Lessons of Florida
by José Pérez
The following are edited versions of messages posted by the author on an e-mail discussion group December 11 and 12.
There’s quite a bit more to this U.S. election story than can be covered in a brief summary. And it does have to do with Gore and Bush, eventually. But fixating on which one of them gets the lease on the White House should not be the central, overriding concern of working people in the current situation.
To understand what’s happened, it’s necessary to go back many months.
Kathleen Harris’s Pre-Election Purge of Voter Lists
Long before the elections, the political hatchetwoman Kathleen Harris, in her capacity as Florida’s secretary of state, organized and directed a purge of the lists of registered voters. Kathleen Harris wears many hats. She was also Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s state running mate in the previous Florida election, as well as co-chair of Texas Governor George W. Bush’s Florida campaign and candidate for member of the electoral college from Florida on the Bush slate. [Also, she comes from a super-wealthy family of cattle and citrus barons, long influential in Florida politics.]
Harris’s purge made use of a reactionary post–Civil War statute that bars felons from voting even after they have “paid their debt to society.” This was one of the first of a whole series of post-Civil War statutes meant to disenfranchise Blacks. [It was part of the post-Reconstruction era in the South that began in the 1870s and resulted in the Jim Crow system that dominated the South for nearly a century.] Harris’s purge of the voter lists also sought to disenfranchise those who had supposedly moved without telling the local election authorities.
This purge was based on lists drawn up by an Atlanta company with ties to the Republican Party. The company’s lists of alleged felons were drawn up with a proprietary “fuzzy logic” algorithm that claims to be able to identify people based on the similarity of their names, and so on. (For example, a “Kathleen” Harris might be purged on the basis that this company imagines that some other state in the U.S. claims a “Kathy” Harris is a felon.)
(I’m not aware of any studies to this effect, but I’ve lived long and widely enough to be willing to bet that in the United States, such a methodology is going to impact and misidentify many more Blacks than whites — because so many Black families inherited the names of slaveowners, who were not so numerous to begin with.)
The purge was carried out, to use a favorite phrase in this election, with “no discernible standards.” Some counties checked on the list, and finding it to be shot through with errors, ignored it. Others used it as a basis for sending letters to electors asking them to verify or challenge the information. Still others purged the names provisionally but sent letters offering people a chance to challenge the purge. Still others purged the names, and those affected did not find out until they went to vote, when they were turned away.
How accurate were the purge lists? Well, in one county the supervisor of elections was among those who were going to be purged; in another, a state circuit court judge. Some 8,000 names of people who were admittedly not felons were identified as such by — isn’t this a strange coincidence — the state of Texas, where another governor Bush heads the state government, is the brother of Florida’s governor Bush, and happened to be running for president.
Several thousand people successfully challenged their deletion from the voter rolls. Thousands more did not, in many cases, because they were not given an opportunity to.
The next time you hear all this bourgeois cant and hypocrisy about the sacred right to vote, due process of law, fundamental fairness, the right to face your accusers, and so on, think about that: your sworn statement backed up by whatever documentation the registering authorities chose to demand and examine are worth less than the mere unsworn suspicion of some Republican-dominated private firm that refuses to even disclose why it thinks you are the same person as someone else with a different name.
In many if not most cases, those whose right to vote was challenged by poll workers were not afforded the correct procedure prescribed by law, which is that they can still vote after swearing out an affidavit; these votes and the corresponding affidavits are segregated and taken before a judge, who then rules on whether the person is an eligible voter or not. Even people who knew the law and tried to insist on their right to cast an “affidavit ballot” were denied this right; in many areas the requisite affidavit forms had not been supplied by the county election authorities, nor had the election workers been trained in their use.
Election Day “Irregularities”
In precincts, especially in the “Deep South” panhandle of Florida, people who were in line at the time the polls closed were not allowed to vote, contrary to what is provided for in law.
In various points in the same general area, the north of Florida, the state highway patrol set up checkpoints near voting places, holding up people on their way to vote. According to the state highway patrol, these roadblocks were not authorized. But they happened nevertheless.
There was wide disparity in the number of ballots considered “undervotes” and “overvotes” for president. These ranged from a low of .2% in the one county with hand-counted paper ballots, to less than 1% in counties with optically-scanned paper ballots, to as much as 30% in some specific polling places in some counties using punch-card voting machines. Just remember that the next time CNN brings you (completely unchallenged, without any attempt to provide context, perspective, or a different point of view) some Bushite mouthpiece claiming that counting uncounted ballots by hand in this or that county is “unfair” because votes in Republican counties weren’t afforded the same treatment.
Voting equipment and machines belong to county governments and are maintained centrally by county officials. In county after county (of the 40 or so “punch card” counties, out of nearly 70 all told) there is a clear pattern of punch-card machines of different models and ages and effectiveness in registering votes being used; and there is a clear pattern of the heaviest “undervotes” being registered in Black precincts. In some Duval county Black precincts, the number of rejected presidential ballots was as high as 31%; in other, all-white Duval county precincts, the number of rejected presidential ballots was on the order of 1–2%. In other words: (a) Black precincts were systematically assigned machines less likely to register machine-readable votes; and (b) Black voters were rendered less effective assistance in casting valid ballots by election workers than white voters.
In several heavily white counties, ballots were immediately scanned to detect undervotes and overvotes as soon as the person came out of the voting booth; those who cast invalid ballots were given the opportunity to have that ballot set aside and vote again. Obviously, the same did not happen in the disproportionately Black precincts where the “undervote” and “overvote” was concentrated.
“Irregularities” Aimed Mainly at Blacks
In each and every one of the irregularities mentioned, those affected were disproportionately Blacks. In the case of the purge of felons, not only was there a higher percentage of Blacks than in the general population, there was a higher percentage of Blacks on the list than among all felons. This illegal purge of mostly Black male voters is especially notable given that an estimated 31% of Florida Black male voters were already legally disenfranchised, thanks largely to the “drug war” and numerous nonviolent offenses involving possession of illegal drugs.
Blacks who did succeed in voting in Florida voted for Vice-President Gore by a better than 10–1 margin, according to exit polls and data from precincts known to be all Black or virtually all-Black on the basis of census bureau data.
The Bush Drive to Prevent a Vote Count
Following the elections, the Bush campaign has carried out a systematic drive to prevent and sabotage an actual count of the actual ballots. They have repeatedly brought lawsuits against harried county election supervisors, who are very minor government functionaries. They have brought in world-class bourgeois political figures, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, to intimidate them. During the actual count, they challenged every conceivable Democratic vote on every conceivable grounds or no grounds whatsoever. They have repeatedly threatened to throw the country into “a constitutional crisis.” And they have set into motion a special session of the Florida State Legislature to rubber-stamp the Bush slate of electors to the electoral college (including Kathleen Harris), in clear violation of Article 2 of the federal constitution, which mandates state legislatures to decide “the manner” in which presidential electors are chosen, but decidedly does not authorize them to select their own slate if the slate chosen in “the manner” the legislature has decided proved not to the liking of the party having a parliamentary majority.
(Think about that one the next time CNN broadcasts, unchallenged, unquestioned, Republican mouthpiece arguments that hand counting the votes that were cast would be a “change” in election procedures after the vote, which is forbidden by federal statute.)
When all of this proved to no avail in heavily Democrat Dade County, where an actual count of the remaining 9,000 “undervotes” would undoubtedly have shown that Gore won the election, no matter how strict the standard of interpretation, the Republicans organized a mob attack on the counting operation. This attack was led by operatives sent in by House whip Tom DeLay in cooperation with the right-wing gusano [Miami Cuban] mafia. It succeeded in intimidating the three-member Dade County canvassing board into calling off a manual recount of the votes.
The Florida State Supreme Court found that, although the board had discretion in deciding whether or not a recount was necessary, once it had so decided, it had no power, no authority, no discretion, and no basis in law to suspend it: once a canvassing board determines that there are good and sufficient reasons for a manual recount, it must be completed. Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? Otherwise, if the party that controlled the canvassing board didn’t like the way the recount was going, all they need do is call it off.
Which is precisely what the Republicans did through mob intimidation.
Bush Violations of Law
What does all this show? That the government of the state of Florida, acting under color of law and with the complicity of the Bush campaign and George W. Bush’s government in the state of Texas, went on a systematic, conscious campaign, before, during and after the balloting, to prevent Black citizens from voting; to prevent Black citizens from casting ballots that would be machine-readable; and to prevent the non-machine readable ballots, which disproportionately came from disproportionately Black voting precincts, from being counted.
This was done in violation of the Bill of Rights; the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution ratified in the wake of the Civil War; the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871; and every other federal civil rights law ever written, especially the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This was done in violation of the Florida Constitution, Florida civil rights statutes, and election codes and procedures. It was done in violation of countless federal Supreme Court rulings, state Supreme Court ruling, and both state and federal appellate and local court rulings.
So much for the “rule of law,” “a government of laws and not of men,” and other pieties of American mythology.
After all “one man, one vote,” that’s the U.S.’s claim to fame. You may be half-starved and sleeping under a bridge, but in the sanctity of the voting booth, at the altar of democracy, in the holy of holies of God, motherhood, and apple pie, your vote supposedly counts just as much as Bill Gates’s does.
Acts of Rebellion and Treason
These actions by the government of Florida at the state and local level, in cooperation with the Bush campaign, a private company that appears to be an instrumentality of the Republican Party, the Government of Texas, and undoubtedly others, constitute acts of rebellion and of treason, aiming as they do to make George Bush president despite the fact that he lost the national popular vote, the Florida popular vote, and therefore also the electoral college vote.
(These are, by the way, precisely the kinds of activities the framers of the constitution had in mind when they specified in the Constitution that the President and Vice-President may be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” i.e., crimes against the established political institutions, political crimes against the state. I’ve yet to hear a single Democrat officeholder suggest that this attempt to reimpose what is for all intents and purposes a King George should be met with the appropriate Constitutional response, never mind dealt with the way the last King George to rule over these lands was dealt with.)
Gore Actually Won Florida by Some 30,000
In addition to these irregularities and abuses, in two Florida counties — Duval (Jacksonville) and Palm Beach — election officials, perhaps unwittingly, created ballots which confused many voters, to the disproportionate prejudice of Vice-President Gore. In Jacksonville, the presidential race was spread over two two-page spreads of the ballot book, something which was accompanied by an explicit instruction prominently printed in the book to “vote on every page.” In Palm Beach County, a controversial “butterfly” ballot was used. Contrary to the universal practice throughout the U.S., the presidential race was spread across a two-page spread of the “butterfly ballot” and this resulted in Buchanan having the second punch hole, although Gore was the second candidate listed on the ballot.
Analysis using the most exact statistical techniques available show that of the less than 4,000 votes cast for Buchanan, about 3,000 were in fact Gore voters misled by the confusing ballot layout. In addition, nearly 20,000 votes were disqualified as “overvotes,” overwhelmingly votes for both Buchanan and Gore, and there were if memory serves some 10,000 similar overvotes in Duval County. Taking the intention of the voters into account, it is clear that Gore won Florida by 30,000 votes or so, even without going into the “undervote” and tea-leaf-reading interpretation of chads.
To appreciate the significance of this “overvote,” it is useful to remember that punch-card technology is a horse-and-buggy, pre-20th century technology which most people are unfamiliar with. Many voters did not understand that you could not correct a mistaken punch simply by punching for someone else. This is especially so because the voting machine is presented to the voter as a “black box.” The voter does not see the card on which the votes are registered as they are voting. It is hidden behind a rubber strip. In virtually all modern machines and user interfaces, everything from computerized forms to ATMs, the design itself accommodates this instinctive kind of correction, or voids the operation with appropriate error messages and instructions to the users.
Inevitably, the confusion and mistakes created by these ballot layouts would be most prevalent among the less well-educated, the less literate, the poorer strata of the population, especially Blacks and immigrants. The Florida state and national exit polls confirm that—with the possible exception of the Miami Cubans — these groups voted overwhelmingly for Gore. And extracting from such “overvotes” a good idea of the intent of the voters is a simple matter of statistical analysis. Look to see how many double votes were for Buchanan/Gore and (in Duval) for Gore/page 2 candidates; do that for the other candidates also, and apportion the double votes according to the proportion of single, valid votes in those precincts. If, for example, Gore/Buchanan were in a 9 to 1 ratio in a given precinct, and there were 10 such “overvotes,” 9 would be allocated to Gore and 1 to Buchanan.
Unless you are willing to do the state election over, that is the fairest and most rational way to compensate for the distortion of the intent of those voting created by election officials. This entirely reasonable procedure was, needless to say, laughed out of court by the “honorable” judges. No, you can’t do the election over even if election officials botched it so thoroughly that what everyone knows was a margin of tens of thousands of votes for one candidate disappeared; and no, you can’t adjust the count even if science shows that statistical techniques are in fact the way to get a more accurate picture of the true intent of the voters than magnifying glasses to examine pregnant chads.
On top of that, in at least three instances, Republicans were allowed to, in effect, stuff the ballot box. In two counties, Republican functionaries were secretly given privileged access to requests for absentee ballots, and allowed to look up and fill in the voter registration number of the people involved, a state law requirement for obtaining such a ballot. This was a “courtesy” that Democrats and independents were not afforded and that was in specific, explicit violation of state law.
According to the county supervisors of elections involved, this was the first time in memory such an outlandish procedure had been followed.
In at least one of these counties, the Republican operatives had unrestricted, unsupervised access, for days, and possibly weeks, to the inner sanctum of the board of elections, where records are kept. They could well have taken any number of Democrat and independent absentee ballot requests and put them in the trash, and no one would have been the wiser. They could well have introduced any number of absentee ballot requests for the dearly departed, again with no one knowing. It was precisely absentee ballot shenanigans which a couple of years ago led the state courts to overturn a Miami mayoral race, and which led to the state legislature tightening rules for absentee ballot requests and significantly broadening the grounds for challenging election results.
In addition, immediately following the election night, Secretary of State and chief state elections officer Kathleen Harris made a public statement saying that ballots from military personnel overseas did not have to be postmarked by election day; as long as the ballots were “executed” (i.e., as long as you claimed to have signed them) by election day, they would be allowed. Hundreds of ballots in unpostmarked envelopes were received from members of the Armed Forces following the election, and in many jurisdictions, they were included in the count, although Florida law explicitly stipulates that all such absentee ballots must be postmarked by election day, and there is no record that such ballots had even been counted in the past. This suggests there may have been a post-election “get-out-the-vote” drive by Republican operatives in the generally reactionary officer caste of the armed forces. Such a drive would be effective, as U.S. military units are typically based in a given locality and all members of the unit are entitled to vote in that locality.
There was a total of some 15,000 votes, mostly Republican (surprise!) involved in these anomalies; unlike in the case of the 40,000+ uncounted votes statewide, here it was deemed that no matter how gross the violation of the explicit, positive provisions of the laws supposedly necessary to guarantee free and fair elections had been, every single vote had to be included in official tallies.
A New Low
It will be obvious to anyone familiar with U.S. politics, that the kinds of things done by the Bush campaign and its Florida committee, the state government, as well as the disparate and discriminatory effect of “innocent” and “well-intentioned” mistakes like the Palm Beach butterfly ballot, go on all the time throughout the country, and especially in the states of the slaveholders’ Confederacy, such as Florida and Texas. Indeed, it was less than half a century ago that any Black person having the temerity to try to vote in much of the South would have been found lynched the next morning.
But the shameless, conscious, organized and systematic campaign by Florida officials to deny Blacks the right to vote in order to steal Florida’s presidential electors — and the federal election — for the Florida governor’s sibling, it seems to me, marks a new low in post–Vietnam War bourgeois elections. It represents a major escalation of the attack on a fundamental conquest of the civil rights movement, the right of Black people to vote. Not for nothing did Malcolm X make “the ballot or the bullet” a central theme of his speeches in the last year and a half of his life. True, undoubtedly every single thing that has been done in Florida has been done in other places in the United States. But their combination, and especially the brazen refusal to count the votes is astonishing, even by the normal American—or, to avoid any possible misunderstanding, the normal United Statesian—“banana republic” standards.
Role of the Courts
No discussion of this situation would be complete without mentioning the performance of two of the United States’s most hallowed “democratic” institutions — the “independent” judiciary and the “free” press.
Now that push has come to shove, the “honorable” robed reactionaries of the ruling rich have exposed themselves for what they are, as they invoke the most tortuous logic and improbable precedents to support whichever party they are beholden to. Some have pointed to the local Democrat Tallahassee judge who ruled against Gore Monday a week ago as proof to the contrary. But anyone who has lived in Florida can tell you a Panhandle white Democrat is twice as reactionary as even the most Newtish Republican. The only reason these people don’t call themselves Republicans is that, like other large but not necessarily intelligent mammals, they have long memories. To them, the Republicans are still the party that freed the slaves, and as a result, they are constitutionally incapable of registering under that party, no matter how much they agree with it.
The Florida Supreme Court did a neat job of exposing this faker’s legal pretensions, like his claim that counting the 9,000 uncounted ballots in Dade County could not possibly affect the outcome of an election where only a few hundred votes separates the contenders. But note this: the fact is that all the legal experts assembled by the media refused predict that the higher court would find that, with only a few hundred votes difference, the uncounted 9,000 Dade votes, or 40-odd thousand votes statewide, must be counted. This shows just how completely bizarre, arbitrary, and freakish the U.S. judicial system has become, that top legal experts weren’t sure whether in this “democracy” the state supreme court would decide, simply as a matter of settled law, that an actual count of the actual votes actually cast in an election is what should determine the outcome. And even as I write, that very question has been once again put in doubt by the highest court in the land.
Very revealing in this regard is the opinion of federal Supreme Court Justice Scalia in granting the emergency stay against counting the votes. He explained quite brazenly that, if the federal Supremes decided to throw the election to Bush, it would be unseemly for the new president to take office with everyone in the whole world knowing he had actually lost on the basis of the more complete count of the actual votes ordered by the Florida Supreme Court.
The other institution that has played an absolutely despicable role is the news media. Three outlets deserve special mention: CNN, the New York Times, and the Miami Herald.
CNN and the New York Times, in somewhat different ways, set the tone and especially the bounds of bourgeois press coverage. The Miami Herald deserves ention because it is the most “serious” paper in Florida, and the carpetbagger reporters from Atlanta and New York imbibe from it such bits of local color as they pass on to their audiences.
CNN (along with CNN wannabes, MSNBC and Fox News) really stood out. From its disastrous performance the first night, calling and uncalling Florida and the national race for Bush or Gore, to the latest round of inanities on “Crossfire” and bloody owl pontificating on Larry King, CNN has shown that there is no forest large enough, compact enough, clear enough, that it can’t be missed for the trees.
CNN has devoted literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of hours of air time to discussing the minutiae of chads, hanging, dimpled, pregnant, and otherwise; to covering live or (in the case of SCOTUS [Supreme Court Of The United States, for those unfamiliar with newsroom lingo]) in tape delay every last court hearing, canvassing board meeting, or legal proceeding. It has broadcast to the world every Big Lie statement by James Baker, every wimpy response by Democrat Daley, and every “aw shucks, I’m just a country boy” statement by lead Democrat lawyer David Boies. Even the syntax and grammar of legal latinisms has been dissected on what proudly boasts of being “the world’s most important network.”
What they have not seen themselves clear to even mumble, not even on a late-night analysis when everyone else interested in this matter is tuned in to ABC’s “Nightline,” is that at the very core of this is the right of working people, and especially Black people, to vote and to have their vote count. Since we’re talking about tens of thousands of votes, enough to reverse or reaffirm, many, many times over, Bush’s 200 or 500 vote lead (depending on who you believe), one would think the question of just who it is whose votes are being counted or discounted would be of some interest. But not for the bourgeois media, by and large.
I am certain that countless people in major news organizations are perfectly aware of the reality. They know all those hanging chads have faces behind them, and overwhelmingly they’re the faces of working people, and disproportionately they’re the faces of Black people and of immigrants. They all have complete access to the results of the exit polls, state by state and race by race, specifying just what demographic groups voted for which candidate in exact percentages. Yet when was the last time you saw Bill Schneider or Bernie Shaw and Peter Jennings explaining the calculation behind demands for a recount on one side and finality on the other, based on the extremely detailed data the network spent millions of dollars to obtain?
Another thing the alphabet soup networks “forgot” to mention is that the mob that stormed the Miami recount was whipped up by the same gusano mafia that brought Miami such disrepute in the Elián affair. And there are many more such specific instances where especially the television news organizations narrow the scope of their coverage so as to exclude all the real social and political questions. And they have gone along with George W.’s charade of projecting himself as engaged in a “transition,” as if he had won the election, instead of presenting this preposterously arrogant exercise for the farce it is. And they have neglected highlight that whereas the Gore camp insists it will accept the election results, the Bush camp has staunchly refused to do so. On the contrary, the Bushites have made it clear that if Gore succeeds in getting enough of the votes counted to give him the race, they will go to the Florida State Legislature and Congress to overturn the results of the election and ram through a Bush presidency.
The news coverage is a conscious choice, made by hundreds, nay, thousands of individuals, to hide the truth. Some do it because they want to “protect” the “country” against the imponderable implications of this scandal (that is, to protect the ruling class, even if these individuals don’t necessarily view it that way). Some do it because they’ve talked themselves into believing the only legitimate viewpoints and accusations worthy of airing are those being raised by one of the two main candidates. Some do it because they have children to feed and mortgages to pay. And, yes, some do it because if the “n******” are “too dumb” to vote correctly, so much the better for the republic.
Which brings me to my last point. The crisis in the Florida vote was caused by a positive thing. Using the so-called “motor voter” law passed by Congress to make it easier for people to register to vote, the NAACP, the Black churches, and other organizations of Black and working people succeeded in enfranchising hundreds of thousands of new voters in Florida for this election.
A big factor behind this drive was Gov. Jeb Bush’s racist Florida One program, seeking to dismantle the meager gains in affirmative action and civil rights that Black people have obtained in that state. Blacks in Florida voted more heavily against Gov. George W. Bush than just about anywhere else, because Jeb is a clumsy clod, not nearly as slick as his sibling, and he exposed the nakedly racist character of right-wing Republicanism much more openly than his brother.
It was against this newly enfranchised layer of Black voters, to counteract their political weight, that Kathleen Harris launched her purge of the voter registration lists and all the other measures. At stake is control of the state and the many, many millions of dollars to be made thereby.
A heavier Black presence in Florida politics—and the shipwreck the gusano mafia wrought upon itself in the kidnapping of Elián — threatened set off a realignment in Florida politics that would lead directly to the early retirement of the Florida wing of the Bush mafia. I believe it was this more strategic consideration—and not any hopes of neutralizing the Republican hegemony over the Cuban community in this presidential election — that as behind Gore’s scabbing on Clinton and Reno in the Elián case. For once it became clear that there were no votes for him there, Gore could have made gestures towards the overwhelming pro-Elián sentiment among the rest of the population last April and May, and chose not to do so.
Progressive Black Voters Betrayed by Clinton-Gore
Undoubtedly, the sentiments and instinct that drove many Blacks to register and to vote for Gore were progressive. It was an expression that they understand that the problems they face are political, and that they must fight politically to beat back the attacks against them. It was a repudiation of the forces they see most openly aligned against them.
But the Black people of Florida, and especially these new voters who gave Gore his margin of victory in the state, have been cruelly and cynically betrayed by the Clinton White House, Reno’s Justice Department, the Democratic Party, Vice-President Gore, and his campaign. They have also been cruelly betrayed by the Democrats in the news media, who make up the majority of writers, reporters, and producers. (The Republicans, for once, are totally right about this, at least in my experience]. Gore has consciously subordinated his personal ambitions to the needs of the U.S. ruling class, just as the Democrats generally have subordinated their partisan factionalism to the same end.
On the morning after the elections they could have begun beating the drums, as Jesse Jackson and the NAACP tried to get them to do, on the question of the large number of Black voters turned away at the polls. As the nature of the “undervote” became clear they could have campaigned around the fact that what is going on is an attempt to deny many of those Blacks who did succeed in voting their right to have their votes counted. They could have demanded the Justice Department investigate, they could have thrown their weight and influence behind the lawsuits that are being filed by Black organizations, they could have called for protests and marches.
Fear of Working-Class Mobilization
But between the increased likelihood, even the probability of losing the election, and relying on even controlled, pro-capitalist-politician mobilizations that would include many working people, Gore and the Democrats were loyal to their class — to a fault. They prefer to let the Bushites steal the election rather than relying even a little bit on what to them is the enemy class, the working class, and especially the layer of working people they most fear and distrust, Black people.
Instead, the Goreites have made electoral cretinism their specialty. They have focused on minutiae, and loyally collaborated with the Bush campaign and the Republican state government in sweeping the evidence of the Bushite offenses, high crimes and misdemeanors, under the rug.
This shows once again that there is no road forward for Black people or working people generally in the Democratic Party. I won’t argue with those brothers and sisters who believe some prominent Democrats, like a Jesse Jackson or a Ron Dellums or a Cynthia McKinney, have their hearts in the right place. But what Gore has done by refusing to call things by their right names, by focusing exclusively on technical details instead of the essence of the matter, is a betrayal of the democratic right of working people and especially Black people to vote and have their votes counted. It shows that well-meaning individuals who may be in the Democratic Party may have their heart in the right place, but they have their bodies in the wrong party. That party is owned lock, stock, and barrel by the same people that own the Republican Party, the rich, the super-rich, and the obscenely rich.
It also gives the lie to those who were arguing that a vote for a “third party” candidate was a vote for Bush. As things have turned out, it was the votes for Gore that, in many cases, in the absolutely decisive cases, were wasted ballots. There they sit, all over Florida, uncounted by the tens of thousands.
If those ballots are eventually counted, it will only be because the Supreme Court, which is in charge of making such judgments for the ruling class, decides that the Bushite attempt to steal the election in Florida has become too blatant. In this it will not be the Goreites who are to blame, but the Florida Bushites, who are as clumsy as they are seditious.
This isn’t simply a question of arithmetic and polls. The old maids of both sexes of the Christian Coalition, the foamingg-at-the-mouth fanatics of the Miami mafia, the radio talk show hosts and the good ol’ boys who call them, that’s one thing. The ayatollah Republicans will not view any Democrat as being a legitimate presidential winner no matter how high the vote because they have an essentially theocratic view of government. Yet while they may have some capacity for mischief, their political weight is limited.
Having the bulk of the Black population of the country view the government as having been illegally taken by their enemies is a problem of an entirely different magnitude. The thought of having urban uprisings in hundreds of cities and towns, as happened in the 1960s, is a nightmare for the ruling class. They know the impact such an upsurge would have in shattering their carefully wrought, salami tactics piecemeal dismantling of the conquests of the civil rights movement and the radicalization of the 1960s. And they might well conclude that at this stage, anointing Bush president significantly increases that danger.
The danger, of course, is simply this: independent political action by Blacks and other working people.
That’s why those who would blame those who voted for Nader or anyone else for Gore’s fate or Bush’s ascendancy if he is finally given the nod are completely mistaken . That’s not just because it is better to vote for what you want and not get it, than to vote for what you don’t want and get it, although I think that’s true. It is because Gore would not even fight for and defend the votes we working people gave him — not if he had to rely on our help to do it. Either courtrooms full of six-and-seven-figure salary lawyers and judges allow him to assume the post we elected him to, or he will loyally put his tail between his legs and go home.
And this stance, this reality is borne out by the entire record of the Clinton-Gore administration: Clinton was happy to accept the votes of working people, but in no way did he ever try to represent our interests against those of the bankers, big businessmen or giant corporations. His real program—balance the budget by raising taxes and cutting back social services; continuing the “war on drugs,” which is simply a war on minority youth; ending “welfare as we know it” — even the rhetoric was stolen from the Reaganite play book; put a hundred thousand more racist cops on the streets in urban areas; build more prisons; execute more people; continue and toughen the blockade against Cuba and the Iraqi people; and so on—all this was an entirely bourgeois program. Even the mildest pro-labor promises, such as adding teeth to the law that ostensibly make it illegal for employers to fire workers who exercise their democratic right to organize a union, were completely forgotten during the eight years of Clinton-Gore.
Gore is the worst kind of general for an army, not an incompetent one, but one that even refuses to organize, supply, mobilize, and deploy his troops for a battle, because his heart, his whole being, identifies completely with the generals on the other side. Viewed in relation to the working class voter base of the Democrats, Clinton, Gore and the rest of them are Benedict Arnolds, Quislings, redcoats in disguise. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to call them traitors, for the Clintons and Gores never pretended to be anything but loyal defenders of the current U.S. political and economic system, a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
Break with the Parties of the Ruling Rich!
What we need is what Abraham Lincoln called for in Gettysburg: a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And to get there, we the people—the working people, the overwhelming majority in this society—need to break with the Democrats and Republicans and strike out on our own.
The central lesson of this whole affair is that Black people, other minorities, and working people as a whole need our own parties, our own generals. As long as we stick with the Democrats, we’ll be stabbed in the back at every turn.
(Note: What I have presented above in summarizing the Bushite campaign to steal the election in Florida is no more than a summary of what has been extensively documented in the bourgeois press, albeit largely the foreign bourgeois press. These I posted to the Marxism list a few days ago; they can be found in the archives at www.marxmail.org if you look for my posts from the beginning of December. If you do go back and read them, remember this: all of this and probably much more Gore and the Democrats have known about and could have placed at the disposal of a largely sympathetic press corps even before the elections, and certainly a month ago, within a couple of days of the vote. Gore is not the victim of this Republican cabal; he is, to all intents and purposes, a co-conspirator.)