congressionally created rights for the elderly, pregnant women, the mentally retarded, the mentally ill and others with impunity, for they know they won't have to pay anything if sued.
Some six weeks earlier, the conservative Justices used a different technique in their campaign to undermine federal authority. Under the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers regulates the discharge of landfill into "waters of the United States." In 1986 the corps issued a regulation, the migratory bird rule, which read the statute to include all wetlands used as habitat by migratory birds. When some Chicago suburbs tried to convert an isolated gravel pit that had become a pond used by migratory birds into a waste disposal site, the corps refused to allow it.
In another opinion by Rehnquist, the five conservatives struck down the corps regulation (Solid Waste Agency v. US Army Corps of Engineers). The pond was not connected to navigable waters, and for the majority this raised "significant constitutional and federalism questions" about whether Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce gave it jurisdiction over such sites. To avoid deciding the question, the majority said the Clean Air Act was not intended to authorize the migratory bird rule.
Reading statutes narrowly to avoid deciding "significant" constitutional questions is not unusual. But here there are no "significant" constitutional questions. A 1920 Supreme Court decision held that Congress may regulate matters affecting migratory birds, especially since bird-watching and hunting involve millions of people who spend billions of dollars on their recreation. The only way the conservative majority could justify striking down the migratory bird rule was by misapplying the avoidance rule.
Traditional deference to Congress has been replaced with a hostility and distrust not seen since the 1930s. And just as in the thirties, the conservative Justices' repeated blows at Congressional power constitute a major threat to Congress's ability to "promote the general welfare." So far the victims have included battered women, Indians, the elderly, gun control, the environment, the disabled. There will almost certainly be more.
For now, little can be done. But we can do something about the future. George W. Bush was put into office by Justices who have persistently cut into federal power in order to promote right-wing interests. We must persuade senators--of both parties--to block any Justices nominated by Bush who will pursue the same judicial agenda. Otherwise any Congressional or executive efforts to make this a more decent, safer America will be undermined by these Justices for years to come.
There were so many brilliant entries to our Name the President Contest that our judges were hard pressed to choose the winning five. (Up to the February 19 deadline the count was over 750, and they're still trickling in, from people who say they know they've missed the deadline but still want to vent their frustrations over the election.) So we decided to turn over the final decision to our readers. The judges have narrowed the field to eight. Vote for your favorite title among those listed on the official absentee ballot displayed on this page (no write-ins, overvotes or dangling chads, please). Address mail entries c/o Name the President Contest. You may vote on our website as well--www.thenation.com. The deadline is April 2. Authors of the five entries with the highest number of votes will win a Nation T-shirt bearing the face of George W. Neuman (disgruntled losers will be able to purchase them from this magazine).
Given the skepticism about judges these days after the way the Supreme Court handed the election to Bush, we decided that the final decision should rest with the people. We pledge that the votes will be counted according to uniform standards and equal protection by a crew of honest, idealistic Nation interns.
Our effort to devise a suitable terminology that encapsulates the illegitimacy of the current White House tenant for readers who could not bear to utter the words "President Bush" prompted brief second thoughts when the Miami Herald announced that its recount of Florida overvotes in four counties showed Bush the winner. But other counts suggest otherwise, and a statewide recount by a newspaper consortium is still under way. We may never know for sure, but we believe Gore would have taken Florida in a fair and properly run election [see David Corn, "The Florida Fog," March 19].
So the contest must go on. Also, we admit to an ulterior motive: posing a cheeky challenge to the mainstream punditry, politicos and politicized lawyers who rolled over when the five Justices on the Supreme Court anointed George Herbert Walker Bush's son President of the United States. The vociferous objection of many Americans to this selection process was evident in the outpouring of responses to our contest, and they deserve to be preserved for the historical record.
Because of the volume of entries, we can print only a sampler of them here, but it should give an idea of their high quality and perhaps provide some irreverent laughter as well. These entries may also be regarded as responses to a sociological survey that reveals what one passionately politicized slice of the American populace thinks about the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Many of the entries clustered around certain themes. In one category that emerged, readers focused on the concept of illegitimacy and borrowed from the precedents of royalty. Thus, Pretender (a lot of Big Chill-generation types suggested The Great Pretender), Pretendant, Usurper, Dauphin and the like.
The royalty motif was popular because of the dynastic aspects of Bush I and Bush II. Most suggestions in this grouping played on George II or George III. The latter takes account of our only other George--Washington--but also harks back to mad George III of Revolutionary War times (one reader said, Now that we have a George III, we should have a revolution). And then there were George the Lesser and Poppyseed.
For some, Bush's II's first name conjured up the popular children's book character Curious George. Variations included Spurious George, Dubious George and Clueless George. And from the realm of rock and roll: Boy George.
Also popular were titles granting Bush only residential rather than full presidential status, e.g., Resident (variants: pResident, pWesident), Occupant (so we may refer to the current Administration as "the Occupation"), Squatter and White Housekeeper.
The Supreme Court's intervention inspired a raft of names: (Supreme) Precedent, Supreme Highness, Our Supreme President, Supreme Chosen One, President Designate, President-Select, Presumptive President, Court-Appointed President. A popular variant was President-with-an-asterisk* (*appointed by the Supreme Court). One entrant suggested Cheney be called Little George's Court-Appointed Guardian.
But more cynical readers ignored even the slightest pretense of legality. To them Bush is Commander or Commandeer(er) and Thief, Cheater of the Free World, President Putsch and El Presidente (a Banana Republican, of course).
The cutoff of the Florida recount tally reminded some readers of the Southern epithet Count No Count or President No Count. Not to mention His Floridancy and Florident.
To some he'll always be Dubya; others spun off variations on that moniker: George Dubious Bush, Dubious Dubya and Dubya-C. Dubya's wayward way with pronunciation spawned His Illegititude and George the Unifactor, among others. His intellectual shortcomings inspired His Dimness, Presidunce, Oaf of Office, Bush Lite, Dim Son.
Then there were the readers who made acronym puns on the term POTUS, such as BOGUS POTUS and PSEUDOPOTUS. (Also, PUS--President of the United States.)
Reflecting the erudition of Nation readers, there was a slew of Latin terms, viz., President Pro Forma, Pro Tem, De Facto and Per Curiam. Not to mention the elegant In Loco Presidentis.
Thanks, readers, for your suggestions. Now, vote for your favorite by April 2. Watch this space for the winning names.
Allegations that President Clinton pardoned Marc Rich partly in return for donations to his presidential library have raised questions about the value of such institutions and the federal appropriations that support them. In raising funds for his library from friends and supporters, Clinton followed a tradition established by Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt and continued by all subsequent Presidents. Private contributors have funded the ten presidential libraries and museums, which with the exception of the Nixon Library were then given to the government. Nixon's library will also become a ward of the National Archives once his papers and tapes are processed and deposited there.
The Clinton flap has exposed all these presidential repositories to public fire. "Why do these white elephants exist at all?" Eric Gibson asked in the Wall Street Journal. Presidential libraries, Gibson complains, have lost touch with the "tasteful beginnings" evident at the FDR site. "Nowadays they look like the fruit of an unholy alliance between the Smithsonian and Graceland--repositories doubling as shrines to a personality cult." FDR's Hyde Park facility "plays up the Hundred Days and plays down the packing of the Supreme Court," Gibson says. "JFK's library celebrates the Cuban Missile Crisis while having strangely little to say about the Bay of Pigs invasion or the Diem assassination."
Gibson's complaint is not without merit. The museum tied to each of the libraries is a forum for celebrating the President's life and Administration. These museums do put their best foot forward, but a country needs people it can look up to. And each of the ten Presidents memorialized in their museums had some--and in FDR's case, considerable--virtues worth remembering.
Gibson believes we would be better off if we housed presidential papers at the National Archives. But if the tens of millions of papers and the thousands of hours of tapes and oral histories in the presidential libraries went into the archives, it would limit the availability of these records to biographers and historians and impoverish the public's understanding of twentieth-century US history and the institution of the presidency. The libraries do a superb job of organizing these vast collections and making them available in a timely fashion to anyone with a legitimate research interest.
Questions about whether Clinton exchanged donations to his library for pardons can serve at least one useful purpose. Let's avoid future allegations of this kind by providing federal funds to build and administer all future presidential libraries. A nation with a $1.96 trillion national budget can afford to be generous in support of historical studies.
It's not as if the country is so well informed about its past that we can take historical knowledge for granted. A survey in the New York Times of 556 seniors at fifty-five leading colleges and universities revealed that these young people knew more about Beavis and Butt-Head than about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Where 99 percent of those surveyed could identify the TV cartoon characters, 40 percent could not correctly name the fifty-year period in which the Civil War occurred. Only one student in the survey answered all of the thirty-four high-school-level questions correctly; the average score was a troubling 53 percent.
Lawmakers, who will surely object to providing money for presidential libraries, especially for an opposing party's President, would do well to reflect on John Dos Passos' assertion, "In times of change and danger, when there is a quicksand of fear under men's reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present."
Full federal funding for presidential libraries should bring with it new rules of control over papers and artifacts. All the libraries currently include privately donated materials with access restrictions. Two examples at the JFK Library are cases in point: Recently donated Joseph P. Kennedy papers are made available only to applicants approved by a screening committee; a 500-page Jacqueline Kennedy oral history is closed until after the death of both of her children [see David Corn and Gus Russo, page 15]. Limitations on access imposed by private parties should become obsolete. Under federal national security and privacy rules, papers are already carefully reviewed before being made available. Special access should become an anachronism. Like the country's history, a taxpayer-supported institution is the property of all its people. Access to presidential materials should be as wide as possible.
Though Bush the Elder was convinced
His boy was now a man, he
Decided, just to hedge his bet,
To furnish him a nanny.
Attentive parents always have
A way of keeping track.
If nanny isn't feeling well,
Will Dad come hurrying back?
I have eaten more than my share of Whoppers in my forty-one years. As a teenager I liked them so much I'd worry about whether I could afford another one while still eating the first. As I got older, my concerns centered less on the cost to my wallet than to my waistline. Today, thanks to two new books, I have a new fear: the prospect of everlasting damnation.
Eric Schlosser's Fast-Food Nation is a frightening and disturbing update of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Spend a few hours with Schlosser and you'll become more intimately acquainted with your ground beef than you ever wanted to be. Consider the people who get the meat into your waiting fingers. The injury rate among meatpackers is the highest of any US occupation. Every year about one-third of all slaughterhouse workers--roughly 43,000 men and women--suffer an injury or an illness that requires first aid on the job. Given the inevitable exchange of blood and other bodily fluids in which these injuries result, their oppression is your health hazard. The same goes for the burger-flippers behind the grill. Fast-food employees are the largest group of low-paid workers in the United States today, earning on average $5.74 an hour. One-quarter of the workers in the restaurant industry are estimated to earn the minimum wage--a higher proportion than in any other US industry. (No wonder the National Restaurant Association is perhaps this nation's most vociferous opponent of living-wage laws.) Again, worker oppression results in consumer health peril. Reading Schlosser, we hear stories of teenage workers serving meat after dropping it on the floor, picking their noses into the food, smoking on the job and watching cockroaches and rats feed and defecate on unprepared foods.
A single hamburger often contains beef from dozens up to hundreds of cattle from as many as six countries. If just one morsel becomes infected with the E. coli microbe, the burger can kill you. For the luckier ones, it can result in kidney failure, anemia, internal bleeding, seizure, stroke and coma. As company lawyers pay victims in exchange for their silence, in the past eight years some half-million Americans, mostly kids, have become seriously ill from E. coli infections. Every week, a few of them die.
I've not even said a word about the economic and environmental destruction the industry routinely wreaks on the farmland it controls, the neighborhood mom and pop operations it destroys, and the evil mind-games it plays with our children. (The McDonald's corporation, the world's largest owner of retail property, is also its leading spender on advertising and marketing, much of it directed at small children.) And forget mad cow.
Still hungry? Peter Singer's new collection, Writings on an Ethical Life, asks you to think again. Singer, whose musings on "speciesism" single-handedly jump-started the animal rights movement a quarter-century ago, wants to know what right you have to be eating what was once a conscious being in the first place. "All consumers of animal products are responsible for the existence of cruel practices involved in producing them. Our moral responsibility should compel us to avoid hamburgers because every time we eat one we are contributing to a cycle of suffering not only of animals, but also of humans, for the grain used to feed the animals we consume is more than enough to end hunger in many less industrialized and affluent countries." (If you want stomach-turning evidence of rampant anti-animal sadism in the beef industry, check out Schlosser's account of a visit to a slaughterhouse "somewhere in the high plains.")
All right, let's say you do decide to transform your life, swearing off not only animals and fish but also dairy. You are now a vegan, and you decide to celebrate by taking your family out to a fancy new neighborhood health-food restaurant serving only the most high-minded meals of vegetables, fruit, nuts and berries. Not so fast, says Singer. The $200 or so you are about to spend on a meal you don't really need would help transform a sickly 2-year-old into a healthy 6-year-old somewhere in the Third World--offering safe passage through childhood's most dangerous years. If instead of going out to dinner, you dial either (800) 367-5437 for UNICEF or (800) 693-2687 for Oxfam and give them your credit card number and 200 bucks, that child will live instead of die. If you go out to dinner instead--well, sorry, but the kid is dead.
OK, now let's say you donated the money--I hope you did--and decide to go out to dinner anyway. Is that enough? Not really, I'm afraid. There are millions more starving kids out there, and I'm guessing you've got more than $200 you don't really need. I know your friends and relatives don't seem to be giving away their extra money, but most people didn't resist the Nazis or Stalinists when they had the chance, either. Does that make it right?
Here's the problem. I can't answer any of these arguments, but I can ignore them. At least I intend to (except for the $200 one--I did stop in the middle of writing this article to fork over $200 to Oxfam). The trouble seems to be that I'm a massive hypocrite. I make sacrifices for my principles but not, apparently, ones involving hamburgers and steaks. I like them too much, torture or no torture, starving kids or no starving kids, E. coli risk or no E. coli risk.
Being an American, you are probably no better. We are the wealthiest people in all human history, and yet our government does not even come close to meeting the extremely modest United Nations-recommended target of a set-aside of 0.7 percent of GDP to overseas aid agencies. Our piddling 0.1 percent is less than one-third of Japan's contribution and a tenth of Denmark's. Don't tell me that these organizations are inefficient at feeding people. Everybody is inefficient at everything. They are good enough. Singer, a vegan who gives away 20 percent of his salary as a tenured faculty member at Princeton, insists that there is "something incoherent about living a life where the conclusions you came to in ethics did not make any difference to your life." He's right. We're living a morally incoherent life, you and I. And as Schlosser demonstrates ad nauseam, it's even pretty stupid from the standpoint of our own self-interest. So how do we justify it?
I wish I knew.
The air now quivers with gloomy assessments of the secrets "compromised" by the FBI's Robert Hanssen, a senior official who stands accused of working for the Russians since 1985. If you believe the FBI affidavit against him filed in federal court, Hanssen betrayed spies working for the United States, some of whom were then executed. Among many other feats, he allegedly ratted on "an entire technical program of enormous value, expense and importance to the United States," which turns out to have been the construction of a tunnel under the new Soviet Embassy in Washington. He also trundled documents by the cartload to "dead drops" in various suburbs around Washington.
It's amusing to listen to the US counterintelligence officials now scorning Hanssen for lack of "tradecraft" in using the same drop week after week. These are the same counterintelligence officials who remained incurious across the decades about the tinny clang of empty drawers in their top secret filing cabinets, all contents removed on a daily basis by Hanssen and the CIA's Aldrich Ames, who deemed the use of copy machines too laborious. In just one assignment, the CIA later calculated, Ames gave the KGB a stack of documents estimated to be fifteen to twenty feet high. Hanssen was slack about "tradecraft" because he knew just how remote the possibility of discovery was. The only risk he couldn't accurately assess was the one that brought him down--betrayal by a Russian official privy to the material he was sending to Moscow.
The record of proven failure by US intelligence agencies is long and dismal. To take two of the most notorious derelictions, the CIA failed to predict the Sino-Soviet split and failed to notice that the Soviet Union was falling apart, a lapse the agency later tried to blame on Ames. In the mid-1990s Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch testified to Congress that "taken as a whole" Ames's activities "facilitated the Soviet, and later the Russian, effort to engage in 'perception management operations' by feeding carefully selected information to the United States through agents whom they were controlling without our knowledge.... one of the primary purposes of the perception management program was to convince us that the Soviets remained a superpower and that their military R&D program was robust."
So here was Deutch (himself scandalously pardoned by Clinton after personally perpetrating some of the most egregious security lapses in the CIA's history) claiming that treachery by its man Ames was the reason the CIA failed to notice that the Soviet Union was falling apart. Following that line of analysis, Ames could have entered a plea of innocence on the grounds that in helping the Soviet Union exaggerate its might he was only following official agency policy. One of the prime functions of the CIA in the cold war years was to inflate the military capabilities of the Soviet Union, thereby assisting military contractors and their allies in Congress and the Pentagon in the extraction of money to build more weapons to counter these entirely imaginary Soviet threats.
Back in the mid-1970s CIA Director George H.W. Bush found that the regular CIA analysts were making insufficiently alarmist assessments of Soviet might and promptly installed Team B, a group replete with trained exaggerators, who contrived the lies necessary to justify the soaring Pentagon procurement budgets of the Reagan eighties.
Reviewing this torrent of lies at the start of the 1980s, my brother Andrew Cockburn wrote The Threat, a pitilessly accurate estimate of Soviet military potential based on interviews with sources recruited by Andrew's tradecraft, some of said sources being Russian immigrants, many of them living in Brighton Beach, New York. He described how the US civil and, more serious, military intelligence organizations were grotesquely miscalculating the Soviet defense budget and routinely faking the capabilities of its weapons.
Military experts pooh-poohed Andrew's findings, as did many of the liberal Pentagon watchdogs, who found it too offensively simple to say that Soviet weapons were badly made and overseen by semi-mutinous drunks. But as history was soon to show, Andrew had it right. Against the entire US budget for spying on the Soviet Union's military potential you could set the money necessary to buy The Threat and come out with superior information.
Real secrets, excitedly relayed to one another by the mighty, don't concern weapons but gossip: the exact capabilities of Dick Cheney's heart, the precise amount of cocaine sold by George Bush at Yale and so forth. This was the kind of stuff J. Edgar Hoover kept in his office safe. The nation's real intelligence work is being done by the National Enquirer. We could cut off the CIA's and FBI's intelligence budgets and improve the security of this nation at once.
A final parable, about another US intelligence debacle: failure to predict Egypt's attack on Israel in the Yom Kippur war in October of 1973. A CIA analyst called Fred Fear had noticed earlier that year that the Egyptians were buying a lot of bridging equipment from the Russians. Assessing the nature and amount of this equipment, Fear figured out where the bridges would be deployed across the Suez Canal and how many troops could get across them. He wrote a report, with maps, predicting the Egyptian attack. His superiors ignored it until the onslaught took place. Then they hauled it out, tore off the maps and sent them to the White House, labeled as "current intelligence."
While the Egyptians were planning the Yom Kippur assault, they discovered that the Israelis had built a defensive sand wall. Tests disclosed that the best way to breach this wall would be with high-pressure hoses. So they ordered the necessary fire hoses from a firm in West Germany, putting out the cover story that Sadat was promising a fire engine to every Egyptian village. Then a strike in the West German hose factory held up production into the fall of 1973. As the days ticked away, the desperate Egyptians finally deployed all Egyptian cargo planes to Frankfurt to pick up the fire hoses. The planes crammed the airfield. Frankfurt is a notorious hub for intelligence agencies. None of them noticed.
Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor!
Well, why not? I hadn't thought of putting in a plug for the actor's political career until Gov. Gray Davis' top political operative, Garry South, conducted one of the meanest political smear jobs in recent memory.
South took the lowest of the low roads when he personally made sure that an article in Premiere magazine got into the hands of a host of reporters as well as potential Republican backers of a possible Schwarzenegger gubernatorial campaign. Not content with attacking Schwarzenegger as a womanizer, as the magazine did, South baited Republicans for even considering supporting a man whose political views might be described as more moderate than theirs.
As South told me, Schwarzenegger "defined himself as a social liberal, pro-choice and pro-gun control, plus he's married to a Kennedy." What a crime. But South sputtered on, adding that Schwarzenegger also is pro-gay rights, pro-immigrant and supported Clinton during the impeachment farce.
Most of this kind of talk is aimed at shocking Republicans, but apparently South got his call list mixed up and mistakenly placed me in the category of right-winger. Anything to destroy an opponent. South claimed Schwarzenegger's suggestion that he might be a gubernatorial candidate made him fair game. Referring to the actor's interview with L.A. Times columnist George Skelton, South said, "When Skelton put him in the ring, he [Schwarzenegger] trashed the governor."
Not so. Schwarzenegger criticized Davis's handling of the California energy crisis as being marked by uncertainty (an assessment shared by many) and said Davis hadn't kept his campaign promises. But he said nothing personally denigrating about the Governor. In fact, he said of Davis, "I hope he does a great job so there's no reason for anyone to run against him. Because that's the ideal thing." I call that gracious.
Yet South felt compelled to answer with a no-holds-barred smear, explaining: "When someone attacks my client, I will respond, that's what I do for a living--when you do what Arnold Schwarzenegger did, you put yourself in the line of fire. That's my rationale; I have no apology whatsoever."
Nor does Davis. A campaign press spokesman, Gabriel Sanchez, when asked about the smear campaign conducted on behalf of the Governor's campaign committee, said, "The Governor hasn't made any comment on that issue, nor does he intend to."
The Premiere piece, which South also e-mailed and faxed to a long list of reporters and political operatives, contained the kind of anonymously sourced dirt that gets hurled with impunity at public figures, who have less protection under libel laws. The primary thrust of the article was that the actor was a serial groper. Weirdly, the magazine's writer also went into Schwarzenegger's congenital heart problem, speculating that it was instead the result of steroids used when he was a competitive bodybuilder. As a smarmy aside, the writer made much of the evidently unfounded claim that pig, rather than human, heart valves were implanted in Schwarzenegger. (Schwarzenegger's surgeon insisted the magazine was wrong, that human valves were used and that there's no evidence that he used steroids.)
In taking advantage of the hit piece, South began his e-mail with: "RE: Ah-nuhld's Piggish Behavior (Maybe It's the Pig Valve?)." How puerile.
Why denigrate a man who has been an exemplary community activist? While Davis's hatchet man chose to ignore his many charitable and service contributions over the decades, two are particularly well-known: Schwarzenegger is national chair of the effort to bring sports to inner-city kids and has been a major booster of the Special Olympics. Whatever his failings, and who among us is without, he is a family man seen frequently in Santa Monica in the company of his wife, NBC reporter Maria Shriver, and their four children, doing normal family things. I have observed Schwarzenegger in various settings and have never witnessed a scintilla of the crudeness ascribed to him. Many years ago, I occasionally would run into him at Elaine's restaurant in New York, when he was the young Austrian immigrant bodybuilder who was suddenly the toast of the town after winning the Mr. Universe contest. It's amazing to me, after all the worldwide media attention over the following decades, that he survived to be someone this seemingly decent and balanced.
This ugly episode tells more about Davis than about his feared opponent. We all know that the Governor is a control freak, and that South would not be doing this without his boss's approval. It is infuriating that Davis, whom I have long respected and thought to be a classy guy, would stoop to this level. It's time for Davis to terminate South's antics and issue an apology to Schwarzenegger.
When I taught at Ted Bundy's alma mater, one student wrote this report: "He was our babysitter. He was not a very nice babysitter. He would play games and scare us and then say they were just games."
That's the kind of creepy mental peekaboo that made Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter (whose saga is partly inspired by Bundy, who was convicted by teeth marks) immortal. But Ridley Scott's movie of the Thomas Harris novel Hannibal is not scary. It's just a game.
Twice, Hannibal's tale has risen to pulp tragedy on camera, in Michael Mann's Manhunter (1986, reissued on a director's-cut DVD) and Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Demme made Hannibal a permanent pop phenom: dark father, demon lover, mind-reading puppetmaster, ruthless icon of will, intellect and appetite--he's a man for our time. Scott's Hannibal repeats pop-culture history as stylish farce. Not that the creator of Alien and Blade Runner has lost his voluptuous touch. There is much to admire in Hannibal, including the penultimate scene that reportedly made Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally and Jodie Foster (who played Hannibal's nemesis, FBI sleuth Clarice Starling, in The Silence of the Lambs) flee shrieking from the sequel project. (Spoiler alert: I'll describe this scene below.) Yet Scott's Hannibal is a diminished thing.
You can get at the heart of these films by comparing their snuff scenes. Manhunter boasts the most haunting opening scene: a killer's-eye view as he (the superb Tom Noonan, star of Buried Child on Broadway) ascends a stairway to a bedroom and shines a camcorder light on a woman's face until she awakens and sees her fate. Later, we see her as the madman himself does--with eerie lights in place of her eyes and mouth, as if she's lit from within by lust and magnesium. That's it--no gore, only horror. Horror is what you think, not what you see.
Demme's immensely humane, deeply moral, emotionally acute The Silence of the Lambs employs a like discretion. When Hannibal (Anthony Hopkins) cuffs and clubs his cop captor, we don't see the biting and bludgeoning directly; we see the cop's face as he grasps what's about to happen, and we see Hannibal's face, spattered with blood and then blissed out on exquisite music. Later, we see a tableau of the crucified cop with angelic wings made from red, white and blue bunting (Demme associates violence with extremist Americanism). It's the idea that's horrific, not really the tastefully distanced atrocity itself.
Both scenes abduct the viewer--carry us into the psycho's world. Hannibal, however, occurs on familiar movie turf. In the spiffy opening sequence, Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, replacing Foster, acts like every plucky action heroine you ever saw) leads a stakeout at a drug drop in a fish market. The chief druggie pulls a gun from under the baby strapped to her chest and puts a bullet in Starling's leg; Starling puts one in the druggie's skull and rinses the HIV-infected blood off the otherwise unharmed baby on the fish market's cutting board. In the novel, the spray forms "a mocking rainbow of God's promise." Scott, who doesn't give a rip about that baby, focuses instead on the fascinating abstract pattern of the blood in the fish market ice cubes. He has aesthetics in place of the author's bitter religious ethics.
Starling gets blamed for the raid gone wrong, though it was really the sexist cop's fault for drawing his gun too soon. Starling's übersexist boss Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), a churl she's spurned, exploits her disgrace. But Starling's downfall is a dramatic dead end--empty calories. (There's an almost identical hackneyed Starling-disgrace scene Demme shot and wisely deleted--it's instructive to watch it on The Silence of the Lambs Criterion DVD.) Scott conveys the FBI gal's resistance to sexism with dialogue Hannibal would term "ham-handed"; Demme did it in deft images--Foster entering an elevator of oglers--and smart dialogue that respected each character. Krendler, like lots of Scott villains, has obviousness problems. (If I'd been poor Joaquin Phoenix, forced to utter those lines while everybody else got the good bits in Scott's Gladiator, I'd have fed myself to the lions.) When Hannibal insults Starling in Demme's film, his skill is chilling: "You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube.... You're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling?" It gets under her skin and yours. When Liotta's Krendler insults Starling, it's like watching Peter Boyle tapdance in Young Frankenstein. "Corn pone country pussy," Liotta mutters. "I wouldn't mind having a go at you right now." "In the gym, anytime," Moore tritely replies. "No pads." No more!
Things perk up when we hook up with Hannibal in Florence, where he's living la dolce in an authentic fifteenth-century palazzo, with the view he craved in his Silence of the Lambs dungeon. Boy, does Scott feast his eyes on Florence! Squares alive with wheeling birds, arcades that reach prayerfully to heaven, sunlight on water like molten precious metal, arias afloat in the open air. The quick-cut, jagged black-and-white scenes are still more glorious. He makes us share Hannibal's epicurean idyll, and his glee in killing people he deems "rude." It's not as good as making us sweat with Starling in Hannibal's hellish cell, feel the clamp of his mind-forged manacles, fear the rot of all that is good in us by his infectious nihilism, but it's something. Lecter at large is lesser than Lecter yearning in a cage for the same reason that the only good thing Tim Leary ever wrote was his jailbreak account: Escape gives pressure and structure to a narrative, while endless freedom leads to aimless partying.
There's a $3 million reward on Hannibal's head, which attracts an Italian cop, Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini). Scott adroitly stages Pazzi's Hannibal hunt, which is, of course, Hannibal's Pazzi hunt. The cop looks glum, as well he might, since he's descended from the historical Pazzi who got defenestrated and eviscerated in a way certain to appeal to Hannibal Lecter. When Pazzi goes splat outside the palazzo, it's gross but barely disturbing.
More disturbing is the mistake Scott makes in dramatizing the character who has offered that $3 million reward, the meatpacking billionaire Mason Verger (Gary Oldman). The best duo in the novel is not Starling and Hannibal, it's Verger and his militant sister (AWOL from the movie). Verger is like a Goofus to Hannibal's Gallant--instead of using his wealth to savor the best in life and kill the rude, Verger uses it to gobble drugs indiscriminately and rape children. In a flashback, a younger Verger invites his psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter, home for sex, so he can blackmail him into concealing Verger's addictions. Lecter lets Verger tie himself up and offers a popper. Actually, it's speed, LSD and PCP, enabling Lecter to hypnotize Verger. When the good doctor advises Verger to slice his own face off with a mirror shard, Verger obeys; Lecter feeds Verger's face to his pooch.
Paralyzed yet all-powerful, a ghoul mouthing born-again cant, Verger should be a great monster, a fit antagonist for Hannibal. And he is on the novelistic page, with his hand that moves like a crab, his brutal moray eel and his videocamera trained on captive children whose tears he decants and drinks. On screen, he's just Gary Oldman, in scarface makeup resembling the hero of Sondra Locke's film Ratboy, and sounding like the unholy offspring of Andy Warhol and Jimmy Stewart with his teeth out. Oldman does a good acting job, but it's an impossible job, given the reduction of the role.
And it gets worse! Verger's plan is to nab Hannibal, drag him to his vast estate, Muskrat Farm, and feed him to big killer pigs. The problem: Pigs are adorable onscreen. They have these cute little snoots, and when they eat somebody, it may be formally gory but these creatures are about as scary as the carnivorous rabbits hippety-hopping to devour humanity in Night of the Lepus. The buildup to the showdown is very much akin to Dr. Evil's "unnecessarily slow-moving dipping mechanism" in Austin Powers.
Did you forget about Starling? While all the above is going on, she is trying to stop Pazzi from hunting Hannibal, and then hunts Hannibal herself. Scott is a fine choreographer of actors; one extended sequence of Starling and Hannibal chatting on cell phones while he leads her a merry chase on a merry-go-round is bravura filmmaking. Their twosome, alas, is not toothsome. When at last they meet after unnecessarily slow exposition, the good doctor purrs, "Good evening, Clarice. Just like old times!" It most certainly is not. In Silence of the Lambs, Foster's and Hopkins's faces interacted elementally, like wind and waves, or like fencers' foils crossed, bent, quivering, threatening to snap. Moore and Hopkins get no such quality face time. The script forces them to phone most of it in.
Moore is the genuine article, ambitious, gifted, artistic promise personified. Nobody sounds deeper, darker notes than she has in Boogie Nights and Short Cuts and (heroically, riskily) in Safe. What's wrong with her Starling, then, besides the words? The girl is all class--she lacks trash. "Trailer-camp, tornado-bait white trash," Hannibal calls Starling. But Julianne Moore is nothing of the sort. She's patrician, elusive and otherworldly. Jodie Foster, for all her Francophone Phi Beta ways, convinces the camera she's down-home, earthy, vulnerable, earnest, as pure as the kid in the Coppertone ad grown up uncorrupted.
And Anthony Hopkins? He's still got those odd, hooded bedroom eyes, all twinkly yet somehow immobile as the dead. His vocal instrument still croons, but he's changed Lecter's key this time. Before, comedy was a palate cleanser; this time, it's the main course. Really, his latest Lecter, free to roam, is a lot like Anthony Hopkins is in person: witty, drifty, dreamy, delightful to talk with and remote as a hologram.
The climactic scene in Hannibal is a dream--don't listen to all those prissy critics who dissed it. Starling is stoned on opiates, and Lecter invites her through her wooze to have a friend for dinner. Or rather, an enemy: Krendler. Liotta, at a total loss for the rest of the movie, comes through in this moment of crisis (abetted by a $70,000 Ray Liotta robot doll indistinguishable from the real actor). He wears his baseball cap backwards, lending him an amusingly juvenile aspect. His speech, like HAL's in the last bit of 2001, reverts to childishness, peeling back his character, revealing his inner self, simple as it is. In a shocking shot I sincerely doubt you haven't heard about, Hannibal removes the top of his skull. There are many memorable effects in Ridley Scott's Hannibal: the miasmal mist over Verger's Muskrat Farm, the grain of wood inside Lecter's grandfather clock set against the ribbed pattern of the metal pendulum, the velvety sky enriching the lustrous blues of cop-car cherries crossing a bridge in funereal procession, the final image of the film, an iris shot of Lecter's red eye. But out of all the virtuoso moments, it's that dinner scene that sticks with you. Why? It's the one that plays for keeps.
The history which bears and determines us has the form of a war rather than that of a language: relations of power, not relations of meaning.
--Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge
Michel Foucault would have been fascinated by late-twentieth-century presidential campaigns.
--Lynne Cheney, Telling the Truth
Since the late 1980s, when they discovered with horror certain French-derived theories of social science and literary analysis that long before then had taken root among left-leaning academics in the United States--essentially replacing Marxist dialectics as weapons of intellectual struggle, in reaction against the failure of radical politics in the 1960s--American conservative intellectuals have held these particular theories under siege. In such books as Tenured Radicals (1990) by New Criterion managing editor Roger Kimball, Illiberal Education (1991) by ex-Reagan White House domestic policy adviser (and former Dartmouth Review editor) Dinesh D'Souza and Telling the Truth (1995) by ex-National Endowment for the Humanities chairwoman and future Vice Presidential spouse Lynne Cheney, and in innumerable interviews, stump speeches and talk-radio tirades, representatives of the American conservative movement have denounced the exponents of these theories for attempting to lure students away from traditional cherished academic ideals like objectivity and truth toward a cynical, despairing view of history, politics, literature and law.
So we can assume that participants in this decade-long conservative jeremiad did not foresee that at the end of that decade their colleagues in the Republican Party would wage a campaign to win a close presidential election in ways that would seem to confirm, in virtually every respect, the validity of the theories they had been railing against--and moreover, that as part of that campaign, their allies would espouse and promote to the public the very essence of these same reviled theories. However, if we look closely at the theories in question and at the facts of Republican behavior in Florida, we will see that this is exactly what happened.
The theories in question are those derived from the works of French philosophers Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida. Their conservative critics tend to conflate the ideas of the two men, and then to muddle things further by presenting both as synonymous with postmodernism; in fact, though they worked in distinct fields and did not even like each other (Foucault once called Derrida "the kind of philosopher who gives bullshit a bad name"), their theories do have analogous aspects that make it not difficult to confuse them.
Foucault was a philosopher of history who posited, basically, the impossibility of achieving an objective and neutral interpretation of a historical event or phenomenon. Derrida is a philosopher of literature, founder of the notorious school of deconstruction, who suggested the impossibility of achieving a stable and coherent interpretation of a literary text, or any text. In both cases, the (putative) fact of the indeterminacy of the interpretive act leads to the conclusion (or has the assumption) that whatever interpretation comes to be accepted--the official interpretation--must have been imposed by the exercise of political power (though in deconstructionism this latter point has been elaborated and emphasized much more by Derrida's American disciple Stanley Fish than by Derrida himself). It is this shared assumption that any official interpretation, whether of human behavior or the written word, has been arrived at through a process of power competition and not through the application of objective, neutral and independent analysis (because there is no such thing) that has so agitated conservative intellectuals.
In her book Telling the Truth, the wife of the man who was to become Vice President of the United States following Republican Party political and legal maneuvers in Florida uses a book that Foucault edited called I, Pierre Rivière as the starting point for a critical examination of the philosopher's ideas. Pierre Rivière was a Norman peasant boy who in 1835 brutally murdered his mother, a sister and one of his brothers with a pruning hook. Foucault and a group of his students at the Collège de France compiled a collection of documents relating to the case. What the documents revealed to Foucault was not an overarching thesis that illuminated the cause and meaning of Rivière's shocking act--not, in other words, the unifying concept or constellation of concepts that academic analysts typically grope for in their research and thinking--but, on the contrary, a welter of conflicting and irreconcilable interpretations put forth by competing, equally self-interested parties, including doctors, lawyers, judges, Rivière's remaining family members and fellow villagers, and Rivière (who wrote a memoir) himself.
In other words, as Cheney puts it, the documents were important to Foucault "not for what they tell of the murders, but for what they show about the struggle to control the interpretation of the event." Or, as she quotes Foucault as saying, the documents form "a strange contest, a confrontation, a power relation, a battle among discourses and through discourses." The reason he decided to publish the documents, Foucault said, was "to rediscover the interaction of those discourses as weapons of attack and defense in the relations of power and knowledge."
"Thus," Cheney concludes, "I, Pierre Rivière is a case study showing how different groups construct different realities, different 'regimes of truth,' in order to legitimize and protect their interests."
The Foucauldian mode of analysis does not meet with any approbation or sympathy from the Vice President's wife. In fact, she goes on to say that Foucault's ideas "were nothing less than an assault on Western Civilization. In rejecting an independent reality, an externally verifiable truth, and even reason itself, he was rejecting the foundational principles of the West." Therefore it seems a pretty good joke on her that it turns out to be the perfect mode for analyzing how Republican Party strategy in Florida was developed and implemented.
In fact, I might suggest that if Michel Foucault had not confected them already, his concepts of "discourses" and "a battle among discourses" ultimately to be decided by power would have to be invented before this signal event of American political history could be properly understood.
When former Secretary of State James Baker arrived in Florida on November 10, 2000, three days after the election, dispatched there by Lynne Cheney's husband to take charge of the Bush campaign's effort to secure the state's Electoral College slate and thereby the Oval Office, George W. Bush's initial lead of 1,784 had already been reduced by an automatic machine recount to 327, and the Gore campaign had requested manual recounts in four Democratic-leaning counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Volusia. It appeared self-evident, from the tales both of the Palm Beach butterfly ballot and of the difficulties encountered by minority voters in getting to the polls and attempting to cast their ballots, that by the intention of Florida voters who had gone to the polls, if not by the actual counted results, Gore had won the state (which, of course, is why the media had awarded it to him early on election night in the first place), and it seemed a lot more likely than not that manual recounts in counties favoring Gore, or even a full statewide manual recount, would alter the actual results in Gore's favor, despite the fact that the absentee ballots, which usually favor Republican candidates, were yet to be counted. On top of all that, Gore was leading in the national popular vote, and it came as news to many Americans that a presidential candidate could win the popular vote and lose the election. (Prior to Election Day, Bush campaign strategists, believing it likely that George Bush would win the popular vote but lose in the Electoral College, had developed a strategy to try to discredit the Electoral College, and thus perhaps gain support from Democratic electors.)
Clearly, what Secretary Baker had to do in order to insure Bush's election to the presidency was to stop the requested manual recounts, or any manual recounts, from taking place. Since Florida election law explicitly permits manual recounts, and there is a long history of them being conducted in the state for elections to offices at various levels (though not previously the presidency), including one race of Republican Senator Connie Mack, and given the situation just described above, what Baker encountered first of all in Florida was a severe public relations problem. In advance of Republican lawyers making a legal case in various courts against the manual recount process, Baker had to make a case to the American public as to why a perfectly legitimate process that had been employed many times before in Florida and elsewhere across the United States to decide close electoral contests, should not be used to resolve the closest Electoral College contest in 114 years. He needed to participate in what in Foucault's word is a discourse, by presenting an alternative to and challenging the Gore campaign and Democratic Party stance that the Florida vote was so close and so rife with proven and potential irregularities that only careful manual recounting could decide it fairly, as well as what we might call the underlying and perhaps more threatening Democratic contention that Gore had actually won the election and required only the additional step of targeted manual recounting to prove it.
The discourse (in the looser sense of a narrative) widely presented by Secretary Baker at his first press conference, on November 10, had several parts. He immediately tried to convey the sense that George W. Bush had already effectively won the election. "The American people voted on November 7. Governor George W. Bush won thirty-one states with a total of 271 electoral votes. The vote here in Florida was very close, but when it was counted, Governor Bush was the winner. Now, three days later, the vote in Florida has been recounted. Governor Bush is still the winner," he began. Wielding that assumption as his predicate, he attacked the Gore campaign for attempting to "unduly prolong the country's national presidential election," introducing the phrases "endless challenges" and "unending legal wrangling" when the election dispute was all of three days old. Then he attacked the process of recounting itself, particularly manual recounting, saying that "the more often ballots are recounted, especially by hand, the more likely it is that human errors, like lost ballots and other risks, will be introduced. This frustrates the very reason why we have moved from hand counting to machine counting." He stressed the importance of getting "some finality" to the election and accused the Gore campaign of "efforts to keep recounting, over and over, until it happens to like the result." Finally, he argued that a continued struggle over the presidential election would jeopardize America's standing in the world. By November 14, he was tying it as well to the stability of American financial markets.
Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Baker's equivalent in the Gore camp and someone no doubt unfamiliar with the writings of Foucault (and therefore not having the term discourse at his disposal), referred to Baker's argument about America's standing in the world as a "self-serving myth," and Baker did not raise this canard again. Neither did he again raise the matter of endangering US financial markets.
The next day, November 11, at a press conference announcing that the Bush campaign had filed suit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida to block the manual recounts requested by the Gore campaign, thus becoming the first of the two campaigns to initiate "legal wrangling" (a number of private lawsuits related to the election had already been filed but none yet by the Gore campaign itself, something Baker took pains to submerge), Baker dramatically escalated his attack on manual recounting. For a number of reasons, it is worth quoting the central paragraph of his formal statement in full:
The manual vote count sought by the Gore campaign would not be more accurate than an automated count. Indeed, it would be less fair and less accurate. Human error, individual subjectivity and decisions to "determine the voter's intent" would replace precision machinery in tabulating millions of small marks and fragile hole punches. There would be countless opportunities for the ballots to be subject to a whole host of risks. The potential for mischief would exist to a far greater degree than in the automated count and recount that these very ballots have already been subjected to. It is precisely...for these reasons that our democracy over the years has moved increasingly from hand counting of votes to machine counting. Machines are neither Republicans nor Democrats--and therefore can be neither consciously nor unconsciously biased. [Emphasis added.]
Clearly, Baker and the Bush camp had decided to place a demonization of hand counting at the core of their electoral discourse. That this was a purely calculated discourse, and one in no way sincerely embraced, is child's play to demonstrate.
Manual recounting is the method used by the United Nations for settling disputed elections around the globe, and it is also countenanced by the United States when our representatives get involved in observing the resolution of electoral conflicts in other nations. A majority of American states either mandate or permit manual recounting when the differential between the machine vote totals for opposing candidates is within a certain margin. Candidate Bush, while governor, had signed just such a bill in Texas that established the same "intent of the voter" standard set by Florida. Until this particular situation in Florida arose, requiring this particular discourse, no Republican politician I am aware of had ever risen to denounce manual recounting (on the contrary, any number of Republican politicians had taken successful advantage of manual recount provisions), nor have I found any literature on the subject that appeared in the conservative journals. Moreover, the Bush camp gladly accepted the results of manual recounts in Florida when those went in their favor, as the results did in Seminole County, and they had considered plans to contest machine results in Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Oregon if things did not go their way in Florida. Manufacturers of the punch-card voting machinery used in Florida were also on record as saying that hand counting was a more accurate method of gauging votes than using their machines.
Conservative writers like Cheney, D'Souza and Kimball, who have attacked Foucault, Derrida and their allies, have done so in the first place because of these thinkers' extreme skepticism about the possibility of objectivity in human affairs. Cheney complains in Telling the Truth about "how discredited ideas like truth and objectivity have become," and accuses her ideological adversaries of aiming at "discrediting the objectivity and rationality at the heart of the scientific enterprise." (Ironically, she goes on soon after that to take Al Gore to task for criticizing, in Earth in the Balance, the cold-blooded scientism of British philosopher Francis Bacon.) D'Souza, referring to the predominantly deconstructionist English department that had been assembled by Stanley Fish at Duke University, wrote that "the radical skepticism cultivated at Duke and elsewhere is based on the rejection of the possibility of human beings rising above their circumstances" (he recounts that Fish, in an interview D'Souza conducted with him, denounced Cheney for "the error of objectivism").
The Republican campaign to demonize the hand counting of votes in Florida was nothing less than an all-out assault on this cherished ideal of the conservative movement, however, an assault as withering and uncompromising as any ever waged by Foucault or the deconstructionist movement. For what was Baker saying, in essence? That it is impossible for human beings to hand count votes accurately and honestly, citing as reasons the inevitability of "human error" (machine error is obviously to be preferred), the danger posed by "individual subjectivity," the "potential for mischief" (read, deliberate cheating by Democratic canvassing boards) and even the possibility of people being not only consciously but "unconsciously biased"; at the same time he exalted the superiority of "precise" machines over humans--even machines as grievously and laughably flawed as those that produced the "dimpled," "pregnant" and "hanging" chads.
Machines--even the worst, most malfunctioning of them--are capable of being objective, but people are not, in other words. People are incapable of "rising above their circumstances." Did Foucault ever put the case better himself? Has Stanley Fish? Has anyone?
It is safe to say that James Baker probably did not realize that he was challenging, and perhaps fatally undermining, core conservative doctrine when he advanced these arguments in his no-holds-barred effort to secure Florida's electoral votes for George W. Bush. And, for the conservative intellectual cause, there was worse to come. Soon Baker and his allies would take a further broad step down this road. They would begin impugning the fundamental American ideal of objective, neutral and fair-minded jurisprudence.
The Republican Florida discourse can be summarized even more simply and more baldly than it has been above. It was, or became: Manual recounting is untrustworthy and subject to manipulation; therefore, in attempting to force hand counting, the Democrats are trying to steal the election. (The Democratic Florida discourse was the obverse of this: Careful manual recounting is more reliable than machine counting; therefore, in attempting to stop manual recounting, the Republicans are trying to steal the election.) Such was Jim Baker and the Bush camp's basic pitch to the American public, and it became more and more explicit and fervid (or perfervid) as time went on.
Let us recall that in Foucauldian theory it is power, the possession and wielding thereof, that determines what discourse prevails in any given contest, or confrontation, or battle of discourses--and not the relative merit or cleverness of the argument. Conservative thinkers detest this part of the theory with equal or greater vehemence, because it is customarily deployed against institutions and systems they revere and are closely allied with--for instance, corporations and corporate capitalism. Cheney, struggling to explicate Foucault, complains about "the idea that reality is nothing more than a social construct, a tool that allows dominant groups to exercise power."
So, following Foucault, it would not be enough for James Baker simply to promulgate the argument that the Gore camp was trying to steal an election that neutral, precise voting machines had already indicated they had lost. To prevail, under Foucauldian theory, the GOP discourse--competing as it was with one that on the evidence and on experience was more plausible--would have to be imposed by an exertion of institutional power. And in fact an examination of the tactics used in the Republican War for Florida reveals that Republicans used, or were prepared to use, every conceivable lever of power--administrative, legislative, judicial (and not excluding extra-institutional mob rule)--in order to prevail; and that they prevailed because every single one of the controlling levers of power, from the Florida Governor's and Secretary of State's offices to the US Congress, from the Florida legislature to the US Supreme Court, was controlled by them, and was used ruthlessly.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, co-chair of the Bush campaign in Florida, was the point person in the Republican effort to delay and forestall completely, they hoped, any manual recounting. There are, remember, conflicting statutes regarding the deadline for manual recounting, one of which stipulates that any manual recounts not finished and submitted to the Secretary of State's office by the statutory deadline for certification, November 14, "shall be ignored," and another (chronologically more recent) indicating that they "may be ignored." And there is also an obvious conflict between this statutory deadline and the provision allowing requests for manual recounts to be made up to seventy-two hours after Election Day, since the amount of time then remaining before the deadline (three to four days, including a weekend) would not be sufficient for many Florida counties to complete such recounts. In interpreting an ambiguous and contradictory corpus of election law, Harris chose in each instance to follow a course redounding to the benefit of George W. Bush and the disadvantage of Al Gore. She refused to extend the deadline to allow time for the manual recounts requested by the Gore campaign, refused requests by Broward and Palm Beach counties to have their manual recount results included in the statewide certification after the deadline, issued a ruling questioning the legality of such recounts that temporarily delayed them from proceeding, and refused to grant an extra two hours to Palm Beach County to meet the extended deadline of November 26 mandated by the Florida Supreme Court, or to include any of the recount results the Palm Beach canvassing board had achieved so far.
After the Florida Supreme Court ruled on November 21 that hand counts must be included in the Secretary of State's certification, and extended the deadline, the Republican War for Florida shifted "to the ground," that is, to the places where actual hand counting was being done, or contemplated, by the canvassing boards. Republican tactics were summarized thus by the Los Angeles Times:
The Republicans were on the defensive, so their style was more confrontational: Challenge every disputed ballot and, if necessary, challenge the boards themselves. Build a record of inconsistent standards for court. If that leads to delays, so much the better. [Emphasis added.]
The New Republic described a Republican "ground operation" that involved, besides "now-infamous faux grassroots protests," visits to recount centers by "GOP luminaries," and that emphasized the blatant hypocrisy of the operation: It recounted Michigan Governor John Engler falling asleep during his service as an observer, and then going outside to "blast" the process, and New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman getting along "swimmingly" with the canvassing board, even complimenting them on how well they were running things, then leveling "the obligatory attacks into the microphones."
The New Republic noted a crucial difference between the Gore and Bush camps: The Gore campaign chose anonymous lawyers specializing in arcane voting law to act as their observers, whereas the Bush campaign let loose a "rotating cast of big name pols." This was because the Bush campaign was less interested in trying to insure the fairness of the recounting process than in undermining it by propagandizing their discourse about its alleged inherent unfairness.
It could be said that the Gore effort in Florida foundered in a number of ways and places, two of which were certainly Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade County. In Palm Beach County, in the words of the Los Angeles Times, "Republicans crushed the Democrats." There was more than one reason that the Palm Beach canvassing board missed the new November 26 certification deadline (when Katherine Harris certified Bush as having won by 537 votes), but here is how the Los Angeles Times summarized what happened: "Endless delays, false starts and court challenges by Republicans meant the full recount didn't begin until Friday, November 17."
In Miami-Dade, the county with the largest voting population in the state of Florida (and the largest black vote), Republicans succeeded in preventing manual recounting from taking place at all. (The Miami Herald recently reported that by its own assessment of the undercounted votes in the county, Gore would have netted another forty-nine.) Members of the Miami-Dade canvassing board, and particularly its chairman, David Leahy, had been ambivalent about doing a recount from the start. The board first decided against doing one, then reversed course. The recount started on November 20; but the very next day, the Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling setting the new certification deadline at November 26. Believing that the board did not now have the time to conduct a full recount, Leahy persuaded the other board members that they should count only the 10,750 "undervotes" (ballots cast on which the punch-card tally machines had not detected any vote for President). The board then moved upstairs to a smaller room, where there were machines that could separate out the undervotes from the rest.
There, members of the board confronted what Time called a "mob scene" and "GOP melee." A group of several dozen or more Republican protesters, most of them apparently from out of state, many of them paid Capitol Hill staffers recruited by House majority whip Tom DeLay for the Florida effort (this being one of the Republicans' faux grassroots protests), directed from a Republican electronic command center in a Winnebago outside the building and by leaders on the scene with bullhorns, engaged in "screaming...pounding on doors and...alleged physical assault on Democrats," according to Time. When Miami-Dade Democratic chairman Joe Geller emerged from the room carrying a sample ballot, he was pushed and shoved by many protesters screaming, "I'm gonna take you down!" Simultaneously, longtime GOP operative Roger Stone was overseeing phone banks urging Republicans to storm downtown Miami, and Radio Mambi, a right-wing Cuban-American radio station, was inciting the Miami community into the streets. Outside the room where the canvassing board was meeting, members of the rampaging crowd were threatening that as many as 1,000 reinforcements, including a large contingent of angry Cubans, were on the way to join them. As Time put it, "just two hours after a near riot outside the counting room, the Miami-Dade canvassing board voted to shut down the count."
Leahy later denied that the board had been intimidated into inaction by the rioters, but his claim that their bullying and threats of violence had no effect at all on the board's reversal of its previous decision hardly seems credible. In any case, saturation propaganda and near-mob rule were only two of the weapons that Republican strategists had rolled out onto the field of battle in their War for Florida. (I won't even get into the report of a mysterious state police roadblock that intimidated some on their way to the polls on Election Day.) They also had under way a lawsuit seeking to have a federal court invalidate the manual recounts on the grounds that they violated Article II, Section I of the US Constitution, which gives to the state legislatures the power to regulate presidential elections; this lawsuit and others, including arguments which would end up being decided by a 5-4 majority of the US Supreme Court, were being handled by Theodore Olson, a party lawyer who had been active in efforts to discredit President Clinton while he was in office; Olson is a past president of the Federalist Society, a conservative Republican legal organization that normally seeks to severely limit the intrusion of federal power into state matters. And just in case the Republican cause lost in both the Florida and the federal courts, the Republican-controlled legislature in Florida was prepared to intervene and certify its own competing slate of electors. In fact, on December 12, just before the US Supreme Court issued its decision and made the action moot, the Florida House of Representatives did just that. A few days before, Baker, in an interview, had refused to stipulate that the Bush camp would heed a US Supreme Court ruling that went against them rather than turn to the legislature; and on other occasions Baker had appeared to invite its intervention. Beyond that, if the matter went to Congress for final arbitration, the Republicans were more than prepared to flex their majority muscle there. Tom DeLay had circulated a memo on Capitol Hill that a Republican Congressional aide characterized as saying: "Congress can prevent Al Gore from becoming President no matter what."
A final Foucauldian note. Foucauldian theory holds that the way of the rich and powerful will prevail, the less powerful or powerless will lose out (which is partly why the theory has been embraced by the left as a successor or adjunct to Marxism, and is so abhorred by the right). Punch-card voting machines are far less effective in recording votes correctly than optical scan machines. A dimpled or pregnant chad is created when insufficient force is used on the punch tool or when plastic T-strips used in balloting are too worn or rigid to allow chads to pass through; if the ballot is improperly aligned, and only one side of the chad is punched loose, that results in a hanging chad. These problems don't exist with optically scanned ballots, and as an obvious result, only about three out of every 1,000 optically scanned ballots in the Florida election recorded no presidential vote, compared to some fifteen out of 1,000 punch-card ballots, The New York Times reported.
Optical-scan voting machines tend to be more prevalent in the wealthier, and Republican-leaning, precincts and counties of Florida, the Los Angeles Times observed, and punch-card machines more prevalent in the less wealthy and more Democratic areas, simply because the wealthier counties can better afford the more expensive optical machines (the punch-card machines are not only less effective to begin with, but many of them are also old and worn out). Looked at one way, the manual recounting efforts were an attempt to correct a discriminatory imbalance in access to electoral power between rich and poor (and black and white) in Florida; and Republican forces were determined, in every possible way, to thwart this attempt.
American conservative thinkers, as discussed, have also directed considerable intellectual ire at the deconstructionist movement. In dissecting Paul de Man, the Belgian émigré who founded American deconstructionism at Yale in the 1970s, Roger Kimball pejoratively ascribes to him "the thought that language is always so compromised by metaphor and ulterior motives that a text never means what it appears to mean." D'Souza, confronting Derrida and de Man, says that they labored "to discover ingenious, and sometimes bizarre, contradictions which render the work 'radically incoherent.'" Lumping deconstructionists together with "postmodernists, structuralists, poststructuralists, reader-response theorists," D'Souza says that "they are embarked on a shared enterprise: exposing what they say is the facade of objectivity and critical detachment in such fields as law, history, and literature."
Lynne Cheney finds the apparent migration of deconstructionist methods of textual analysis and thinking to the field of law extraordinarily disturbing. In Telling the Truth, she traces the origins (to her own satisfaction, anyway) of critical legal studies, feminist legal theory and critical race theory--academic movements that hold that the law is not in any way neutral but is crafted to favor the interests of a dominant (white, male) elite--to deconstructionism. She claims, for instance, that "one of the primary purposes of CLS [critical legal studies] is to destroy any illusions that might exist about stability and objectivity in the law by deconstructing its arguments," and goes on to assert: "The heirs of CLS, such as those in the critical race theory movement, take a giant step further. As feminists have done, critical race theorists not only attack the notion that the law is disinterested, they advocate using the law to promote their own interests." [Emphasis added.] In other words, Cheney sees the notion that legal texts have no stable, permanent, inherent meaning (a deconstructionist notion) and will therefore be interpreted according to the practical interests of those doing the interpreting, and not other criteria (a leftist political notion), as dangerously subversive of our legal system.
If the objectivity and disinterestedness of the law, however, are bedrock conservative doctrine, then James Baker, and his associates and conservative columnist sympathizers like William Safire, once again challenged and compromised that doctrine in the Florida presidential election imbroglio. The idea that law is (on the whole) neutral, objective and disinterested necessarily implies that the judges who interpret it are (on the whole) neutral, objective and disinterested; there is no conceivable syllogism whose conclusion is that our legal system is (more or less) objective and fair that can have as a premise that our judges are not and are not capable of being so. Yet this was the blatant premise of Republican commentary as an assortment of legal cases relating to the election wound their way through the Florida court system. Just as Republican operatives and commentators trashed the integrity of the county canvassing boards simply because they were under Democratic control, they also used the fact of their being Democratic appointees to attempt to discredit--often in advance--the decisions of various Florida judges, from the circuit level up to the state's Supreme Court. The clear implication was that Democratic judges would necessarily, either reflexively or by calculation, rule in favor of the Democratic candidate. They could not be trusted to be disinterested and objective.
In addition to being a monumental betrayal of the conservative movement's stated intellectual principles, this line of argument creates another problem for its Republican promoters: It tends to discredit in advance the decisions of Republican as well as Democratic judges. For if Democratic judges cannot be trusted to be evenhanded and judicious, what logic can be called forth to argue that Republican judges can be? They are also human. They are also partisan. They also owe something to the people who selected them. The theory unavoidably predicts that judges appointed by Republicans will rule, in a biased and partisan manner, against Democratic candidates and causes when occasions to do so arise.
It is doubly ironic, therefore--and doubly troublesome, one would think, for the integrity of the conservative cause--that this is exactly what happened when the case called Bush v. Gore reached the highest court in the land. On Friday, December 8, the Florida Supreme Court, in a split 4-3 decision overruling a decision by lower court judge N. Sanders Sauls, ordered an immediate manual recount of all presidential undervotes throughout the state. The next day, a 5-4 majority of the US Supreme Court (all the members of this majority conservative appointees of either Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan or George Bush) ordered the manual recount halted. This action was widely perceived at the time, by people on both sides of the battle, as a body blow to Al Gore's remaining chances of garnering Florida's electoral votes. It would inevitably push the recounting process, were it to resume, up against the December 12 "safe harbor" date (the time by which electors needed to be chosen in order to remain immune to Congressional challenge) and possibly even make it impossible to finish by December 18, the date on which the Electoral College was to cast its vote. Regarding this majority decision, issued by five judges who have pontificated widely in their writings and speeches about the virtues of "judicial restraint," Justice John Paul Stevens wrote in his dissent: "To stop the counting of legal votes, the majority today departs from...venerable rules of judicial restraint that have guided the Court throughout its history."
The Court did not, as we know, allow the recounting process to resume. The following Tuesday, December 12, the same 5-4 majority ruled that manual recounting under circumstances then prevailing in Florida would be unconstitutional. In an unsigned per curiam opinion (the judges said to be the primary authors of this opinion, Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor, clearly did not want their names on it), the majority (whose members in the past have been indifferent to, if not outright scornful of, equal protection claims)--relied principally on an equal protection argument, that it would be unfair to count ballots in different counties according to different standards (e.g., to count only hanging chads in one, but also dimpled chads in another). The argument speciously ignored the fact that the Florida ballots, prior to any recount, were already counted differently, and that the very purpose of recounting was to correct for this discrepancy. It also skirted the fact that ballots are counted differently all across the United States, and that a logically consistent application of the Court's principle would invalidate the entire presidential election.
Justices David Souter and Stephen Breyer had tried, in oral argument and behind the scenes, to work out a compromise position whereby the Justices would send the case back to the Florida Supreme Court and ask it to set a uniform standard for the manual recounts. But according to the per curiam majority, it was too late for this, because there would then not be enough time to meet the "safe harbor" deadline of December 12. This argument ignored the fact that it is the very essence of a "safe harbor" clause that it allows but does not require a certain self-protective action; the Electoral Count Act of 1887 stipulates that states that send electors by then chosen according to rules in place Election Day cannot have those electors rejected by Congress, but it does not mandate that the states behave that way. The argument also glided past the fact that there is nothing in Florida election law explicitly requiring that the state abide by that date, either; the majority opinion in this regard relied entirely on a virtual aside in the first Florida Supreme Court decision, to the effect that it thought the legislature intended the state to meet the deadline; the majority could not cite any actual, germane Florida statutory law--because there isn't any.
Thus did a Republican Party strategy to delay the manual recounting of votes in Florida as long as possible finally achieve its goal by furnishing the rationale for a conservative Republican Supreme Court majority to stop the recount process there for good. Thus did a Supreme Court majority that had been pursuing an aggressive states' rights jurisprudence prior to this decision intervene in a matter of state law in a heavy-handed and unprecedented way; in a category of dispute, furthermore, whose ultimate resolution the US Constitution unambiguously gives to Congress; and in a situation, finally, that even a modicum of "judicial restraint" would have called for it to avoid. Thus did a group of conservative Republican judges--unelected judges, to use a well-worn Republican refrain--choose the Republican candidate for President over the Democratic one, rather than the voters of Florida or the American people. Thus was James Baker's discourse--his "regime of truth"--finally imposed.
A further irony here is that the behavior of the Democratic judges who were involved in the Florida presidential election struggle overwhelmingly refuted Republican predictions of reflexive ideological bias. County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, a Democrat, twice ruled in favor of Republican Secretary of State Katherine Harris, the first time upholding her enforcement of the certification deadline of November 14, the second time upholding her decision to declare a winner without including any hand recounts. Circuit Judge Nikki Clark, who handled the lawsuit involving the question of whether to throw out some 15,000 absentee ballots in Seminole County because of technical violations of the law by Republican canvassing board officials and operatives, had been particularly impugned by Republican commentators. She was black, she was a former legal aid attorney, she was not only a registered Democrat but had been an aide to the state's former Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles, and she had recently been passed over for a promotion by Governor Jeb Bush. But in the event she ruled decisively against throwing the ballots out, as did her fellow Democratic judge who handled a similar case concerning absentee ballots in Martin County. The November 16 decision of the Florida Supreme Court, all Democrats except one independent, to allow manual recounts in Palm Beach County (and tacitly allow the effort already under way in Broward County to continue), was unanimous; but the December 8 decision ordering manual recounts of all the undervotes in the state was a 4-3 split, and the court unanimously upheld virtually all the lower court decisions that went against Democratic interests, with the single exception of the finding by Circuit Court Judge Sauls rejecting the Gore campaign's contest. (Sauls, advertised as a Democrat, is actually a Republican appointee who switched registration from Democratic to Republican, and has run as a "nonpartisan" candidate for re-election in Democratic Leon County.)
"What must underlie petitioners' entire federal assault on the Florida election procedures is an unstated lack of confidence in the impartiality and capacity of the state judges who would make the critical decisions if the vote count were to proceed," Justice Stevens wrote in his dissent in Bush v. Gore. "Otherwise, their position is wholly without merit. The endorsement of that position by the majority of this Court can only lend credence to the most cynical appraisal of the work of judges throughout the land." [Emphasis added.] According to a January 22 article in USA Today detailing the lingering bitterness between the two opposing factions within the Supreme Court over the Bush v. Gore decision, at an election night party on November 7, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor became "visibly upset" when network anchors first awarded the state of Florida to Al Gore. The story went that her husband was heard explaining the couple wanted to retire and that his wife preferred that a GOP President appoint her successor. The paper said that people close to the Justices had confirmed the essence of the story (which was also reported in the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek). Justice O'Connor, it would seem, experienced difficulty rising above her circumstances.
I am not an adherent or admirer of the theories of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Paul de Man, Stanley Fish or their associated movements. On the contrary. I received my education before these theories came into vogue, at a time when it was still commonly if not universally assumed on campus that the purpose of academic study was to acquire useful and verifiable knowledge in a variety of fields, not excluding literature and politics (my two fields of study). I personally believe that literary texts, while they can (and will, if they are any good) have subtleties and profundities and even contradictions that will stubbornly resist one-dimensional analysis, do have meaning--and that the better the writer, the clearer that meaning is. I believe that while the world and human nature are infinitely complex, there is, within limits, such a thing as objective truth. Since first hearing of the ideas of deconstruction and Foucault, I have counted myself among their skeptics and detractors.
So I did not undertake to write this essay to demonstrate, as it might seem, that the Republican War for Florida in all its aspects--in its ideology, in its concrete actions and, perhaps above all, in its success--lends credibility to these theories, though it has been most interesting to discover the extent to which it does. No, I am far less interested in the remarkable symmetry between what happened in Florida and the theories of Foucault and Derrida about how history and the social construction of reality work, than I am in the stunning asymmetry between Republican Party statements and actions there and the professed ideological principles of American conservatism.
In Florida, to win the presidency, the Republican Party betrayed what its intellectual spokespeople allege are among conservatism's highest ideals. To discredit the manual recounting process that they feared would result in the election of Al Gore, Republican representatives like Jim Baker propagated, in effect, the doctrine that human beings are incapable of being fair and objective in their interpretations of reality. To discredit judicial decisions that went (or simply might go) against their interests, they propagated, in effect, the doctrine that law does not have even a dimension of neutrality or disinterestedness but is from beginning to end an exercise of raw political power in disguise. Both of these are doctrines that their intellectual spokespeople like Lynne Cheney claim to oppose and despise--doctrines that according to her, are nothing less than "an assault on Western Civilization." And, to compound the moral dilemma they were creating for themselves and their movement, these representatives proceeded to conduct themselves in ways that lent support to the validity of these same cynical, anticonservative doctrines. A party that for a long time has professed adherence to principles of states' rights and judicial restraint played federal judicial intervention as its trump card to insure the election of its candidate. Will it ever be possible, in our generation anyway, to take its intellectual pronouncements seriously again?
As a proximate result of its relentless War for Florida, America's conservative party has taken control of the presidency and all the powers attendant on that office. We shall see what comes of that. But as another, perhaps longer-lasting result of that implacable war, the intellectual and moral pretensions of contemporary American conservatism lie in tatters, like so many discarded chads on the floor of a county canvassing board meeting room.
NUCLEAR POWER & US
New York City
I would like to provide an update on some remarkable events that followed Joseph Mangano's epidemiological discovery that closing the Rancho Seco reactor in 1989 was followed by an enormous improvement in infant mortality and childhood cancer [Harvey Wasserman, "No Nukes=Better Health," Jan. 29]. Mangano has now found that mortality rates for all age groups in these areas have, since 1989, improved for all diseases mediated by the immune response, so that San Francisco, for example (only seventy miles from Rancho Seco), had in 1998 the lowest age-adjusted mortality rate of any large US county, with extraordinary declines since 1990 in all cancers, including breast and prostate, and in all infectious diseases. Even AIDS death rates in San Francisco by 1998 had declined to the level of 1979.
As a result of local grassroots dissemination of these facts and a generous grant from the CEO of a large San Francisco company, Mangano may soon be able to offer clinical as well as epidemiological proof of the benefits of closing reactors. As national coordinator of our Tooth Fairy Project, which has been finding ominously high levels of bone-seeking radioactive strontium (Sr90) in the baby teeth of about 2,000 children born in recent years that could not be the result of past superpower above-ground nuclear bomb tests, he may soon be able to ascertain the change, if any, in the ratios of Sr90 to calcium in the baby teeth of children born before and after nuclear reactor closings.
Nation readers can give us invaluable support by collecting baby teeth from anyone born in recent years or even from baby boomers born as far back as the bomb test years of the 1950s, for we have found that they have the same incredibly high levels, after correction for the twenty-nine-year half-life of Sr90, that prompted President Kennedy to terminate such above-ground tests in 1963. Please visit our website, www.radiation.org, and/or call (800) 582-3716 for envelopes for baby teeth.
JAY M. GOULD
Radiation and Public Health Project Inc.
Oak Ridge, Tenn.
Harvey Wasserman has again shown how adept he is at picking out a tidbit of bad science to support his views while ignoring the vast storehouse of real science. He claims nuclear power is causing cancers and other health effects, based on a largely debunked study sponsored by an antinuclear group. Not mentioned is the National Cancer Institute study that examined 90,000 cancer deaths near nuclear power plants spanning thirty-four years and found no connection between the operation of reactors and cancer. This is only one of several highly reputable studies that have come to the same conclusion.
Ironically, The Nation recently published Ross Gelbspan's editorial [Jan. 22] on the seriousness of global warming. Any plan to deal effectively with this potentially devastating problem must contain significant levels of nuclear energy, which produces no greenhouse gases. Even the Clinton Administration's strategy to meet the Kyoto goals required substantial electricity production from nuclear plants.
The fair-minded observer must agree that US nuclear plants have been safe sources of electricity. And as we try to find our way out of increasingly frequent power crises, it will probably be an important component for the foreseeable future.
DR. THEODORE M. BESMANN
Oak Ridge National Laboratory
It's great fun when pro-nukers confirm the realities of global warming, even while denying the devastating health and environmental impacts of their brand of radiation poison. No government- or industry-funded study will admit to the connection between nuclear power and cancer. But hidden in virtually all of them is damning hard evidence to the contrary. The cure for global warming lies in wind, solar and efficiency, not in an economically catastrophic technology that kills people and the planet.
And kudos as always to Jay Gould and the vital work done by him and his colleagues in searching out the health impacts of this failed technology. See-no-evil doesn't cut it when the radiation is being dumped into our bodies--and those of our children.
Regarding Ross Gelbspan's "Cool It, World" [Jan. 22], even the Hague proposals rejected by the United States are insufficient. As Mark Hertsgaard writes in his book Earth Odyssey, the pollution in China and India is so extreme that even if the United States and Europe immediately eliminated all greenhouse-gas emissions, the impact would be negligible if nothing changed in China and India. This fact underscores, as Gelbspan correctly notes, the imperative for large-scale technology transfers.
But Gelbspan errs in thinking the recent collapse in climate talks might "set the stage for a truly transformative initiative" in US policy. EPA chief Christie Whitman, an environmental ignoramus, is joined by Interior Secretary Gale Norton, a protégée of the odious James Watt, whose Mountain States Legal Foundation is currently suing Clinton over his creation of national monuments. Norton is dedicated to the unfettered use of private property, while Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham supports the "pollution credits" derided even by Great Britain.
Gelbspan's tenuous optimism about Paul O'Neill at Treasury is curious, given O'Neill's career with two notorious corporate ecocides: International Paper (ten years) and more recently, Alcoa (eleven years). More than forty-seven Alcoa facilities have been cited for environmental violations since 1987, including an aluminum smelter in Massena, New York, which in 1991 was fined the then-largest criminal penalty ever ($3.75 million) for hazardous-waste violations. Last March Alcoa agreed to an $8.8 million settlement with the EPA over dumping inadequately treated waste into the Ohio River between 1994 and 1999. Alcoa's Rockdale smelter is among the most polluted plants in Texas, emitting 104,000 tons of pollutants a year. It is among hundreds of Texas plants still receiving a grandfather exemption from when air pollution laws went into effect in 1971 (thirty years ago!). According to the Los Angeles Times, a legislative effort to change that exemption was defeated "at the behest of the governor, George W. Bush."
Alcoa hired Texas law firm Vinson & Elkins to represent Alcoa on environmental issues. The Center for Responsive Politics reports that the firm "contributed more than $200,000 to George W. Bush's presidential campaign, making it the president-elect's third largest donor. In return, Vinson & Elkins got a loophole in Texas environmental regulations that will allow Alcoa to continue pouring 60,000 tons of sulfur dioxide annually into the air, solidifying Alcoa's position as one of Texas' top polluters."
National governments and international lending organizations have subsidized Alcoa's foreign business and boosted its profits while failing to enforce environmental responsibility or require adequate compensation (if such is possible) to populations uprooted or abused by the company. For example, many of the 20,000 people evicted from the island of Sao Luis on Brazil's Tocantins River for an Alcoa refinery and smelter were never compensated (O'Neill earned $36 million in compensation last year), as reported by Terje Langeland in the Colorado Daily. The Machadinho Dam, currently under construction by Brazil and Alcoa (and expecting World Bank loans), will displace 9,000 people. As Treasury Secretary, O'Neill will significantly determine directors and policy at the World Bank and IMF.
Little or nothing in the careers of any of these people hints at recognition of the need for vigorous government leadership in addressing the threat of global warming. Fortunately, there is substantial historical precedent for far-reaching initiatives. The federal and state governments--through expenditures, tax incentives, laws, research or fiat--facilitated railroads and airports, space exploration, computers and the Internet and the telecommunications revolution. Since the United States already leads the world in alternative-energy and related technologies, many American companies could profit enormously from a conversion. But conversion will most readily and with least disruption occur only if leaders embrace with vision and courage something like an Energy Marshall Plan. There are many potentially viable technical and financial options, but Bush's Cabinet choices belie hope of his Administration pursuing any of them.
KELLEN A. CAREY
FULL OF IT?
Thanks for Christopher Hitchens's humorous column about George W. Bush's frequent use of "heart" language to promote his agenda of "compassionate" conservatism ["Minority Report," Feb. 5]. Hitchens applauds the Washington Post's view that the "heart" will be the throbbing organ most favored by the new Administration (in contrast to the one so clearly favored by Clinton). Hitchens also acknowledges that Bush has used this term quite effectively to position himself within the discourse of conservative Christians, whose rhetoric is full of similar appeals to the "heart." Still, Hitchens missed the funniest irony of all: When Bush and his conservative religious allies speak of the "heart," they assign it a meaning inconsistent with biblical usage.
When the New Testament was being written, people had very different ideas about the functions and symbolism of the body's organs. The heart (kardia) was understood to be the center of physical and mental life. The heart, not the head, was the seat of intellect; therefore, a person who claims to be a biblical literalist cannot rightly link the heart with George W. Bush! (It's hard even to write the words "intellect" and "Bush" in the same sentence.)
Fortunately, there is a bodily organ that can be appropriately and accurately linked to Bush in a biblical context. In New Testament times, feelings/emotions were understood to reside in the bowels (splagchna). Compassion, specifically, is said to originate there (see I John 3:17). Well, this makes a lot of sense! When I think of that which emanates from the bowels (given my modern frame of reference), I can easily associate it with Bush and with all he is dumping on the public--especially when he claims to be compassionate. Furthermore, I know how my gut responds to Bush's rhetoric: When I hear it, I feel I need to run--but whether it's for the loo, for office or for cover, I'm not sure.
It feels odd to use New Testament Greek as a tool of ridicule, but I must agree with Hitchens on a final point. As he noted, when we indulge ourselves in the ridiculous, we often awaken to a valid point.
SOA BY ANY OTHER NAME...
Congressman Joe Moakley says that the new name for the infamous School of the Americas, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is "far more difficult to chant outside the gates" ["In Fact...," Feb. 12]. The name might be--but what a perfect acronym! Whisk Away WHISC! Whisk Away WHISC!
NOT BLESSED IN SALT LAKE CITY
Salt Lake City
The pamphlet Allen Lutins referred to on your January 22 Letters page never received "the blessing" of the Salt Lake City School district. It was published by a parent, acting on his own.
DAPHNE R. WILLIAMS, director
Salt Lake Education Foundation