A review by Bob Koehler, appears in January 10 issue of Christian Century
Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election and Why Theyâ€™ll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them).
By Mark Crispin Miller. Basic Books, 364 pp., $24.95.
In early 2004, Pat Robertson divined the outcome of the presidential election, then 10 months away. â€œI think George Bush is going to win in a walk,â€ he said on a broadcast of The 700 Club. â€œI really believe Iâ€™m hearing from the Lord itâ€™s going to be like a blowout election in 2004.â€
Godâ€”or at least the fervent, all-justifying, â€œChristian soldierâ€ belief in God, and of course Godâ€™s opposite, evilâ€”is the real topic of Mark Crispin Millerâ€™s new book. The volume is a primer for the many appalled students of the last presidential election, which was won by the incumbent not exactly â€œin a walk,â€ as Robertson predicted, but by a healthy enough margin that Bush could declare the next day, â€œAmerica has spoken,â€ and claim, as though he needed one, a mandate. A meticulously researched explication of the case that there was serious fraud in that election, both blatant (myriad dirty tricks) and invisible (manipulation of electronic voting), Fooled Again is like several other recent books that examine the topic in gory detail. But what Miller also does is place election fraudâ€”or election theftâ€”in a psychological and religious context.
Referring to Robertsonâ€™s faith-based prediction, Miller comments sardonically: â€œThat the statement was a little crass does not make it wrong. Certainly no other worldly factor can account for that amazing win, which no human pollster could foresee, and which no mortal has been able to explain in rational terms.â€
Miller, a professor of media studies at New York University and a frequent political commentator on radio and TV, makes a compelling case that virulent antidemocratic forces fueled by religious fervor are making an all-out assault on American democracy, but to my mind the most troubling aspect of Fooled Again is its indictment of the media, democracyâ€™s watchdog, which is letting it happen.
This is the part of the story that hits home hardest for me and pushes the crisis into â€œoh my Godâ€ mode: The institutions that are supposed to be protecting us for the most part simply arenâ€™t. On one hand we have what Miller calls the â€œChristo-fascist right,â€ a determined army of zealots who have nothing but contempt for secular, pluralistic, tolerant and democratic American society and feel called upon by a higher power to subvert it; on the other hand we have a meek and blandly â€œbalancedâ€ punditocracy that refuses to stand on principle or seriously challenge the right.
Consider, for example, how the media covered the heart-stopping news that Al Gore did indeed win Florida, and hence the presidency, in 2000, according to a recount commissioned by the media itselfâ€”or a consortium of its most prominent names, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN. The New York Times, for instance, not only buried the news in paragraph 14 of its November 12, 2001, story headlined â€œStudy of Disputed Florida Ballots Finds Justices Did Not Cast the Deciding Vote,â€ but phrased it with such glib dismissiveness (â€œIn a finding rich with irony . . .â€) that a reader needed several passes through the verbiage to grasp what was being said.
But hereâ€™s the heart of the New York Times story: â€œAn approach Mr. Gore and his lawyers rejected as impracticalâ€”a statewide recountâ€”could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his way, no matter what standard was chosen to judge voter intent.â€
Come again? If Gore had recounted all the votes he would have won? The paperâ€™s point of view seems almost extraterrestrial in its indifference to these findings. Want a good laugh, America? Gore blew it! The Times betrays not the least concern that the voters who cast their ballots for him, not to mention the democratic process itself, are also interested parties, who, according to the apparent rules of this preposterous game, are hostage to the candidateâ€™s choice of legal strategies. This story was not written on their behalf.
â€œThe voices of sanity were few,â€ writes Miller, speaking of the coverage of the 2000 recount fiasco, â€œand even fewer those sane voices that spoke with the requisite bluntness.â€
What we have in this country are media that believe in nothing, and are therefore ripe for manipulation by zealots who believe utterly in themselves. Miller puts the zealotsâ€™ movement into historical context:
If the Soviet threat was dangerous to this country, so too were the consequences of its disappearance. When that occurred, surprisingly, in 1991, that old crusading animus, all stoked up but with no place to go, exploded here, affecting U.S. politics and culture with a kind of blowback not envisioned by the CIA. The disaster started with the evangelical crusade against Bill Clinton and continues with the full complicity of Bush & Co., whose soldiers now crusade against their fellow citizens, and against democracy itself.
Most of the book is documentation of this phenomenon. Miller collected news accounts from all over the country of the irregularities and wholesale disfranchisement that occurred on November 2, 2004, culminating in the reelection of George W. Bush, which, though foreseen by Pat Robertson, was at statistically outrageous variance with state-of-the-art poll results, especially in such swing states as Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Mexico. How did this happen? Fooled Again is an exercise in dot-connecting, a mosaic of isolated answers gathered together to reveal the larger pattern. For instance:
Â· â€œIn South Carolina, a posse of Republicans converged on Benedict College, a black institution in Columbia, demanding to see driversâ€™ licenses and challenging the right of several dozen people, mostly students, to cast votes. . . . Some of the students left in tears, according to . . . the college president, who also noted that the operation slowed things down so muchâ€”there was a four-hour wait at one pointâ€”that would-be voters had to call it quits.â€
Â· â€œThe Republicans were especially active in South Florida, doing all they could to frighten Kerry voters into going home, or staying home. This sort of intimidation was already going on throughout the early-voting period. The early voters [in a predominantly black section of Jacksonville] . . . found themselves under surveillance as they came to cast their ballots, a private detective filming everyone from behind a car with blacked-out windows.â€
Â· â€œForty-three percent of expatriate voters, or would-be voters, never received their ballots or received them too late, according to the Overseas Voting Foundation. . . . While thousands of expatriates had no way to vote for president, the military had a great surplus of write-in ballotsâ€”enough to give each service member two. . . . According to [a high-ranking officer in the military], the Pentagon is uninterested in helping â€˜non-propagandized peopleâ€™ vote.â€
The point is that these are not isolated incidents. Many, many precincts around the countryâ€”especially in minority and student areasâ€”were plagued with troubles: â€œepidemic dysfunctionâ€ . . . â€œstatistically impossible bad luckâ€ . . . â€œreminiscent less of democratic process than of martial law.â€ There were too few voting machines; the machines broke down. Republican challengers and poll watchers were rude a
nd intimidating. Voters were directed to the wrong polling places, the wrong lines. People tried to vote for Kerry and their machines registered Bush. This happened over and over and over.
These antidemocratic machinations are not a conspiracy in the normally understood, easily dismissed
sense, anymore than the Jim Crow South of yesteryear was a conspiracy. Most of the tactics are out in the open or, at best, thinly veiled. They have the enthusiastic participation of ordinary, everyday Americans who happen to believe theyâ€™re doing what they must.
â€œThe project here is ultimately pathological and essentially anti-political, albeit Machiavellian on a scale, and to a degree, that would have staggered Machiavelli,â€ writes Miller. â€œThe aim is not to master politics but to annihilate it. Bush, Rove, DeLay, Ralph Reed et al. believe in â€˜politicsâ€™ in the same way that they and their corporate beneficiaries believe in â€˜competition.â€™ In both cases the intention is not to play the game but to end itâ€”because the game requires some tolerance of the Other, and tolerance is what these bitter-enders most despise.â€
Fooled Again is a wake-up call. Just because the mainstream mediaâ€”and the mainstream Democratic Partyâ€”refuse to be appalled and can at best summon an occasional and perfunctory defense of our democratic principles, doesnâ€™t mean the danger isnâ€™t real. If we want our children to inherit a free, democratic and open society, the time to start rebuilding it is now.
Reviewed by Bob Koehler, a Chicago-based journalist and editor at Tribune Media Services, whose columns are nationally syndicated by TMS and appear in major newspapers throughout the country.