A Guest Editorial by author and NYU media professor, Mark Crispin Miller …
“Strategists say that Mr. McCain can now count on a more motivated social conservative base to help him in areas like southern Ohio, where the 2004 race was settled.”
—The New York Times, Sept. 7, 2008 , A1
“In investigating the 2004 election in Ohio–examining pollbooks, talking to pollworkers and election officials, as well as reading local newspaper accounts –we could find no data of a late surge to the polls by born-again Christians. What we did find is certified voting totals in areas favoring Bush that didn’t match the number of voters who officially signed-in on the poll sign-in sheets.”
–Email from Bob Fitrakis of The Columbus Free Press, Sept. 7, 2008
To understand how Team McCain intends to get away with stealing this election, we must recall how Team Bush got away with it four years ago. (Those aren’t two different teams.)
The plan for stealing this contest has everything to do with the ostensibly surprising choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s VP.
1. Election Day, 2004: The Myth of Bush’s Christian “Surge”
First, let’s recall that, after the 2004 election, everybody said that Bush had won because the true believers of the Christian right had come out–or, rather, poured forth–in unprecedented numbers, often at the last minute, to support him. Of course, by “everybody,” I’m referring to the entire commentariate, both mainstream and left/liberal. On TV and in print, in news analyses and op-ed articles, they all said that Bush/Cheney had been re-elected by America’s “values voters.”
And they said it with a certain awe–as well they should, since Bush’s victory was a sort of miracle. He had disapproval ratings in the upper 40’s: higher than LBJ’s in 1968, higher than Jimmy Carter’s in 1980. Nor was he very popular in his own party, as many top Republicans came out against him–including moderates like John Eisenhower, rightists like Bob Barr, and many others such as William Crowe (chair of the Joint Chiefs under Ronald Reagan), General Tony McPeak (former Air Force chief of staff and erstwhile Veteran for Bush), libertarian Doug Bandow, neocon Francis Fukuyama, Lee Iacocca and Jack Matlock, Jr. (Reagan’s ambassador to the USSR); and many other, lesser figures in his party also publicly rejected him.
And so did sixty (60) newspapers–all in “red” states–that had endorsed Bush four years earlier: two thirds of them now going for Kerry, the others none of the above. American Conservative, Pat Buchanan’s own magazine, ran endorsements of five different candidates, only one of them for Bush. And 169 tenured and emeritus professors from the world’s top business schools all signed a full-page ad decrying his economic policies, adducing them as reasons not to vote for him. (The ad was written by top faculty at his own alma mater, Harvard Business School.) The ad ran in the Financial Times, which, like The Economist, endorsed John Kerry.
And still Bush won, despite such big defections, thanks to that enormous turnout by the Christian right, as everybody kept on saying–even though there were good reasons to be very skeptical about that notion.
2. Election Day, 2004: There Was No Christian “Surge”
First of all, that talking point came from the Christian right itself, whose members certainly had every reason to exaggerate their clout. That they thus credited themselves, and that the claim was duly amplified by their own party and its propaganda organs (Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, et al.), should have been enough to make all non-believers doubtful.
And non-believers should have been especially suspicious of that claim because there’s not a shred of evidence to back it up. On the other hand, there’s solid evidence that that immense, last-minute vote for Bush was nothing but a propaganda fiction, cooked up by Karl Rove to mask his party’s theft of that election.
To begin with, that fiction is preposterous on its face, since there were nowhere near enough of such right-wing believers to account for the incumbent’s staggering advance, as Bush reportedly received 11.5 million more votes than he had won four years before. And how many evangelicals did that surge include? According to Karl Rove himself (among others), there were 4 million evangelicals who had not voted for Bush/Cheney in 2000. So, even if Rove managed to get every single one of them to vote for Bush this time around (and it’s unlikely that he did), they could not possibly have made so big a difference–unless, of course, their numbers somehow magically increased inside the polls, like Jesus’s loaves and fishes.
In any case, Bush seems to have done worse with evangelicals than he had four years before. Consider how his “base” performed, in fact, on that Election Day, as measured by the National Exit Poll (and scrupulously analyzed by Michael Collins, whose essay, “The Urban Legend,”  is included in Loser Take All ). Close study of the numbers in 2004 reveals that there was no big national surge of “values voters”: on the contrary.
First of all, the nation’s rural vote declined, dropping from 23% to just 16% of the overall national vote; and Bush’s total rural vote went down from 14 million to just under 12 million. And while the nation’s small town vote increased substantially–by 88%–those voters did not favor Bush as they had done four years before, but opted in near equal numbers for John Kerry. Of those 9.5 million votes, Bush got 4.9 million, while Kerry got 4.7 million. (In 2000, Bush had won 3.1 million small town votes, to Gore’s 2 million.) And then there were the voters in the suburbs, who did come out for Bush in greater numbers than four years before–but hardly by enough to make for a decisive jump of any kind, as Bush won 28.3 million of those votes, to Kerry’s 25.6 million.
Thus was there no elevated turnout in those regions where most “values voters” live – nor did the post-election polls suggest that “moral values” drove Bush/Cheney’s startling re-election.
On Nov. 11, Pew published the results of their most precise survey of the electorate. Having asked Americans to name the issue that most concerned them as they cast their ballots, Pew found that Iraq was Number One, noted by 25 percent, followed by “jobs and the economy,” noted by 12 percent, with 9 percent invoking “terrorism.” Only 9 percent named “moral values” as their main concern–with only 3 percent of them referring specifically to “gay marriage” (and another 2 percent referring to the candidates’ own private lives).
Those numbers tell a very different story from the one hyped proudly by the men atop the Christianist machine. In particular, they said that they helped Bush prevail through their well-managed opposition to gay marriage–which Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, called “the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term.” That there was evidently no such wagon did not blunt the impact of such theocratic propaganda, which quickly resonated all throughout “the liberal media,” so that it now stands as the truth.
Indeed, it was accepted as the truth so quickly that it went unquestioned even after the dramatic mass reaction to the Terri Schiavo case a few months later, when Bush and the Republicans in Congress intervened in that domestic tragedy, trying to force the very outcome that the Christianists were calling for: “Americans broadly and strongly disapprove of federal intervention in the Terri Schiavo case,” ABC News reported. The public supported the removal of Schiavo’s feeding tube by 63% to 28%, according to the network’s polls.
And so it was throughout the media. According to USA Today, 76% disapproved of Congress’s handling of the case, while only 20% approved. CBS News found that 82% believed that Bush and Congress should have stayed out of it. And so it went, with poll after poll confirming that the Bush Republicans’ attempt to force their “moral values” on the situation was appealing only to a small minority, a/k/a the fringe. “When nearly 70 percent of the American public disagrees with you,” wrote Eric Boehlert at the time, “you’re out of step with the mainstream.”
That strong reaction by (at least) two-thirds of us was far more telling than the press, and most top Democrats, were willing to perceive, and so they couldn’t, wouldn’t see the awful truth: Either We the People had abruptly given up our “moral values” since Election Day, or our apparent vote for Bush was a deception, based on vote suppression and election fraud committed in Ohio and elsewhere throughout the nation.
The myth of that immense, last-minute Christian turn-out was a rationale concocted to “explain” Bush/Cheney’s re-election – and the US press immediately bought it, out of a clear eagerness to close the book on that election.
Thus the myth of that immense, last-minute Christian turn-out was a rationale concocted to “explain” Bush/Cheney’s re-election–and the US press immediately bought it, out of a clear eagerness to close the book on that election right away, and thereby black out all the glaring signs of fraud throughout Ohio (and Florida, and elsewhere). Indeed, the press at once laughed off the “theory” of widespread election fraud, dismissing all the facts as fantasy; and in their place it offered fantasy as fact (as they had done before, and have done since).
And so, because the media never did revisit the 2004 election, that groundless “explanation” quickly hardened into gospel (so to speak)–which brings us to the present, and the strategy for stealing this election, too.
3. Election Day, 2008: Another Christian “Surge”?
The choice of Sarah Palin has been widely and repeatedly assailed as evidence of John McCain’s “bad judgement.” Certainly that choice was very bad. Indeed, it may prove to be catastrophic. But to take it as a sign of John McCain’s mere recklessness is probably a big mistake. First of all, there is no reason to believe that the decision really was McCain’s, since Karl Rove’s minions are in charge of his campaign, which means that Rove himself is running it (as he evidently has been from the start). And while it surely was a rotten choice in moral and/or civic terms, it certainly was not an instance of “bad judgement” in Rove’s moral universe, where winning is the only thing that counts; and Sarah Palin was selected so that (she and) John McCain could “win”–and, even more important, get away with it.
They picked Palin not because she is a woman, and might therefore appeal to diehard Hillary supporters. They picked Palin because she is a theocratic true believer, who has the Christianists all swooning at the prospect of her reign (which will commence as soon as Jesus answers all their prayers for John McCain’s quick death). To get some sense of their millennial excitement, read this excerpt from an email recently sent out by one of them, to others of her kind:
Dutch was traveling to Texas on Friday and when he landed in the airport his wife called and told him to get to the TV asap. He watched McCain introduce Governor Palin and he said he began to weep, even though he knew nothing about her. He asked God, “What is the significance of this 44-year-old woman?” And he saw the clock said 4:44. He asked the Lord what that was all about and the Lord said, “Ezekiel 44:4.” “He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD; and I fell on my face. NKJV ….. North gate representing Alaska [sic].
And so on.
Such fervor, which now unifies the Christianist community, was not stoked merely by the sight of Palin’s glowing kisser on TV. More importantly, the governor became the instant darling of the Christianist far right once all the top dogs of the theocratic movement looked at her, and pronounced her good. To some extent, she was their choice–and so it’s wrong to claim, as some indignant pundits have, that Sarah Palin “was not vetted.” The governor was vetted by the Council for National Policy, the secretive and highly influential steering committee of the Christianist far right, which seeks to junk the Constitution and replace it with Leviticus and other flights of Holy Writ.
[Palin’s] reckless policies derive from an apocalyptic wish to see the planet die, so that Lord Jesus will come back here, and start kicking ass and taking names.
They approved this choice, because Sarah Palin is quite willing to promote the Christianists’ apocalyptic program with a brazenness, and comprehensiveness, unprecedented in the history of American political campaigning. Her disparate crackpot policies are all expressions of the same extremist creed. There are, of course, all her Levitical sexual proscriptions: no abortions even for those women who’ve been raped (or raped by their own fathers); no sex education; no condoms. There are her incremental steps to Christianize the public schools: her moves against their secular librarians; her readiness to get Creationism into the curriculum. And then there is her mad anti-environmentalism: her tacit eagerness for further global warming, and, therefore, her passion for oil-drilling everywhere; her opposition to clean water legislation; her willingness to see the polar bears die off; her letting hunters gun down wolves and bears from low-flying planes, etc. All such reckless policies derive from an apocalyptic wish to see the planet die, so that Lord Jesus will come back here, and start kicking ass and taking names. (Palin’s pastor holds that He will set up his command post in Alaska.)
None of this insanity appeals to anyone outside the Christianist community, which is no larger than it was when Bush tried to “save” Teri Schiavo from “judicial murder”–or when he was anomalously “re-elected” by those legions of fictitious “values voters.” The choice of Sarah Palin, therefore, surely was not based on any rational calculation of some real electoral advantage; for that ferocious bloc is far too small to pull that off, no matter how firm their conviction that God wants them to.
In fact, the only way that Palin and her doddering partner can prevail in this election is by stealing it, as Bush and Cheney did (both times). Certainly the ground has been prepared for yet another stolen race, Bush/Cheney’s party having made enormous strides in sabotaging our election system (while the Democrats just sat there, whistling). Now, from coast to coast, it’s far more difficult (for Democrats) to register to vote, and far more difficult (for Democrats) to cast their votes, while countless (Democratic) voters have been stricken from the rolls, through purges carried out by the Department of Justice.
Thus Bush’s government has legally diminished the electorate (the Roberts Court approving every step). Meanwhile, the regime also continues to suppress the (Democratic) vote illegally, either through voter “caging” prior to Election Day–or, far more effectively, by fiddling with the numbers electronically at every level, and/or simply dumping countless names (of Democrats) from the electronic voter rolls, and/or putting far too few machines in (Democratic) polling places, and/or disinforming (Democratic) voters as to when and where to cast their votes, and/or simply scaring (Democratic) voters into staying home.
By arousing the hard core of vocal Christianists, they prepared the ground for the eventual redeployment of the same canard with which they justified their last unlikely “win”: that millions of believers did the trick.
That is what it takes to steal elections in America–all of that, and also something else: a quick-‘n-easy explanation for the outcome. For if those final numbers are surprising, there must be some rationale that can (apparently) account for them. And that is why the Bush machine put Sarah Palin next to John McCain. By arousing the hard core of vocal Christianists, they prepared the ground for the eventual redeployment of the same canard with which they justified their last unlikely “win”: that millions of believers did the trick.
Indeed, it was not just the choice of Sarah Palin, but the whole convention, that was clearly calculated not to pull in undecided and/or independent voters, but to get the fringe alone to stomp and holler for the ticket. The party platform–crafted under the command of Christianist election-rigger J. Kenneth Blackwell–is a (literally) scorched-earth “faith-based” document, calling even for a ban on stem cell research in the private sector. And the convention spectacle itself was basically one long display of cultural resentment, with lots of loud, self-righteous jeering from the stage and on the floor (with an epic show of ridicule by that fine Christian, Rudy Giuliani).
It was strongly reminiscent of the GOP’s 1992 convention–a show that very clearly turned the nation off, and helped defeat Bush Sr.’s bid to stay in office. Team McCain decided to revive that model, not because the nation has turned Christianist since then, but as a way to motivate the fringe, and thereby make it possible to tell the pundits, on Nov. 5, that it was those Americans who turned the tide for John McCain.
4. A Word to the Wise
In fact, that claim will be the secondary “explanation” for McCain and Palin’s “win.” The first, of course, will be Obama’s race, and the sad “fact” that America’s just not ready to vote for a black man.” We will hear endlessly (as we have already) about “the Bradley effect,” and how it struck again, with millions of white folks who had openly approved Obama suddenly deciding, in the sanctum of the voting booth, to vote like Klansmen, thereby electing John McCain.
If Obama “loses,” we will also hear a lot of other “explanations,” each of which will suit the interests – the politics and/or pet theory – of the person(s) offering it.
We’ll hear from Clinton people that he lost because he didn’t put her on the ticket. We’ll hear from Michael Moore, Ralph Nader and The Nation that he lost because he ran too corporate-friendly a campaign. We’ll also hear from Mark Penn and the Wall Street Journal that he lost because his campaign was too “populist.”
George Lakoff will tell us that Obama lost because he failed to frame the issues properly, Thomas Frank will note that all those Kansas-types are still too dim to know what’s good for them, and Thomas Friedman (among others) will point out that Obama lost because he never made that crucial “gut” connection with “Joe Six-Pack” (whom Friedman and those others know so well). Meanwhile, many others will ascribe Obama’s loss to all the lies and slanders heaped upon him by McCain’s campaign and its confederates, who, we’ll hear repeatedly, “Swift-boated” him to death, just as they did to Kerry (as if Kerry really lost the last election).
Some of those assertions will be partly true–and all of them are sure to be irrelevant. For if McCain and Palin “win,” that victory will either be a miracle (which is, of course, how some of their supporters will explain it) or just another massive rip-off, perpetrated right before our eyes. And no such miracle is likely; for there is still no reason to believe that that old man and his demented running mate have any broad appeal. The polls now putting them ahead are highly dubious, based on a ten-point over-sampling of Republicans, and crafted without any calls to cell phone users (who comprise a large part of Obama’s base).
Otherwise there is no evidence of any large-scale movement toward McCain and Palin–who have to trek to theocratic enclaves, like Colorado Springs, in order to draw cheering multitudes, while Obama/Biden draw them everywhere they go. With Democrats all in a panic, let’s recall how few Americans turned out to vote in the Republican primaries, and how few new voters the Republicans have registered to date. Compare that feeble record with the vastly larger numbers who came out for Obama (and for Clinton), and all those whom the Democrats have registered to vote. Since then, the prospects for McCain have not improved, regardless of the spin on Sarah Palin–for this economy is in the crapper, and he has said repeatedly that he just doesn’t know about such things. That issue, and his wild commitment to a war that most Americans oppose, make his victory in November quite improbable, to say the least.
It is happening right now, as you sit reading this, as each day brings in new reports of voters purged, machines “malfunctioning,” ballots slyly misdesigned, and other measures meant to benefit McBush’s party.
And there you have the reason why the GOP must, once again, deploy its giant criminal machine: to cut the Democrats’ vast popular advantage. And it is happening right now, as you sit reading this, as each day brings in new reports of voters purged, machines “malfunctioning,” ballots slyly misdesigned, and other measures meant to benefit McBush’s party. (The fraud is not occurring “on both sides.”) Such evidence is far more solid than the nervous speculation that Americans might vote on racial grounds–or the fantasy that Sarah Palin’s co-religionists could really win it for McCain.
The theft of this next race is only possible because the Democratic Party and the media, and principled Republicans, have shut their eyes to this regime’s crusade against American democracy. And now the only way to stop it–or, if it does happen yet again, resist it– is to face it at long last, and talk about it openly. It’s therefore not enough to raise more money for the Democrats, and not enough to get more voters registered, and get them to the polls; and not enough to spread the word about McCain and Palin, or to try to get the media to do a decent job; and not enough to fight the smears and lies about Obama, and to demand that he and/or the Democrats get tougher.
While all of those activities are crucial, they’ll amount to nothing if the race is finally rigged, and most Americans don’t know a thing about it. And so, whatever else we’re doing, we must also speak out loud and clear about that possibility. Otherwise, if that disaster should befall us, we will be as much to blame for it as those Republicans who pulled it off, and all those Democrats who let them get away with it.