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Bill Grigsby: Electile Dysfunction

Electile Dysfunction

By Bill Grigsby

Jane Mayer, journalist who writes for the New Yorker, has penned several disturbing articles over the last few years about the BushCo Administration. Her latest exposes Dick Cheney’s Chief Advisor, David Addington, as the architect behind the administration’s relentless pursuit of unchecked executive power (aka ‘Dicktatorship’). Unchecked power, especially in a so-called democratic state, comes easier to its aspirants during wartime. The ruling party is engaged in publicly financed fear-mongering, in the present historical case with color-coded terror alerts, overblown threats trumpeted by commercial media outlets, and intimidation of dissenters, non-compliant journalists and whistleblowers. So with the corporate media in tow and Congress pushing the pedals, the GOP juggernaut lurches forward.

Hyped terrorist threats notwithstanding, what seems more troubling is what Mayer describes—a White House decision making process hijacked by a handful of extreme right wing superbureaucrats on a mission to dismantle any obstacles in the way of achieving their political ambitions. The president is a passable poster boy for lowering public expectations, even if his self-parody is becoming increasingly shrill.

What often passes for conventional wisdom in commercial media is that this is all part of a philosophical, reasonable debate about the limits of executive power. The neoconservatives ascribe to the ‘unitary executive’ model, which essentially means that the executive branch trumps all, at least in times of war.

If we take the neocons at their word, a rather awkward question begs: Do we really think the ruling junta would support a strong executive branch were the democrats to take the White House in 2008? Would they concede the prospect of Hillary Clinton (sorry! Just a hypothetical!) spying on republicans, in the interest of national security? Their interest in executive power is obviously how to get more of it for themselves, and how to use it, behind a cloak of self-serving legal interpretations by Addington and his brethren, to become more powerful. These guys don’t just want to run government—that would require diplomacy, consensus-building, and open debate. No, they want to own it.

Democracy poses limits, though. Success for the neocons means eroding the one outlet of recourse that almost 50% of eligible Americans still exercise on a biennial basis—the election. And stakes are high for the midterms.

It’s not clear democracy still exists at the presidential level. The election in 2000 was proximately rigged in Florida by Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris. The commercial media have never investigated, much less revealed the extent of illegal activity that occurred to swing the election into a dead heat and ultimately to use the U.S. Supreme Court, judicial restraint notwithstanding, as a tiebreak. The 2004 election witnessed massive irregularities, from unprecedented and unexplained discrepancies in exit polling and actual counts, severe malfunctions of the electronic voting system, to various kinds of disenfranchisement in New Mexico, Ohio and Florida.

Election rigging has to be part of the plan. And the system has been carefully orchestrated and designed, and had to involve hundreds if not thousands of GOP officials (if only a fraction as much thought was diverted to actual governance …). The list of tactics is long:

  • Colluding with e-voting machine manufacturers, software designers and programmers, and promoting paperless voting and the privatization of election data;

  • Working with local election officials to enable intimidation of mostly minority voters, the use of ‘caging lists,’ the changing of rules to make it difficult for those who have moved to exercise their legal right to vote, and the use of ‘provisional ballots’ to minimize their votes’ importance;

  • ‘Institutional disenfranchisement.’ The Department of Justice’s political appointees overruled department legal counsel to find in favor of Alabama’s ID card requirement (which would disproportionately affect minority vote turnout), as well as Tom DeLay’s gerrymandering of Texas Congressional districts to shift advantages to republicans. We will no doubt see more attempts at gerrymandering after the Supreme Court and lower courts have ruled in the GOP’s favor—it’s harder to vote the bums out if they’ve just twisted geography to make you part of the minority party;

  • Voter purges. We will see more attempts to purge voter rolls without informed consent of the purged, as happened in Florida. There are legitimate reasons to conduct purges (e.g., to eliminate the deceased from the rolls), but when populations are cherry-picked for scrubbing because of their partisan proclivities, we can safely call it rigging. In fact, the person who suggested targeting felon populations was the recent recipient of a BushCo recess appointment to the Federal Elections Commission;

  • Selectively reducing turnout. In New Hampshire the GOP engaged in call-jamming, as democratic constituents attempted to encourage people to get out and vote. Thousands of soldiers serving in Iraq from minority precincts had their registrations challenged after letters from the Republican National Committee to them were returned undeliverable. This is especially effective when combined with state-level wedge issue referenda that arouse the religious fundamentalists;

  • Partisan foxes guarding public henhouses. Ken Blackwell, (ir)responsible for free and fair elections in Ohio while serving as the Bush/Cheney Campaign Manager in 2004 (now candidate for governor), among many other serious infractions discounted tens of thousands of voter registration forms from democratic sources because they were printed on the wrong kind of paper.

This isn’t intended as a litany of GOP assaults on the electoral process—Robert F. Kennedy has done a thorough job of compiling the rap sheet on republican electoral fraud. The point is, the neocon wing of the GOP has no intention of relinquishing power legally in a free and fair election. The Constitution is a perfectly fine document only when the opposition party is in power.

Obviously this ‘electile dysfunction’ goes much further than what happens to voters and in precincts. Karl Rove has introduced ‘swift boating’ into the campaign vernacular. His body of work shows his psychotic prowess at smear and character assassination. Even Vince Lombardi would have no doubt blushed at Rove’s record of smear. The RNC, thanks in large part to BushCo’s decision to hand the reins of government over to the private sector, is awash in money and can pretty much dictate which neocon republican candidate will emerge from the primaries. Even without Jack Abramoff, Grover Norquist and Tom DeLay shaking down GOP donors.

Rigging elections requires money to organize, pay consultants and media outlets, identify the tight races, and produce and run attack ads. Tax cut policies return millions to people likely to support the party that cut their taxes. The White House has been engaged in efforts to privatize government, auction off various public assets at below-market levels (good for campaign donations), and essentially concentrate wealth at the top of the socioeconomic food chain, under the fair presumption that greater wealth tends to steer the wealthier to the right. It’s part of the 21st century supply-side scam, or “Neo Con,” sold as a boon to families and small businesses.

Conversely, caps on non-economic damages in lawsuit and harassment of labor unions reduces funding for democrats from their reliable sources.

Then there is the money provided by us, the taxpayers, over $1.5 billion in three years, to fund various covert propaganda campaigns. The spoils system that passes for governance is mostly veiled by a public relations campaign. The need for such control is debatable, considering commercial media’s cooperation. And the NeoCons have their own cable news network. Fox provides the favorable coverage that can be critical in a close campaign.

And a ‘close race’ works into GOP strategy. With election rigging, disenfranchisement and smear campaigns, the GOP still muster no better than a razor-thin majority. But having figured out how to circumvent constitutional checks, a small majority is enough—it provides the illusion of democracy, in a country where half the electorate doesn’t even bother anymore. And that is no trivial point—sowing voter apathy among those whose views would otherwise be hostile to the current administration becomes self-serving (provided it is accompanied by the appropriate propaganda campaigns).

The money and government activity mentioned above doesn’t include all of the information being collected on Americans through various spying programs—oops! I mean ‘terrorist surveillance’ programs. Gee, this information couldn’t, wouldn’t be used to go after non-compliant journalists, democratic critics, or even regular democratic voters, would it??

And have you noticed lately that every time there’s a lull—itself an oddity considering the state of U.S. democracy—and the White House is on the defensive, a new ‘story’ magically emerges that seems to fit the theme du jour, ready for quick dissemination on right wing radio? Amazing how a flag-burner shows up at just the right time, how Congress instantly takes up the cause, or the curiously urgent immigration debate rears its alien head, or a really ‘bad guy’ is caught in the ‘war on terror,’ or the FBI announces it has captured three teenagers who once discussed blowing up the Empire State Building with bottle rockets. Great. Bravo, BushCo. As the Polish proverb says, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

As for the democrats, their leadership is hapless, as usual, hijacked by consultants obsessed with narrowcasting, focus groups, and petty partisan, not democratic, power. The corporate media are dutifully relying on official sources, dutifully following the White House’s ‘global war on terror’ master narrative, watching scandal whiz by like NASCAR racers, afraid to disrupt the delicate balance between a free press, democracy, entertainment, and stock value.

Forget the uncovered story of whether we actually still have a democratic, accountable form of government. That would smack of partisan reporting, angry liberal ‘hate speech,’ especially during an election year, especially since the NeoCons in the GOP essentially control 2 ½ branches of government. Not to mention implicating commercial news media. But what if democratic candidates for this year’s midterms openly challenged BushCo and the GOP to publicly disavow their sleazy tactics, including disenfranchisement, selective purging, intimidation at the polls, unevenly distributed voting machines, using Secretaries of State as campaign managers, etc., and demanded they defer to the will, or even the whim, of the electorate?

Failing at that, perhaps democrats could be placated if the Tooth Fairy were enlisted to certify the elections. Now there’s a story Fox News could run with . . .


©2006 Bill Grigsby
Eastern Oregon University

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