The End of Democracy

Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way

So much for using the Democratic presidential campaign as any kind of check on the corruption of the democratic process. The consultants have spoken; they've decided it's not worth the fight.

Democrats' self-fulfilling defeatism is not the only factor that keeps Republican brigands rolling around in the rest of our lunch money. There's also the media to blame.

illustration: Korinne Jenkins



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  • Recently, when John Kerry suggested, mildly, that a speech delivered by Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi to the U.S. Congress represented an attempt to put the "best face" on a failing reconstruction effort, Bush won a news cycle by railing that Kerry was sabotaging a crucial alliance in the war on terror. It turns out that what the media let Bush effectively forbid was Kerry's criticism of a Bush campaign speech: According to The Washington Post, "a representative of President Bush's re-election campaign had been heavily involved in drafting" Allawi's remarks.

    Ideally, our top-drawer journos would represent a check on an anti-American hustle like this. Reached by phone while preparing for the town hall debate in St. Louis, however, Jeff Greenfield, CNN's senior political analyst since 1998, swears off the role. "I just regard this as what happens in a campaign," he says, calling the idea that this election is anything other than a fair fight between two equally aggressive opponents an "essentially conspiratorial view."

    "In my view," says Greenfield, "if The Washington Post is able to report the fact that the White House worked on it . . . people are perfectly free to say, 'This is bullshit.' " Kerry "in a nationally televised debate can turn to the president and make that argument." Both sides thus will have spoken; the media's responsibility has been discharged. "I don't expect campaigns to adhere to what I call the George Orwell level of intellectual honesty."

    Ever since the days of Joe McCarthy, the claim that a made-up charge by one side is no longer an outrage if the wronged party gets a chance to refute it has been an easy refuge for journalistic scoundrels. When Republicans accused someone of being a Communist, newspapers reported it, true or not; then they reported the victim's outraged denials, the day's work done—no matter that the person's life might now be ruined by the merely invented accusation. With a setup like that, the side willing to say anything to win will win every time.

    Greenfield disagrees. "McCarthy won for about two years, and then the tide turned," he says. Nowadays, it would happen even faster, what with blogs and all. "When somebody starts really playing with the facts, there are so many people on every side of the issue ready to jump on you," he says. "Call me an optimist."

    I call him an idiot. This is a country where 42 percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was behind the 9-11 attacks, where telling lies before the truth has time to put on its shoes—lies that won't have time to get exposed before the votes, whether the electorate's or the Supreme Court's, get counted—has been Karl Rove's modus operandi since he stole the election for chairman of the College Republicans National Federation in 1973. Punks like Greenfield are Rove's best friend: He's already decided in advance that both sides are equally bad.

    Big Ruling, Little Notice

    It's easy to vote absentee in Illinois if you meet certain qualifications, like being out of your home county on Election Day. It's also easy if you don't meet those qualifications: You just lie. In fact, greasy machine pols have been known to exploit the present system to cast "votes" for their entire block. Juliet Alejandre is one person who didn't qualify, and who wasn't prepared to lie. Going to school full-time and working nights, the single mother says that the last time she tried to vote she left much of the ballot incomplete because she was terrified her unminded toddler would fall off the stage upon which the booths sat. So with three other working moms, Alejandre sued in federal court to order the state legislature to revisit its horse-and-buggy absentee statute to make reasonable provisions—whether by extending voting hours, changing absentee requirements, or instituting a universal vote-by-mail system like the one that's worked well in Oregon.

    This past Friday, Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit, a prominent conservative intellectual and vocal Bush supporter, handed down a capricious, flippant dismissal of the complaint, ignoring key portions of its argument and simply inventing others. (The plaintiffs wanted the court to "decree weekend voting," he fantasized, wondering whether a federal court would soon "have to buy everyone a laptop, or a Palm Pilot or Blackberry?")

    Bad enough if it only affected Illinoisans. Here's the scary part: Posner worded his ruling in such a way to make it difficult for anyone to challenge any voting statute passed by any state legislature anywhere.

    The decision is diabolical—a perfect counterpart to this season's Republican strategy of drowning voting-rights complaints in a sea of moral relativism. One example: A goal of the plaintiff's case was to stop existing fraud by making Illinois's vague and antiquated absentee regulations more uniform and fair. Instead, Posner argued that the plaintiff's commonsense request for a second look at the statutes opened the door to fraud. « Previous Page

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