Lessons of Florida: Part 2

by José Pérez


What’s Behind the Republican Factional Offensive?

The Republican operatives seeking to steal the Florida election, and the reporters and pundits who cover for them, have pulled out all the stops in trying to convince the population that more than 40,000 votes in Florida should not be counted because there is “no standard,” that the big hang-up in counting the votes is figuring out what “the standard” should be.

The Republicans say a full count would violate the equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution because different ballots might be treated differently in different places.

It appears that some of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court were quite taken by the argument, although it is always risky business to try to gauge the real opinions of these worthies on the basis of the questions they ask during oral arguments.

On the face of it, the Republican complaint is a case of the pot calling the kettle black. The real unequal treatment of different voters is shown by the fact that in some Black precincts using punch-card ballot machines, 30 percent of the votes were not counted, whereas in other, all-white precincts, where optical character reading technology was used with a straightforward paper ballot, hardly any votes were discounted.

The Republican claim that counting a “dimpled” or “pregnant” chad in one precinct as a vote (the chad is the little bit of the punch card meant to be removed by the voting machine) and not in another is discrimination. This is ridiculous.

The reason no hard-and-fast rule can be created is simply that voters in different localities faced different problems with the various pieces of equipment they were given to vote with. There are different models of these machines, there are newer and older machines, there are better and worse maintained machines. And, of course, different individuals have greater or less difficulty with a given piece of equipment.

Thus, for example, in a precinct where one out of five or one out of three ballots show imperfect punches, one can be quite certain that the dimples were attempts to cast votes, and thus, under Florida law, which stipulates that it is the intent of the voter that counts, these votes must be counted.

Yet in another precinct where there are only one or two presidential “undervotes” with dimpled chads on otherwise perfectly perforated ballots, there may be greater doubt about the real intent of those voters. But then again, if it is a ballot with several imperfectly punched chads, clearly what is involved is a person who had difficulty with the machine, no matter how many others in that one precinct had similar problems, and, again, under Florida law, the vote must be counted.

This is no big secret among election experts, or the ward heelers and precinct workers of the two major parties. It was all explained in dreary detail in various Florida hearings. That is precisely the reason why Florida, like many other states, stipulates that the final, definitive count is a hand count and that the standard to be used is the intent of the voter.

And this is why the Florida Republicans in the recounts that did take place were so hot to challenge every conceivable ballot and take them before the county canvassing board instead of having them evaluated by the precinct counting teams. That’s so that individual ballots could be isolated from the pattern of “bad” votes that inevitably emerges in certain precincts which are assigned the worst-performing machines, and which — isn’t this a strange coincidence? —were disproportionately Black precincts.

Yet such ballots can be most fairly evaluated in the framework of all the votes cast on the same machines, for what in one context could possibly be viewed as a random or accidental indentation, in another context, where every other ballot is like that, is undoubtedly a positive vote for a candidate.

The “lack of standards” charge by the Republicans is just another dodge to avoid counting the votes, and another step in covering up with a mountain of electoral trivia and cretinism what really happened, which is that the government of Florida engaged in a massive campaign to disenfranchise Blacks, prevent them from voting, and throw out as invalid the votes they did cast. This was done systematically, with malice aforethought, for the purpose of depriving the opponent of the Florida governor’s brother in the presidential election of as many votes as possible in the single demographic group that supported him most overwhelmingly.

The very “objective-sounding” comments that the vote was evenly matched, and that the difference in votes between the two candidates is smaller than the “margin of error” involved in even the best elections are a lot of baloney.

In fact, tens of thousands more people came out to vote for Gore than for Bush. A Miami Herald analysis showed that, projecting on the basis of the way others in the same precincts voted, if even only a few percent of the “undervotes” were counted, Bush would lose. And that’s not even counting the 30,000+ Gore votes that were invalidated as “double votes” or went to Buchanan because of the incompetence (or worse) of election officials in laying out the ballot.

Breakdown of Bipartisan System

It seems clear with this election that what was essentially the coalition or bipartisan system of government that prevailed in the United States throughout the Cold War has broken down. And it has broken down because the Republicans in particular refuse to play by the old rules.

The attempt to impeach President Clinton against the overwhelming desires of the American people was a clear indication of this.

This brazen attempt to steal the election is yet another.

The relative cooperation between the two major bourgeois parties that prevailed for nearly half a century was, historically, an anomaly. U.S. presidential politics have been punctuated by rebellions, assassinations, charges of immorality, a civil war, and the theft of elections.

This period that now appears to have ended was different. It was a situation where the ruling class through all its major institutions and opinion-making media came down decisively for a united front of these two parties in face of the worldwide challenge represented by the emergence of the “socialist camp” (the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and their allies) and the anticolonial revolution. That was most evident in the common foreign policy of containment, expressed in the phrase that “politics stops at the waters edge.” But even within the sphere of domestic politics and policies, the kind of open factional warfare that now increasingly prevails was ruled out in the Cold War era.

It is notable that this is, so far, largely one-sided factional warfare. It has been the Republicans who have been aggressively pushing all sorts of scurrilous, unfounded charges (Whitewater), who tried to impeach Clinton over Lewinsky, and who’ve brazenly tried to steal the Florida election.

The politics behind it are also fairly clear. This is the more extreme, anti-Black, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-union, anti-immigrant, theocratic, “Christian coalition” wing of the Republican Party, which around the edges overlaps with proto-fascist elements. This wing of the Republicans has become conscious, I suspect, that at best, with all their hangers on, they represent perhaps a third of the electorate, (and, of course, an even smaller percentage of the population as a whole). But they are increasingly acting in such a way as to bully themselves into positions of power. They are dissatisfied with the piecemeal attempts to chip away at the changes wrought in U.S. society by the civil rights movement and the radicalization of the 1960s. They want a much more aggressive, overall offensive to restore the America of the 1950s, or to be more exact, of the 1950s TV sitcoms (without, of course, any Cuban band leaders: that was before the revolution).

I think a lot of thought needs to be given to this changing nature of bourgeois politics and the relations between the two main bourgeois parties.

My tentative conclusion is that much more is going on here than simply a brawl among pigs for a place at the trough. That may be true of the Democrats, but I don’t believe it is true of a wing of the Republicans, which might well be the politically dominant wing.

The Supreme Court decision will tell us a great deal. There is little question but that based on the American “democracy” religion, the court ought to rule in such a way that the votes get counted. That almost certainly would result in a Gore victory, precisely because the uncounted votes are disproportionately Black and poor. A decision that throws the election to Bush will almost certainly require a brazen refusal to count more than 40,000 votes, and it would be a statement by this Republican faction that they don’t care that they lost the popular vote, the vote in Florida, and the electoral college. They’re going to steal the election because they can.

This would, of course, be a body blow to the prestige of the court, to its image of impartiality, of being above the fray and all that other nonsense. It will be an indication that these forces recognize that what they mean to do will require quite a bit more arbitrariness and probably force and repression by the government than we have been used to in recent decades.

The thing that troubles me about this line of analysis is that, frankly, it implies a certain degree of desperation on the part of these bourgeois forces, something that at least looking at American society on the surface — which is how these people look at it —seems quite unjustified. There is no open, growing economic or social crisis, or external challenge, that requires such a tightening in the regime, with all the risks this implies. Yet as far as I can tell, the ruling class and its major institutions seem unconcerned.

So while on one level this analysis seems to make sense, on a broader scale, the pieces don’t all really seem to quite fit.