Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Department Store Santa

Something different for a slight change of pace: a Christmas story, with a bit of a twist. This blog has focused on political issues for quite some time, and I’ve been trying to work on a post-election article on the president-elect, but am not sure which direction to take … so I decided to present a present of sorts, a story for you to enjoy at this festive time of the year. I wrote this last year and re-wrote it this week (edited, changed, altered, and etcetera). The story was inspired by … nothing – this does not relate to any actual person; it was written, however, after seeing the results of an IED explosion which had killed some Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in 2007. After seeing the footage of the carnage I couldn’t help but think about the families, back here in Canada, and how they have to keep on living when a part of their family has been violently ripped from their lives on the other side of the world. The story’s dedication is at the end of the text.

I hope you enjoy the story. Have a Merry Chanukah; a Joyous Christmas, and a Happy, Happy New Year (or don’t, I don’t care … really, I don’t … I’ve got my own issues … really, I do … honest).

Department Store Santa

Every year since he had turned fifty, and his long beard had turned white, he had worked as the department store Santa in one of the large shopping malls in the centre of town. Hundreds of children would come to sit on his lap every day in the weeks leading up to Christmas, but as the years passed by and he grew older the old man began to feel more than a small amount of resentment towards the ever growing commercialisation of Christmas. As much as he tried to hide those feelings of bitterness behind his bushy beard and smiling eyes they ultimately filtered down towards the children and their parents. Playing Santa used to be fun, now it was only a job.

Christmas wasn’t what it used to be, he thought to himself with a heavy sigh, as yet another child recited yet another list of expensive computer games and electronic devices that they not only wanted but already knew they would be getting for Christmas. It was even getting to the point, he sadly realized, where he was finding it increasingly difficult to smile for the photographs that his “elf” would take with the children while they sat on his lap; all he wanted to do was leave this shattered Yuletide fantasy of commercialised fraud and seek refuge with his wife, safe in their home where they had created a lifetime of memories of Christmas’ past. Living in the past had become something of an obsession of late, especially now as Christmas approached.

“Today’s your last day,” his wife had said as she gently squeezed his hand. They had just finished breakfast in their comfortable breakfast nook and he was preparing to leave for work. The words had managed to cheer him up considerably as he left their house near the Canal and walked to the mall with an added bounce to his step. A faint smile crept over his face for the first time in a long while as he approached the employee’s entrance and made his way to the locker room. He kept thinking about the conversation that he had with his wife over breakfast about retiring completely and the more he thought about it the more he liked the idea. He had been able to retire early from his consulting job and had taken on this job as Santa seventeen years ago just for fun, not at all expecting to do it for such a long time. Of course, if he was perfectly honest with himself, and his wife, he would have admitted that his heart just was not into being around so many people anymore, not after what had happened to their son Kevin.

As he entered the locker room and put on his Santa suit for the last time this year, and perhaps for good, there was something a little different in his attitude; it seemed as though a weight had been removed, perhaps because he had decided to retire. This day, he thought, would be different, if only for the fact that it was the last day that he would ever have to wear this pathetic costume and sit in the stupid throne while wisecracking teens laugh at you all day. Santa suits, he thought as he walked towards his “Kingdom” for the last time, should come with pockets where you could conceal water guns and other projectile toys.

Throughout the day and the endless, anonymous children, all seeming to want the same mp3 playing robot that could do all kinds of cool things … (he really was getting too old for this, he thought to himself, not for the first time this season), he still managed to keep smiling, reminding himself of the Christmas Eve dinner awaiting him at home that his wife would have been working on all day; and he remembered to laugh at the appropriate places for the children, to smile for the photos and to give each of the little urchins one of the obligatory candy canes for having had the pleasure of screaming in his ear (no wonder he was nearly deaf in his left ear). Since this was Christmas Eve it was busier than usual with last-minute shoppers desperate to find that elusive, perfect gift. This did not prevent the old man from letting his mind wander to what his wife would be doing at home.

His wife came from a family that celebrated Christmas Eve with what could only be described as gusto; the family was not particularly religious, they were just enthusiastic. When it came to the meal no expense was spared: they made a roasted ham, a turkey with all the trimmings, potatoes of several varieties, salads enough to sink a ship and more than enough side dishes to feed dozens of people. It was a feast worthy of royalty, and it was a tradition that the family tried to continue, as much as possible.

Unlike other Christmas Eve dinners, this would be a meal only for the two of them; their only son had been killed earlier in the year while serving with his unit in Afghanistan, but knowing his wife there would be more than enough food for a small army; or at least a battalion. This would be their first Christmas without their son, without their Kevin, he thought to himself with a note of sadness as the last of the children was admitted through the gates to see Santa; his assistant pointed to the “closed” sign, signalling to him that the gates to “Santa’s Kingdom” were now locked for the season. Thank God, he thought to himself.

As the boy approached there seemed to be something odd about him that immediately caught the old man’s attention. He was only about seven years old, but there was something about his eyes made him look much older, far more mature than his years. When he was close enough to speak, he said, in no uncertain terms, “look: we both know that I’m too old for this, right? I’m only here for my mother — it’s been a rough year for …” but he couldn’t continue as a tear began to roll down his freckled cheek.

“Come here, my boy,” the old man said, his voice kinder and gentler than it had been since the Chaplain had arrived with the news of his own son’s death, four months before. “What is it that you want for Christmas?”

The boy looked up at the old man and, seeing his own grief reflected back in his eyes, replied, “I want my father to come home from Afghanistan so we can be a real family again, but he already came back,” his voice cracked, “… in a coffin.” The boy buried his face in the deep plush of the Santa costume and he cried for several minutes while his mother came to get him, visibly embarrassed by the situation. But the old man didn’t mind the tears, for they were his as well, and those of his wife. They were tears that seemed to flow unceasingly, from eyes that saw ghosts in every corner of their house; they were tears that never seemed to run out, that never seemed to lose their sting.

When the boy stopped crying and his mother introduced herself to the old man he took her offered hand and asked, his voice thick with emotion, “would you and your lovely son do my wife and I the honour of joining us for dinner this evening? You see,” he continued, gently squeezing her hand, “this will be our first Christmas without our son as well. He was also killed in Afghanistan,” these final words were barely whispered, but the mother and son had no difficulty hearing them.

All she could do was nod her head and do her best to smile, something she had not done very much of since the Chaplain had arrived at their house two months ago. As the three of them left the mall the old man was still dressed in his Santa Claus suit and for the first time in a long, long time he was feeling every bit the part.

Dedicated to the Canadian Servicemen and women who have lost their lives in Afghanistan, and all other Peace Keeping Missions, and to their families; Merry Christmas. Peter Amsel, Ottawa.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

In Memoriam: Studs Terkel (1912-2008)

America has lost a giant of a man, a man who had spent the majority of his life dedicated to preserving the voice of the real America through his celebrated writings and the interviews on his radio shows. Louis “Studs” Terkel, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, oral historian and political activist died on Friday, October 31; he was 96 years old and died at home, next to a copy of “P.S. Further Thoughts From a Lifetime of Listening”, his latest book which is scheduled to be released later this month. His obituary from the Chicago Tribune paints a poignant picture of a true American treasure.

One of the many things that I can thank my grandfather for, aside from all of the powerful lessons about life and social justice which he taught me, was an introduction to Studs Terkel one summer when I was visiting him at his office in Manhattan. As a child of only about twelve years I probably did not fully appreciate what it meant to meet a “living legend”, nor is it likely that I appreciated the looks of awe and respect that others were giving to my grandfather, “Ben”, for being in the company of such a renowned New Yorker; but the impressions still remain, even after twenty-eight years.

When asked what his epitaph should read Studs replied, quite appropriately, “Curiosity did not kill this cat.” His works, in print, on film and recordings shall ensure that future generations can continue to reap of the harvest of wisdom laid out for them by this true American hero, a treasure that need not be lost nor forgotten, but rather celebrated and remembered through his work.

Studs Terkel may be dead, but his work shall live on for ages.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

America Can Change

If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth one million. While this video is a song in a language you may not speak, the message speaks volumes and should not be missed by anyone who still has not made up their mind about the upcoming November election, or who feels conflicted by all of the racial rhetoric that has been flung into the political arena by certain candidates.

This song, along with the video, Si Se Puede Cambiar was made by Andreas Useche and is, in my opinion as a composer, not only a brilliantly beautiful ballad, it is an effective political piece that will hopefully reach the hearts and minds of many undecided voters.


Si Se Puede. Yes We Can.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Shifting Paradigms in American Politics: Observations on Political Obfuscation and the Presidential Elections

Elections may be a time of fascination for anyone remotely interested in the world of politics and the wild scheming that accompanies this great game, perhaps one of the greatest of all human past-times. What we are observing is the modern expression of the ideal of the democratic process that the founding fathers of the Republic of the United States bestowed upon their fledgling nation with the establishment of their constitution. While the initial intent of the founders may have been subverted by the passage of time and the changing moral standards of the people, the great experiment that became America continues despite the greatest attempts by those who would see the Republic crumble under the weight of corruption and tyranny.

Illustration © by Ben Heine
So long as we remind ourselves of the difference between the idea of democracy today and the initial vision offered by the founding fathers it will be very easy to appreciate the importance of exercising that most sacred right of a citizen on the 4th of November: today it is the right of all citizens to vote, regardless of the colour of their skin, their sex, or even who they happen to worship while the original “democracy” was intended for white men; privileged land owners who controlled the laws of the land and the lives of those who were not considered to be fully on-par with whites by virtue of their skin colour. How much more can democracy have traveled in that the current front-runner in the campaign is a black man, a man who would not have even been counted as a “whole person” at the beginning of American history? Senator Barack Obama is not, however, a significant candidate solely because he is the first “black candidate”, or “African American” – he is not, the Communist Party of the United States nominated an African-American women named Angela Davis in 1980 as their candidate for Vice-President; Obama’s significance as a candidate stems from his deep understanding of the issues at play and the remarkable poise with which he has faced this marathon campaign.

While many people find politics to be something fascinating and rather like a spectator sport there are times when it seems to devolve into something more akin to a high-school popularity contest mated with a three-ring circus; the primary difference being the amount of money being spent by those involved and, ultimately, the prize awarded at the end of the contest. The invective comments that have been spewed of late by certain candidates demonstrates that the closer you get to the actual election the worse the rhetoric becomes as the desperation level is elevated to new heights.

Since there is no incumbent running in this election – for some odd reason Vice-President Dick Cheney did not decide to seek the position of President after his eight years in office – Senator John McCain finds himself in the unenviable position of inheriting the legacy of what many political analysts and historians have already described as being the worst president tenure of the 20th century, if not American history. McCain has no choice but to run on the record of the incumbent president, but cutting all ties with the Republican Party would be political suicide – even more so than tying himself to the record of George W. Bush. Sine the record of the present Republican administration has done such a stellar job, embroiling the nation in a war without a foreseeable end, a crushingly high unemployment rate, record job losses, a mortgage fiasco that may cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars with nary a chance of recovery and still result in a recession the likes of which has not been seen since the dark days following the market collapse of 1929, it only makes sense that John McCain would now – more than ever – want to show that he really is not completely aligned with President Bush and his policies. The truth, however, is much easier to see: after supporting the policies of President Bush – proudly – over 90% of the time during the past eight years McCain has demonstrated that he is much less of a Maverick and much more of one of the “good old boys” that he pretends to rail against when ranting about the ills of “the system”. This is the system that his top economic advisor, former Senator Phil Gramm, had a very large part in engineering. Is it any wonder that the Republicans would rather attack their opponents rather than face them on the issues? Senator McCain made the conscious choice of attacking Senator Obama on the most trivial of matters in the a desperate attempt to divert the public’s attention from the true issues at hand: the failure of the government of the past eight years – the Republican Presidency of George W. Bush – to effectively protect the American taxpayer from the unregulated greed of Wall Street and their lobbyists.

Once it became obvious that the call for “change” being heralded from the Obama camp was being taken up across the nation the McCain camp decided to recast their message to show that their candidate was the one that represented real change. Rather than facing the issues, rather than addressing things of substance, they worked on a slogan – a slogan that had already been in use by the other side. These are tactics to turn the attention of the people away from the fact that this is the same man who has been trying to distance himself from the record of President Bush while at the same time, during speeches to partisan crowds, McCain spoke proudly of his voting record over the two terms of President Bush; having voted for the things that have caused the problems currently plaguing the United States of America, including the mortgage scandal. John McCain has clearly demonstrated one thing about his abilities as a perspective leader and decision maker: he lacks the insight into issues that an American President requires in order to fully execute their responsibilities. He is also unable to consider an issue past the partisan politics that it may represent and the ways in which it will effect his own political future, despite his claims of “reaching across the aisle”; he also shows that he is not above overtly lying about what he, and others, have done in order to make it look as thought things “aren't as they seem”.

While the presence of rhetoric, particularly during a presidential election, will never be lacking, this present campaign seems to have been endowed with an extra-large and potent dose. Unfortunately, the quantity of the words being spouted does not necessarily equate to the quality of what is being said; or, for that matter, does it have anything to do with the veracity of the statements. As though any examples were needed, it only took the announcement of the running-mate by Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, to raise the level of rhetoric past the point of manic hysteria. The sudden injection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin into this political equation has, in effect, turned everything on its head. Could anyone have imagined that the selection of a running-mate after having only known her for a short period of time and having had a single thirty-minute meeting would have generated such a sense unease for so many and an upsurge in the lack of confidence of the Senator's choice and in his decision making abilities, not to mention his judgment?

This first executive decision, which McCain says he made with more than enough information to ensure that Governor Palin was the right choice for the job and is not only qualified to serve as the Vice-President, but is also more than prepared to serve as President should something happen to him during his term as president demonstrates a clear disconnection with reality. He is completely confident in his choice, confident that Governor Palin is capable of running the nation, and yet the nation has barely had a chance to hear her speak outside of the campaign trail save for a few interviews. Since her acceptance of the nomination it hardly seems odd that even with the support of Senator McCain and several other Republicans Governor Palin has been under a state of constant attack from certain elements of the media; could this be explained, in part, because of the McCain campaigns extreme restrictions on what the Governor can say, and to whom she can speak? Having the press take pictures while the candidate sits with foreign dignitaries but refuses to answer questions just does not generate a great deal of trust; we cannot read her mind, we need to hear what she has to say on the important issues.

Of course, once the public has an opportunity to properly investigate Governor Palin through the same process that Senators McCain, Obama, and Biden have been through – scores of print, radio and television interviews – the citizens will have had the opportunity to judge her in the same light that the other three have been judged, based on their own words, measured against what they say and what their records reflect. When you have an opportunity to truly see where a politician stands on every aspect of their platform it is much easier to decide whether or not you will support them or not; this has not been possible with Governor Palin, especially with the way the “Straight Talk Express” has been handling her every move since the convention. When the campaign has permitted interviews they have been turned into catastrophic events due entirely to the candidate herself; not knowing the “Bush Doctrine” and having an opinion on whether or not she supported it, misrepresenting the amount of energy that the State of Alaska produces – on numerous occasions, not knowing the names of foreign leaders, and not being able to cite a single United States Supreme Court decision with which she disagrees (aside from Roe v. Wade) does very little to help build one’s image in the eyes of the electorate. There is a difference between someone who is “plain-spoken” but knows what they are talking about and someone who is down-right “ignorant” and aspires to appeal to the “average Joe six-pack”; based on her interviews Governor Palin has been coming across as someone who simply does not know what she is talking about. She sounds more like someone repeating a carefully crafted script of party-line answers to standard issues without having a thorough understanding of the fundamental issue being discussed.

The McCain campaign’s answer to these missteps: It was the interviewer’s fault; they should not have asked such difficult questions. Now, it must be said – in defense of Governor Palin – that she may not be completely to blame here: after all, it has been reported that she is being coached by some of the same people that coached George W. Bush before his debates with Al Gore. Considering the past eight years of having George W. Bush as the model for America's children (and, apparently, some of her adults as well), the idea that mediocrity should be something to be attained rather than surpassed seems to have entered the consciousness of the American psyche to the extent that there are many people who actually aspire to achieve as little as possible, believing that they will ultimately succeed in life simply because they are “good” people and therefore “deserve” to be rewarded out of the general benevolence of the world in which they live. In reality, this is merely a contemporary bastardization of the old idea that “ignorance is bliss”, whereas now we have many individuals who are, in effect, “blissfully ignorant”.

Without regard for what is being reported and believing that the main stream media is entirely biased against the Republican message and, therefore, must not be trusted, those in support of the Republican ticket seem to be turning to “alternative” news sources, without bothering to listen to anything that has substance behind it or any basis in fact. They look at the “news” as something that is barely a step above a reality show being broadcast on television, the only difference being that the news directors are unable to create the most violent acts ... at least, not yet. The most sensational stories capture the imaginations – and attentions – of those tuning in, and the same goes with the coverage of the political sphere; does it matter what the truth is behind the story or is the “sound bite”, usually taken out of context, more important? In an election year where the McCain-Palin ticket has complained about impartial media coverage it is interesting to survey the viewing on the Fox network. One could well call it the Republican National Network without much of a stretch of the imagination. Rupert K. Murdoch is not apologetic for his support of right-wing candidates and issues, but to then call his news channel “Fair and Balanced” is, in a word, ridiculous. True, there are dissenting views represented on the Fox network, but they are made to be caricatures of their ideals by their own colleagues, ridiculed for adhering to views that are so “un-American”.

The primary theme of the McCain-Palin campaign, rather than focusing on any of the issues facing the nation, or the economic crisis that could paralyze the country, or the war in Iraq, has been a string of lies and personal attacks on the character of Senator Barack Obama. At the beginning of the campaign his faith was questioned, if not by the candidates themselves then by the friendly – and helpful – folks at Fox Noise, repeatedly referring to him as a Muslim, even when there is more than ample proof to demonstrate that he is a true believer and a devout Christian. One might ask of Senator McCain, would a true Christian attack another, or allow attacks on another, knowing them to be false, accusing them of being a Muslim ... no, I didn't think so either. Obama and his wife were accused, by commentators on Fox News, of being a part of some sort of underground Muslim group because of the “fist” greeting they shared onstage at some event; proof that if a commentator has nothing relevant to say at Fox they will not be deterred, they will spew out anything they can in order to assist their candidate on his quest for the White House. This “innocent” comment aroused heated debate regarding Senator Obama’s patriotism, his fitness for office, and many other irrelevant issues that all served to distract from the true issues of the campaign.

Now, thanks to the level of the invective rhetoric and outright misinformation that has been spread by the opposition campaigns there have been calls for the killing of Obama at McCain-Palin rallies while others shout out that the “real Obama” is a “terrorist” because of the fact that he served on a public housing board in Chicago – with both Republicans and Democrats – and William Ayres, who had committed acts of domestic terrorism back in the 1960’s ... when Obama was EIGHT years old. As a result of the fear-mongering that Senator McCain has fomented he was forced to tell one of his own rallies that they “had nothing to fear” from an Obama presidency and that “Obama was a decent man”. McCain was booed by his own supporters for these comments, the people just did not want to hear that they should not distrust this black man with the odd-sounding name – after all, it does sound an awful lot like “Osama” ... it was even printed that way (by mistake) on 300 advance poll ballots in the State of New York. Barack Hussein Osama – Obama. Having a Sherriff, in uniform, introducing Governor Palin at an event where he used Senator Obama's full name – including the middle name, Hussein, was clearly inflammatory, and the result was clearly effective: many of those entering a McCain rally, when asked, indicated that they believe that Barack Obama was “a Muslim” and could not be trusted – or that he was a “traitor”.

He has been described as a “Manchurian” candidate by some, though one would think that supporters of McCain would want to avoid that inference given the fact that it was their guy who spent five years in Hanoi with the North Vietnamese; if anyone is a “Manchurian” candidate his name is Senator John McCain. It is a well known historical fact that he decided to pursue his career in politics after his father died – being the son of a full Admiral was apparently a burden for the war hero and his true ambitions, but surely his desire to serve his nation in any capacity would have been acceptable to Admiral McCain ... unless the North Vietnamese were using him to get information while he remained in the military. Once his usefulness was over (once access to the Admiral was gone) there was no need to remain where he was and his political path began. [You see – that is how easy it is to manufacture this fiction – forty-five seconds and there you have it, the Manchurian background to Senator McCain ... if anyone is interested I will provide an appropriate background from the prison – the making of the candidate – leave a request in the comments.]

The manipulation of what his opponent has said and the outright lying whenever it is convenient seems to have become standard policy for the McCain-Palin ticket. Rather than projecting an image of respectability and true honour they have stooped to the level of those who have no discernable moral compass. It is certainly not the image that one would expect to find from people professing to be Christians, individuals seeking the trust of their fellow citizens as they seek the highest offices of the land: their actions speak much louder than their words. When Senator Obama commented on the McCain economic plan and said that it was like “putting lipstick on a pig”, the title of a book by a Republican strategist and a phrase used by McCain himself, the McCain campaign took those words and turned them around, claiming that Obama had made the comment about Governor Palin. Even after demonstrating that this was false (something that should not have been necessary given the original context of the comment and the speech in which the comment was made), the ad ran showing that McCain and the Republican party have, in fact, not changed from the old style dirty tricks and smear tactics that have been present in their arsenal for generations of elections. The truth for the Republicans, alas, is only an optional concept; winning is all that matters.

When there are so many people that have virtually instant access to this thing called the Internet it takes a very brave individual to go onstage and lie in front of television cameras; for this reason alone we can have no doubt about the fortitude of John McCain. During one of his speeches where he introduced Governor Palin as his new running mate McCain stated that Palin had put the Governor's jet on EBay and sold it for a profit. Well, that is only part of the story: this airplane was purchased with taxpayer's money so they deserve to hear the truth. The jet was listed on EBay – listed – not sold. Palin actually sold the jet through a private broker; there is nothing wrong with using a private broker to sell something, but it is not the same as selling on EBay and McCain should know better, not to mention the fact that Governor Palin has had numerous opportunities to correct her running mate but has not done so once. Rather than attempting to set the record straight she has allowed the lie to be repeated over and over, as well as the myth of the profits that were generated by this sale: rather than the mythical profit made through the EBay sale the jet was actually sold at a loss of several million dollars, not the glamour sale you will likely hear about from McCain-Palin though; in this case fiction makes for much better press, they do not want anyone to hear about their failures, only things that make them look good – regardless of the veracity of the story. On top of that little lie, her subsequent travel expenses have cost the Alaskan taxpayers over $400,000 (in only 20 months!), since she travels with the entire family ... that private jet (taking back the millions lost) is looking much better now, especially if you consider getting back that $400,000 for commercial travel and the millions lost in the sale of the jet. The operational cost of the private jet, being used as it had been initially intended, would likely have seemed far more economical when measured against such wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars, something that Governor Palin has said she is very much against. Not quite the same success story as before, is it, nor will you likely hear it coming from the McCain campaign.

When issues such as these untruths are raised, or issues surrounding the qualifications of Governor Palin to serve as Vice-President – or President should McCain die in office – are mentioned in the main stream media the reaction of the McCain-Palin ticket is quick and too the point, usually supported by their surrogate press-agency, Fox Noise: “the main stream media is controlled by the liberals and is biased against us” - and “we aren't getting fair coverage in this election”. When you consider that the McCain camp has virtually kept their VP nominee under lock and key since naming her, only allowing her to speak to a select group of interviewers under very controlled conditions, it is difficult to take these claims with anything less than a massive grain of salt: having observed the political coverage on several of the main stream media channels it is very easy to see that the Republican ticket is receiving its fair share of coverage. Is Senator Obama being mentioned more times than Senator McCain? I am not about to count the number of times that the two names are invoked at any particular time, but consider this: if a politician has something to say that is worth reporting there is a greater likelihood that this will be reported rather than having a long report about a stop in X-ville where the candidates delivered the same old stump speech for the umpteenth time; the news does not like “reruns”, it does not make for interesting reporting.

While complaining that the media is being unfair to them it would seem odd that Senator McCain would want to shoot himself in the foot with a cannon, but that is precisely what he did when he called up David Letterman and blatantly lied to him about his reasons for not being able to appear on his popular television show. The Late Show is taped in the early afternoon and Senator McCain was scheduled to appear but called Letterman to tell him that he had to return to Washington that very afternoon to help fix the economic crises. This was, in fact, another lie. While the show was being taped they found out that Senator McCain was in another CBS studio, taping an interview with Katie Couric; while some would argue that he wanted to avoid an appearance on a comedy show during an economic crisis, remember this, McCain appeared on the Conan O'Brien Show right after hurricane Katrina, and David Letterman has done serious interviews with people in the past when called for by the situation. Letterman was visibly annoyed with the fact that he had been lied to, particularly after McCain had used his program to launch his campaign – taking advantage of the 6 million regular viewers that tune in every night. As for the return to Washington, a one hour flight from New York, McCain was still in New York that night – speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative, and he was there the next day.

When he finally returned to Washington he dropped in at the end of the meeting with Secretary Paulson, said a few words about his own proposal (having indicated in an interview of a few days prior that he had not read Sec. Paulson's proposal) and then leaving. He then went to another campaign stop (during his now suspended campaign) and told them how important it was for him to get back to Washington so he could help fix the economic mess that he was now accusing Barack Obama and his “cronies” of causing. “Cronies”: McCain referring to Obama and “his” cronies. Now I am wondering if I have tuned into an episode of the Twilight Zone, or, even worse, if a psychotic episode is in the near future … I cannot imagine what could make someone who has spent the first part of this campaign taking aim at the “lack of experience” that Barack Obama has and his “lack of readiness” to serve as president has morphed their message into him suddenly having had enough experience to have “cronies” all of his own; this coming from a man who has spent the past twenty-five years in Washington calling himself a “deregulator” with great pride. When the proposal by Secretary Paulson contained no oversight it was, by the way, the Democrats that fought to ensure there would be an apparatus in place to help protect the taxpayer's money. The deregulations that Senator McCain is so proud of are a very key part to what led to the atmosphere that contributed to the economic crises facing the U.S. government, much to the chagrin of Senator McCain who is now being forced to face economic issues in this campaign for the first time.

If these actions sound like those of an honest, trustworthy politician, Senator McCain is your man, otherwise, you might want to find out some more about his opponent. There is no shame in being undecided when there is so much at stake for the nation and the people – especially the people. If you think that more of the fiscal management that has resulted in the country tottering on the brink of economic collapse is something that you want to see more of, there is a clear choice for you: the Republican ticket represents a continuation of that which has brought America and its economy to its knees. Accepting the idea that the Republican ticket represents real change must be seriously examined in light of the record of the past eight years and the nature of those involved. Governor Palin represents the extreme conservatism that the Republican base did not see in Senator McCain or the person who had been very prominent in his campaign before the selection of Governor Palin, Senator Joseph Liebermann. Governor Palin embodies the most extremist views of the Republicans, including those which the majority of women would find repugnant. The very idea that she was chosen to lure disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters away from Senator Obama, merely because they will have an opportunity to vote for a woman and thereby shatter the proverbial “glass ceiling”, clearly demonstrates the dim view the Republican strategists have of women: do they really believe that women are so shallow that they will choose to vote for an extreme conservative simply because they are female rather than supporting a candidate that shares their fundamental views, regardless of their sex or colour, who has not only been endorsed by their candidate of choice but by their own words and actions can be seen to be more concerned with women's issues than the female Republican Party’s candidate for Vice-President? The idea is, quite frankly, an insult to all women with even the slightest amount of intelligence and a modicum of personal integrity.

Accepting everything that is being said by any of these politicians is, in a word, silly; they each have their own agendas and their own desire to sit in the Oval Office, but we must still ask ourselves whether the words being spoken carry a hint of desperation and more than a little hysteria as one side seems to change their script from day to day. A political campaign should not mean that those involved cannot pursue their goals through honorable means; it simply means we must be careful as we listen to them, making sure that we are especially careful to discern the truth from the sweetened condiments added to make the messages more appealing for those who have not yet made their decisions. Election campaigns are not for the members of an individual party; those people will take very little convincing to vote for “their” candidate. Campaigns are for the much-coveted “undecided” voter and the “fence-sitter”, those who can still be swayed even up to the day of the election. These individuals will be watching everything from the way the candidate talks about their opponent to the way they tie their ties or wear their hair.

Ultimately, the decision that someone makes on November 4th will be guided by a set of priorities that each individual will have to assess on the basis of their own conscience. If honesty enters into the equation, however, and people force themselves to examine each candidate on the merits of their individual platform, without the filter of lies and obfuscations that the opposition uses to distract people from the real issues they may just discover something significant, perhaps the truth about the tax-plans from either candidate ... or the health-care platforms. In the first two Presidential Debates Senator McCain blatantly misrepresented Senator Obama's tax-plan and health-care plan, but he made the tactical error of doing so in an arena where his opponent was there to rebut his assertions. This left him standing there looking like an angry old man, impotent with rage at the realization that his attack had been foiled yet again by this young upstart; but that, Senator McCain must be reminding himself more and more these days, is the name of this game called politics.

For those of us less inclined to call politics a game, to those who see the ramifications of such elections extending far beyond the borders of the United States, Senator McCain’s actions indeed leave the impression of an angry old man shouting at the children who have wandered into his yard, but also of one who has altogether lost the plot and is stumbling around, unable to find his way in the dark.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recount: The Rape of Democracy in America

Illustrations © by Ben Heine


This should, perhaps, serve as a warning to perspective readers of this essay as it contains material that may be disturbing to some individuals who have difficulty with, or are incapable of, adjusting their views according to new ideas, fact-based evidence, and reasoned argument. Rather than relying on mere histrionics I have endeavored to present an historical and political perspective in this essay in an effort to present a new perspective of an infamous event using, amongst other things, the Constitution of the United States and the rulings of the United States Supreme Court. Readers Beware: By their own words they have convicted themselves; the truth is available to anyone interested enough to go looking for it, what you do with it once you know about it is where the real test begins. The truth does not change by virtue of its being ignored, it continues and persists, lurking in the darkness of forgotten silence, waiting for the light of revelation; but it is there to be found, desperate to pass on its lessons before the crimes of the past are repeated.

Recount: The Rape of Democracy

A few weeks ago HBO presented a movie that will, without doubt, become one of the “must sees” on the list of all who have been seeking the truth behind what really happened in the November 2000 presidential election; how Governor George W. Bush, an astonishingly “plain spoken” individual who had barely managed to eek out “C's” while attending class still managed to graduate from university, and now had achieved the ultimate American dream: he had ascended to the office of the President of the United States of America. A lofty ambition to be sure, those who seek the office of president are traditionally cut from the finest cloth that the nation has to offer, individuals who have been tested in ways that belies their age or the other traditional means of assessing an individual’s experience.

When looking at the list of American Presidents there are a number that stand out for their extraordinary dedication to the office and their service to the nation, even unto death, and that is surely a story unto itself: this is no mere job, it is a calling to serve at the highest level, and the price of that service could be the very life of the individual. Thus the confusion at the choice of George W. Bush for the position: his selection as the Commander in Chief seemed uniquely incongruous when considering the criteria that would traditionally be used to assess the qualifications of a candidate for the office of the Chief Executive of the United States of America. His attempts at eluding his military service alone should have foreshadowed the short-sightedness that this man espoused years before the decision was made to commit thousands of American troops to their deaths in an illegal and immoral war, contrived out of the flames of a national tragedy. But, as the saying goes, vox populi, the people spoke: what the voters wanted they got.

Or did they?

The movie Recount was advertised as a docudrama exploring the tumultuous events surrounding the 2000 Presidential election and the voting irregularities in the State of Florida. Not surprisingly, however, it explored a great deal more and raised many more questions than were ultimately answered by the film-makers. With the benefit of eight years hindsight it is now possible to begin looking at the events that took place in the Sunshine State in 2000 with a far more critical eye than has ever been done before and, at the same time, we can also look at the entire electoral process that is once again staring the American people in the face as they undertake the daunting task of choosing the successor of George W. Bush.

With the historical prospect of an African-American candidate vying for the position of Commander-in-Chief in this presidential race it promises to be the most divisive contest since the issue of civil liberties and JFK's Catholicism were brought to bear in the 1960 campaign, a race that polarized Americans around many issues, the age and charisma of the candidates not being the least of them. Perhaps without even intending to do so, the movie Recount provides an object lesson about many of the things that are so very wrong with partisan politics, pointing out many of the weaknesses inherent with the American version of democracy; it also demonstrates – with chilling clarity – just how easy it can be for someone to conspire (knowingly or through their agents) to steal the presidency of the United States. A dangling question that we are left with asks whether this was done in the past, and whether the act will be duplicated in the future.

There are some questions that may never be answered – for practical reasons – but should be asked nonetheless: we need to at least articulate the ideas, lest they remain in the shadows forever. On the day of the General Election in 2000 over twenty-thousand registered voters in the State of Florida discovered that they were on a specially prepared “exclusion” list, disenfranchising them for the simple reason that their names were found to be similar in form to someone who was legitimately found to be excluded from the list (felons, etc.). The issue of these excluded voters was addressed by the United States Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore, and it was found that their exclusion was a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution of the United States (14th Amendment, Sec. 2); in their wisdom the court also decided that there was not enough time to remedy the injustice committed against these citizens.

The questions that we must ask, therefore, include the following: what would have happened if these 20,000 excluded voters – most of whom lived in precincts that voted along predominantly Democratic lines – had been allowed to exercise their constitutional rights to vote rather than being excluded because their names were similar to those of actual felons who had been legitimately excluded from the list of qualified voters; what would have happened if Pat Buchanan's name had been aligned on the infamous “butterfly ballot” with Governor Bush’s rather than with Vice President Al Gore, or with Ralph Nader; what would have happened if a full recount of the ballots, by hand, had taken place, a recount that included all “excluded” ballots because they had ‘dimpled’ chad [sic] and were considered “undervotes”? These questions can only be answered with suppositions, well, perhaps all but for the undervotes, but we can still give fairly well educated guesses for the others. Gore won the popular vote of the nation; would this have given him Florida’s 25 Electoral College votes? would it have made up the less than 2,000 vote difference that separated the two candidates?

It would seem easy to answer the question by saying, with some small confidence, that Gore would have been declared the winner, but is that enough of an answer? Is it really? When the United States Supreme Court (USSC) ruled, in Bush v. Gore, on December 12th, 2000, that there had in fact been violations under the Equal Protections clause of the 14th Amendment but, that violation notwithstanding, there was not enough time to remedy the situation, they essentially said that the Constitution of the United States was not worth the paper it was printed on and the rights of the citizens of the United States were as meaningless as their Constitution. When the situation exists where at least 20,000 people are robbed of their constitutional right to vote in a presidential election something is terribly wrong. There can be no doubt that there was criminal intent involved in this act, and that intent stemmed directly from the offices of the Secretary of State; is it difficult to imagine that this individual, the co-chair of the Florida team to elect Governor Bush to the position of president, would not have been capable of directing the preparation of the voter-exclusion list that would be used to prevent a specific group of people from exercising their right? The right to vote, however, was deemed something that the USSC felt was not worthy of protecting; they somehow forgot that this was a right that had been earned by the shedding of blood, a right that the United States Supreme Court decided was not important enough too demand that immediate actions be taken to remedy the situation.

The justices of the Supreme Court should have known that their failure to act in this case might receive some notice, though it went surprisingly unnoticed by the mainstream media and even the Gore camp seemed quick to drop the idea; the reason? Quite simply, the idea of delaying the inauguration of the next president, in and of itself, would have seemed to have more negative connotations than the search for the true winner of the election, regardless of who that individual was; rather than pressing the matter, rather than fighting the “war” and seeking the truth that the American voter deserved, Al Gore decided that it would be better for the nation to allow for the “peaceful” transition of power – demonstrating to the world that the United States was, truly, a democracy that could overcome all adversities thrown its way. Or so it would seem; the facts, as we can discern with the help of history, demonstrates otherwise.

Unfortunately, as we now see with the benefit of hindsight, this was not the “best choice” for the nation, nor was it the best choice for the world. The Bush administration has been an unmitigated disaster that has, since its first days in office, obfuscated and lied about its obfuscations in order to further its warped agenda – without considering the human costs. That is also exactly how they won the election; without considering how many people they were hurting, without considering the ramifications of their actions.

The Supreme Court should not have been so quick in dismissing the violation of the Equal Protection Clause; their reflection that their was not enough time to resolve the issue belies the importance of the right to vote, a right that they took pains to protect in other rulings: In 1966 the United States Supreme Court heard an appeal relating to the right to vote and the paying of poll taxes in Virginia. Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections dealt with numerous issues, but there is one very relevant section that bears directly to the 2000 presidential election in Florida: while much of that case deals with the issues surrounding the infamous “poll tax”, something devised to prevent the poor (and usually non-white) from voting, the conclusions of the Justices are no less relevant to what occurred forty-four years later. The following is from Mr. Justice Douglas who wrote the opinion of the Court:

“[W]e must remember that the interest of the State, when it comes to voting, is limited to the power to fix qualifications. Wealth, like race, creed, or color, is not germane to one's ability to participate intelligently in the electoral process. Lines drawn on the basis of wealth or property, like those of race ... are traditionally disfavored.”

In his comments Justice Douglas referenced an earlier judgment by the Court, Reynolds v. Sims (1964), in which he cites:

“Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized.”

Justice Douglas continues:

“A citizen, a qualified voter, is no more nor no less so because he lives in the city or on the farm. This is the clear and strong command of our Constitutions Equal Protection Clause. This is an essential part of the concept of a government of laws and not men. This is at the heart of Lincoln’s vision of 'government of the people, by the people, [and] for the people.' The Equal Protection Clause demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races.” United States Supreme Court, Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U.S. 663 (1966)

It is difficult to challenge the wisdom of these words today, and impossible to deny that their relevance carries over after four decades, or that they shall ring as true in another four decades. The right to vote must be inviolable: it is a right far too precious to be so casually stripped away in the name of expediency. At the same time, the election of 2000 was over, what could be done? A single day is appointed for the election of the president and vice-president, there is nothing that provides for another day of voting after the general election has taken place; it would have been practically impossible to redress this situation with any truly reasonable solution with the election concluded, or so it would seem.

One of the things that the United States seems to pride itself on is its ability to grow through its adversity; to adapt itself to the difficult situations as they arise, to overcome them, and come out the better for it in the end. This situation could very well have been one of those times in their history: had they addressed the violations of the rights of those 20,000 voters who had been prevented from expressing their Constitutional right to vote, the United States would have taken a mighty step towards the dream spoken of by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. But they did not; they took the coward’s way out and decided to stop the recount altogether. Instead of seeking to preserve the integrity of the democratic process the USSC turned around and, lifting their robes as one, collectively mooned the electorate, and everyone else interested in justice. Rather than taking a step towards the fulfillment of the dream, America slipped into a political nightmare from which it has yet to awaken.

Some might be asking exactly what the USSC could have done in order to remedy this situation given the fact that the election had taken place. Given the importance of the presidential election, as emphasized in the concurring opinion given by Chief Justice Rehnquist in Bush v. Gore, and the closeness of the race in the State of Florida, the Supreme Court would have been well within their authority to have authorized the Florida Electoral Commission to have convened special polls to allow for those disenfranchised voters the opportunity to vote. This would have not been, in fact, an extra election day since these individuals had arrived at the polls on the day of the General Election and had been turned away because their names appeared on a list that was prepared with the intent of preventing them from exercising their right to vote. Voting after this date would have fulfilled the process that began the day of the General Election and which was circumvented by those in authority in the State of Florida.

With those votes counted, and the rest of the recounted votes taken into consideration, it would have been possible to have a much clearer picture as to who was the legitimate winner of the State and who deserved the coveted votes from the Electoral College. If, however, the results were still “too close to call” why could they not have simply split the Electoral College vote from Florida, awarding 13 of the 25 votes to the candidate with the most votes and 12 of the 25 to the second candidate? There are two States in the Union today that currently split their Electoral Votes, but there is nothing in the Constitution to stop other States from doing this and it has been done in the past on numerous occasions, reflecting the varied political landscape and the desires of the voters from different parts of the nation. The Constitution does not address the manner in which the votes are to be cast; there are no directives stating that all of the votes from a delegation are to go to a particular candidate or even that all of the votes available to the State will be cast, which would seem to indicate that the exact opposite was the intention of the Framers of the Constitution.

Before the 25 Electoral College votes were taken into consideration on Election Night of 2000 the results were 246 for Bush and 266 for Gore. A division of the “too close to call” State’s 25 votes, as proposed, would have left Gore with (at +12) a win at 278; the thirteen votes would not have been enough for Bush. Thus my question of the urgency in the minds of the United States Supreme Court in shutting down the acts surrounding the actual counting of the votes and attempting to address the Constitutional violation of the rights of voters; something that nations have had revolutions over, have shed blood for, have overturned corrupt governments for. Unless there was an underlying agenda at play here, there truly was no urgency on the 12th of December, unless the USSC had an ulterior motive; the Supreme Court understood that the only way to install their man was to circumvent what shadow of democracy existed, preventing the precious voices of the disenfranchised from being heard. Time would demonstrate that the Constitution was no match for the Supreme Court.

Another question that must be broached as a result of the movie and its portrayal of the electoral system is of the true importance of the actual votes cast in a presidential election. If it sounds as though I am asking whether your vote really counts, that is exactly what is being asked. “How important is the actual vote for the president (and vice-president)?” Yes, some of you may be screaming right now, “how can you dare suggest that the vote of the people is anything less than sacrosanct, an act of paramount importance to the democratic process?” After all, you rightly argue, the vote decides the outcome of the election. Or does it? That is not the message that we are given by the producers of Recount and by the historical facts as they speak for themselves.

One of the most common perceptions regarding the functions of a democracy is that the process of electing the government involves the counting of every vote cast in an election. The subsequent outcome is that the person who receives the most votes wins. That seems rather obvious and almost naïve in its simplicity, but it works in many nations around the globe and has been the foundation of the democratic system since the inception of the process, or so one would think. Should anyone be willing to take a moment to examine the history of the U.S. electoral system it will quickly becomes apparent that this model of democracy is not what has been adopted by the United States Constitution, nor is it even remotely similar. The framers of the Constitution, in fact, seemed to believe that giving the citizens of the United States the right to choose their president was something with which they could not be trusted; thus the creation of the Electoral College and the usurping of the democratic process.

Defenders of the Electoral College will argue that it has only failed on three occasions; only three times has an unelected body decided to deny the people their popular choice for president, but why should that bother anyone? Would it be a surprise to anyone that in each of these cases the political party being favored was the Republican Party? Surely this must merely be a purely coincidental situation. Regardless of how much you deny the truth, it is an irrefutable fact: on three separate occasions the will of the people was not heard and the candidate that received the most votes was not, in fact, elected president. In 1876 the Republican Hayes received 4,036,298 votes to Democrat Samuel J. Tilden’s 4,300,590, but it was Rutherford B. Hayes that was sworn in as president. In 1888 Benjamin Harrison received 100,456 less votes than the candidate for the Democratic Party, Mr. Grover Cleveland. Harrison, the Republican candidate, was elected; and then there was the election of 2000.

If these examples seem insignificant compared to the grand scheme of American history, bear in mind that this is the same nation that has appointed itself the exporters of democracy to any nation seeking (or not) to throw off the chains of oppressive regimes, or any nation that may have made the mistake of electing someone that was not aligned with the ideologies of the United States. America has not only failed to deliver the promises so dearly cherished in the documents founding their nation, they have passed these injustices onto other nations with the installment of rogue despots and dictators in favour of democratically elected leaders.

The number of votes that a candidate may receive in the November election has precious little to do with whether or not they are awarded what is truly important, what unlocks the door to the White House: the crucial Electoral College vote. The fact of the matter is that the person who becomes the president of the United States is not actually elected by the voting public at all, they are selected by a group of people that are unseen by the population, chosen out of patronage, and completely unaccountable to anyone other than themselves. Only after the results of the November elections have been tabulated and certified by the individual States are the results sent to the Congress with the State's duly appointed representatives who have been chosen solely for this task. It falls to these “electors” to cast their votes for the president and vice-president.

As an examination of past Electoral College results demonstrates, or an examination of the United States Constitution, there is nothing that compels these individuals to follow any particular script. Nor, for that matter, is it required for a State to cast all of their votes for a single candidate (or, conversely, to even cast all of their votes at all), as is routinely assumed these days; in the past there have been numerous occasions in which a state’s electoral vote was split between more than one presidential candidate, more closely reflecting the choices of the voter’s wishes at the State level. This would seem, upon reflection, to be a remarkably equitable solution to what has truly become an anachronistic system that should simply be dismantled in favour of a more truly democratic process. Sadly, however, America is likely not ready for something that radical. The simple fact regarding the Electoral College is that it does not work and does more to obstruct the democratic process rather than serve it. Once the people have spoken through their votes in the general election the “electors” should be forced to heed their voices, but they are not; they are not compelled by any constitutional requirement to cast their votes according to the outcome of that election, nor are they constrained to cast their votes according to the tabulated and certified results in their State.

As if another example of the mess that the Electoral College has driven the United States to is even necessary, the election of 1800 led to a crisis that resulted in a Constitutional Amendment: In 1800 the House of Representatives rather than the Electoral College chose Andrew Jackson as president over his running mate Aaron Burr, both of whom had received 73 votes from the college. If that sounds odd there is a reason; it was not until the 1804 presidential election that the candidates for president and vice-president were each awarded separate Electoral College votes, thus eliminating the embarrassing possibility of someone deciding that the bottom portion of the ticket would look better on top. In 1800, however, that was not how the game was played, and, as a result the constitutional remedy had to be invoked: Thomas Jefferson was ultimately elected president by the House of Representatives after every candidate failed to receive a majority vote from the Electors, a process that took until the 17th of February, 1801, after the House of Representatives had voted over thirty-five times to resolve their deadlock.

The result of this debacle was the 12th Amendment, which provided for distinct ballots for presidential and vice-presidential candidates. The framers of the Constitution were not unwise in their decisions regarding the electoral system emplaced over the United States, on the contrary, the system well reflects the level of trust that they held for the citizenry of the newly formed “Union”. The truth, alas, is that their opinion of the general population was not one that went well with the bombs bursting in air attitude of patriotism and all of the wonderful feelings that corresponded with the emerging Republic. There was, in fact, a great deal of distrust abounding between the framers of the Constitution and the general public, particularly since there had not been any established political parties and political regionalism made it possible for a populist candidate to be extremely well known (and well liked) in one small area while remaining totally unheard of in the rest of the nation. It fell upon the framers to formulate a plan to find a way to prevent the people from electing some backwards hick to the most important position in the land ... and there was.

If the real truth were to be known the results could have been disastrous for the young Republic and those in positions of authority; they might just find themselves at the receiving end of another uprising of the citizenry as they rebelled to claim what was justifiably theirs: the right to choose their leaders by their vote. That is precisely what the Electoral College was designed to keep away from them, as evidenced by the words of Senator Benton. As radical as it may sound, the Electoral College was designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the United States from democracy, and themselves; yes, protect them from democracy. The Electoral College was created by the Framers of the Constitution, quite literally, to serve as a safeguard against the difficult decisions of choosing a Chief Executive from having to fall upon an ill-informed electorate in the guise of the citizenry of the United States who could not possibly understand the intricacies involved in picking the Commander in Chief of the nation.

The Electoral College was devised in order to compensate for the regionalist issues facing the early States with the hopes that the individuals chosen as Electors would be “... free agents, to exercise an independent and nonpartisan judgment as to the men best qualified for the Nation's highest offices.” [USC Art.II Electoral College annotations pg 2] The true intent of the Electoral College was revealed by Senator Thomas Hart Benton when he admitted, in 1826, that the Framers had intended electors to have “'superior discernment, virtue, and information,” who would select the President “according to their own will” and without reference to the immediate wishes of the people.

“That this invention has failed of its objective in every election is a fact of such universal notoriety, that no one can dispute it. That it ought to have failed is equally uncontestable; for such independence in the electors was wholly incompatible with the safety of the people. [It] was, in fact, a chimerical and impractical idea in any community.” Senator Thomas Hart Benton, 19th Congress, 1st Session, 1826.

Something seems to have gone terribly wrong here: at once we had the intent of a democracy, with Liberty and Justice for All, while at the same time those designing it were intent on stealing away the choice of their leader from the people ... why? Did they forget the other document that had seemed to be of such importance, the Declaration of the thirteen United States of America?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness, That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (Declaration of Independence)

The government of the land, a land that had absorbed the blood of its own for the very sake of its way of life, had heard the words before, spoken upon the battlefield of Gettysburg in 1863: “... this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Words that are no truer today than at any other time in the history the nation, and yet, we must ask ourselves whether it is at all possible, or is it just another dream that will be squandered like so many other noble visions that have been cast into the winds of history, all to be forgotten and forsaken by the scorching passage of time?

If the theory of democracy that we have come to cherish so much truly stems from the idea that every vote cast in an election is as important as any other then it all seems rather incongruous that it has been superseded by a system that is so willing to dismiss the desires of the people in favour of that which seems politically expedient. It is a holdover of old times, kept on for the sake of tradition, not for the elegance of its function. The very idea that it is easier to usurp a political process and rely on the decisions of a few rather than the voices of the voters smacks of fascism and all that America stands against rather than a truly democratic system. Waiting for lawyers and judges to decide the outcome of an election when there are piles of ballots waiting to be counted seems, in the least, to be exactly the type of thing that the United States has sent diplomatic observers to watch for in foreign nations, calling these “voting irregularities” excuses to not recognize the results of foreign elections. If this is done in the hopes of preventing overt electoral corruption from taking place in some backwards third world country as they struggled to shrug off the oppressive weight of a dictatorship in favour of a burgeoning democracy, why is it not good enough for the citizens of the United States?

What could be the big deal regarding the counting of every individual vote, and why is there such an out roar over the situation? How could this insanity have happened in America? Even before the United States Supreme Court made its landmark ruling, a ruling that set a legal precedent (according to what we are told in Recount) in that it stood only for Bush v. Gore, the Florida legislature had decided that they should move forward with the awarding of the State’s 25 Electoral College votes to Governor Bush. The perceived deadline for this action had to be before the meeting of the Electoral College representatives which is set to take place on the first Monday after the second Tuesday in December. The fact that the results of the election had not yet been certified, however, did not seem to be an impediment to this democratic institution as they went ahead with their business; they decided to cast their votes without the benefit of hearing the final word from any authority other than their own, and they could not even be bothered to wait for the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Democracy had been sidestepped, stumbled over, and trampled upon, all for the sake of expedience.

Throughout the docudrama the issue of urgency was emphasized constantly, but even that argument has turned out to be a myth that does not stand up to the test of the authority of the Constitution of the United States. Consider this fact: the elections are held in November but the president-elect is not sworn in until January, a date set by the Constitution. This again brings us to the question as to why the United States Supreme Court felt that it was not possible to remedy the violation of rights as guaranteed under the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. Knowing that there was political precedence for having a delay in the inauguration thanks to Jackson's delay, and that the inclusion of a State’s electors being counted in the Electoral College vote could be excluded altogether, the USSC could very well have instituted remedies for the violations that included the completion of the recount of the votes in the State of Florida. One would think it would have been the least that they could have done for the protection of democracy.

With the issues of past elections notwithstanding there is an altogether different issue that comes into play here that should be seriously examined as it bears directly upon this issue and would have been an appropriate legal remedy for the potential constitutional crises that an uncertified Florida vote may have triggered. There was a tremendous amount of pressure on Secretary of State Harris to certify the Florida vote by the 12th of December “deadline”, but the Electoral College could have met and voted without there having been a complete result. How is this possible? Stephen Gillers addressed the issues in an article that appeared in the New York Times on December 2, 2000. The most amazing facts that Gillers points out relates to the constitutionality of there being a “qualified” president-elect on inauguration day.

There is the perception that every four years a new person will be sworn into the office of president (or someone will be sworn in for their second term), but is this really what is supposed to happen? Well, yes … and no. Yes, but only if there is someone who “qualifies” to be the president. Without that there is a remedy provided for by the constitution, and there were qualified individuals available to fulfill the constitutional requirements of the law until a qualified president-elect was found. The critical portion of the constitution is the Twentieth Amendment, Section 3:

If, at the time fixed for the beginning of the term of the President, the President elect shall have died, the Vice President elect shall become President. If a President shall not have been chosen before the time fixed for the beginning of his term, or if the President elect shall have failed to qualify, then the Vice President elect shall act as President until a President shall have qualified; and the Congress may by law provide for the case wherein neither a President elect nor a Vice President elect shall have qualified, declaring who shall then act as President, or the manner in which one who is to act shall be selected, and such person shall act accordingly until a President or Vice President shall have qualified.

When taking this into the context of what happened in Florida in 2000, how does the 20th Amendment relate? As with most issues of constitutional law this is one of those things that comes down to interpretation, and it all hinges on the word “qualified”, and what it means to be “qualified” to be president. Without entering into issues of intellectual capacity (we shall not, for now, resort to an ad hominem argument whilst there are so many other valid paths with which we may resort) the idea of qualification can be viewed, primarily, in the case of the amendment, as someone who has received the requisite number of Electoral College votes ... or, perhaps one could argue (justifiably), the candidate that has (or had) received the largest portion of the popular vote. The counting of the Electoral College votes on the 6th of January is a date that, ultimately, decides the presidency of the United States, if the results of the election are known. In the case of the State of Florida there is ample reason to say that it would have been justified in delaying the certification of the official results until a complete recount had taken place and all of the irregularities enumerated by the U.S. Supreme Court were fully addressed.

Besides, the United States Constitution provided a remedy to the situation by providing a “pre-qualified” individual to continue in the position for as long as was necessary in order to clear up the issues related to the election of the new president. As the incumbent, president Clinton could have remained past the January inauguration date, should that have been necessary, in order to provide sufficient time for the State of Florida to correctly resolve the problems with their votes (pursuant to a USSC directive to do so), until the issue of who the rightful winner of the state was settled. The idea of a recount should not have been so alien when considering the history of the nation; when the United States began to vote for their leaders they only had hand-counting of ballots and there were none of the electronic networks we have today in order to transmit the results after the election. When the polls closed it took as long as it took for them to figure out who had won; that sometimes meant days. The idea that the results of the election in Florida had to be certified by a particular day was arbitrary and could have been changed given the highly unusual situation taking place. Given the closeness of the results of the initial vote and the fact that the initially ordered “recount” was merely a re-tabulation of the memory cards by many of the precincts, rather than a manual check of the ballots, there is evidence of an intent to commit an electoral fraud against the people; the election was a farce, democracy was ravaged.

According to the Federal Election Commission a total of 105,405,100 votes were cast in the 2000 presidential election: of those votes 50,456,002 were cast for Gov. Bush and 50,999,897 were cast for Vice-President Gore. According to these numbers Bush received 47.87% of the popular vote while Gore received 48.38%. The difference between the two comes out to only 543,895 votes, or 0.00516%, a statistically insignificant figure (unless you are deciding the direction of the most powerful nation of the free world, in which case it is the largest number in the world). To gain a bit of perspective on these numbers, consider the election of 1960, JFK v. RMN. We all know that Kennedy was the “wunderkind” president, wildly popular, and mourned by the nation after his death, but how much did he win the election by?

In actual fact, JFK did not receive more than 50% of the popular vote. 68,334,888 votes were cast for Kennedy and Nixon (the other candidates are not included in this calculation). Kennedy received 34,226,731 while Nixon received 34,108,157; a difference of only 118,574 votes. Kennedy failed to capture more than 50% of the popular vote, but he won the election with 303 Electoral Votes compared to Nixon's 219. So why was 1960 so different than 2000? The answer is obvious: even though Kennedy did not win more than 50% of the popular vote across the nation he did win enough of the individual State votes to capture a substantive Electoral College victory, eliminating any question for a challenge based on the number of votes received by either candidate.

Even if this had only been the election to decide the Reeve of some small, off-the-map hamlet, the idea of not counting all of the votes involved would have still been abhorrent and unthinkable, but we all know that this was not the case; this was no ordinary election, and when we take into consideration that this was the race for the highest office in the land, perhaps the most powerful position in the world, the idea that the wholesale disenfranchisement of at least 20,000 eligible voters alone should have been enough to trigger a judicial inquiry into the obviously illegal practices – and blatant partisan interferences – being practiced by the chief bureaucrats of the state, including the Secretary of State and the Chief Electoral Officer. An inquiry into the very real possibilities of corruption at the highest levels of the State, including the office of Governor, would have definitely been indicated after such irregularities, and the lack of such clearly indicates that the levels of corruption existing throughout the government in the United States is, in a word, transcendent.

One merely needs to consider the amount of time, energy, and money spent on the investigation and subsequent attempt at impeachment of Governor Bush’s predecessor for his dalliance with Ms Lewinsky while in the Oval Office, an event that had nothing to do with the manner in which he attained the office of president. Over sixty million dollars was spent on the subsequent investigation: is this American justice? Perhaps if Governor George W. Bush had been caught in an awkward position with James Baker ....

By allowing the recount of the votes to be suspended the Florida government allowed for the dismissal of democracy with the same ease with which a parent might scold a disobedient child. How is democracy served by not ensuring that every vote cast is counted, that every registered voter is allowed full access to the polling stations? When the United States Supreme Court made its ruling on the 12th of December it indicated that the violation of a voter’s rights is, in essence, acceptable, so long as you do not leave enough time to redress the situation after the fact.

Perhaps the ultimate message from the 2000 elections came four years later, four years after the people of the world had heard the lies and obfuscations streaming out of the White House as they danced around the issues in support of their illegal, immoral, unsupportable war of terror. The Bush people took the lessons of 2000 and learned very well; they did not make the same mistakes in 2004 and Bush won by a much more comfortable margin (including the 27 EC votes from Florida). The Bush team did so well, in fact, that it looks as though they actually believe they have created a Teflon candidate in the guise of John McCain for Bush’s “third” term. Why else would they decide to run a man who will not be able to serve two terms in office (he is already older than Reagan at his second term) who is already having “senior moments”? As much as they may be trying to show that McCain is different from Bush and has his own agenda (when he can remember it) the facts of the matter are far more sobering: if nothing is done to stop those who stole the last elections another will be stolen from the voters and democracy will once again be raped and left to lie on the road like a cheap whore that has been used, abused, and then discarded.

If Recount teaches one lesson it is that the great myth of American democracy is firmly entrenched in the minds of most Americans, even some of the most powerful in the nation. Believing that he was acting in the best interests of the nation, that it would be better to settle rather than fight a war he “couldn't win” Al Gore decided to not appeal the decision of the Supreme Court. The idea that it is better to accept defeat graciously in the face of an unjust loss seems like an act of hubris in retrospect, even considering the dramatic success that Gore has enjoyed and the dismal failure that Bush has proved to be as the Chief Executive of the nation. Recount answers the question posed at the end of the script when Kevin Spacey, playing the role of Ron Klain, asks James Baker (played by Tom Wilkinson) the sobering question: “did the best man win?”

Yes, the best man won the election, unfortunately he was not the one sworn in on inauguration day.