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Long Division

Why this is not the time for reconciliation in politics


After Al Gore tossed in the towel on his bid for the presidency, he went back to his vice presidential quarters, drank beer with movie stars and danced the night away to great live music. While Gore was shaking his booty, national commentators and political pundits went to work trying to convince Americans that we had escaped the dreaded Universe of Chad and should now line up behind what they call the president-elect for the good of the nation. But of course, Bush isn’t the president-elect, he’s the president-designate—hand-picked by a one-vote majority of conservative Supreme Court justices. No matter what the pundits tell us, one indisputable fact remains—the majority of voters in this country where the majority rules, did not cast their ballots for Bush. So why should these voters now toss their convictions aside and follow the Texas Bumbler into his foggy, corporate-favored version of the future? They shouldn’t—and it is unlikely that they will.

First, there is the question of the tactics Gov. Jeb Bush used to deliver Florida to his brother. The South has a long and ignoble history of election shenanigans, especially surrounding efforts to discourage blacks from going to the polls. But this time around, Florida employed tactics usually reserved for banana republics. The national press brought our attention to the low-end, failure-prone butterfly punch ballots that left tens of thousands wondering whether their votes had been properly recorded. What the press didn’t spend a lot of time on, however, was the use of roadblocks near predominately black districts. Ostensibly, the need for vehicle safety checks on election day was legally defensible. But in reality, few Americans are willing to drive through a roadblock on their way to or from the polls, especially in a part of the country where cops have a bad reputation for color-selective enforcement.

Then there was the incident concerning a mysterious Republican operative who was allowed to make changes on absentee ballots, unsupervised, in the back room of a county court house. The official responsible for approving this action, who just happened to be a long-time Republican, admitted that such actions had never occurred before and that, yes, she only allowed Republicans to make such changes, not the Democrats. But most suspiciously, this election official, given the duty of guarding the sanctity of the vote, couldn’t even recall the identity of the operative whom she left alone with the ballots.

And finally, there was the Supreme Court’s decision itself. Reversing a decade-long trend, the conservative members of the court suddenly decided to embrace the “equal protection” theory, ruling that a hand recount of some of the discarded ballots in some of the districts would unfairly bias the vote. Considering that the Republicans have made anti-federalism, states’ rights and local control the cornerstones of their political philosophy, winning this decision by having the U.S. Supreme Court stomp on the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to recount the ballots can only be seen for the blatant hypocrisy that it was. Winning, after all, isn’t the main thing in this election—it’s the only thing. But one day, and a day not too far in the future, those ballots will be counted. Already news organizations and universities are making requests to access the disputed ballots. Unless they wind up as firestarters for a Texas-style barbecue, those votes are going to be counted, probability of error calculated by statisticians, and the nation will find out who really won the election.

While the drama plays itself out, president-designate George W. Bush is busy moving a bunch of his father’s old advisers back into the White House—which should give Montanans pause as we consider the consequences. Dick Cheney, the vice president-designate, re-entered the political arena after spending the last few years making millions as an executive for the Halliburton Corporation, one of the world’s largest energy companies. Cheney was former President Bush’s secretary of defense and, as the Gulf War proved, has no problem going to war for oil. Given that proclivity, can anyone possibly believe that this administration will balk at opening up the Rocky Mountain Front, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and what’s left of the national forests for mineral and timber exploitation? Although not as blunt as Governor-elect Judy Martz, who proudly proclaims herself a “lap dog for industry,” make no mistake that the Bush administration will be exactly that—although they will couch it in terms of national or economic security. The result, however, will be the same—whoring off the last of the nation’s natural resources to rapacious corporate pirates who always get the gold while Montanans get the shaft.

Plans to reward the already-rich with a $1.3 trillion tax cut remain as a cornerstone of the Bush platform. Likewise, plans to invest social security funds in the volatile stock market are hugely controversial. For these and a thousand other reasons, the pleas of pundits and politicians calling on Americans to unite behind President-designate Bush are not likely to make such unity occur. In the end, those who voted for Bush in the first place are likely to stand behind his agenda. But for the rest of us—the majority of voters, I might add—nothing has changed to suddenly make us find this former weak candidate an individual now worthy of leading our nation. #

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