Randolph T. Holhut: 'Mandate? What mandate?'
Thursday, November 11 @ 10:28:22 EST
By Randolph T. Holhut
DUMMERSTON, Vt. - Now that we lefties have all had a few days to digest the election results and what they mean, it's time to start thinking about how we're going to play defense for the next four years.
Yes, 59 million of our fellow Americans thought same-sex marriage was a bigger threat to their existence than a stagnant economy, an endless war in the Middle East or a dangerously degraded environment. That is more of a tribute to the dark electoral arts of Karl Rove and company than it is a failure of the Democrats.
However, it must not be forgotten that 55 million people cast their ballots to remove Bush from office. Despite all the claims of a "mandate" by President Bush, the reality is that a switch of 1.75 million votes nationally - about 1.5 percent of the turnout - would've made John Kerry the winner. A switch of just 69,000 votes in Ohio alone would've given Kerry the win.
In short, this was the narrowest win for an incumbent president since Woodrow Wilson's victory in 1916.
Remember those 10,000 lawyers the Democrats supposedly had on call to settle electoral disputes? Are they still available? If so, they should be put to use.
As we've been reading over the past few days, there have been numerous documented incidents of election fraud. There were more than 1,100 reports of electronic voting machine malfunctions around the country. As for analog mischief, there were numerous reports of poll workers and poll watchers slowing down the voting process to make the lines long and discourage people from voting.
This might explain why there was such a variance between the exit polling and the actual result. Based on the number of new voters who went to the polls (most of whom planned to vote for Kerry) and Bush's approval rating (which was below 50 percent heading into Election Day), it appeared that Kerry should have won.
If this election was the first real test for electronic voting, it failed. It has to be fixed before the next presidential election. One of our jobs over the next four years is to get an explanation on how all of these voting glitches happened and to make sure it doesn't happen again. We simply cannot have yet another national election where an unreliable electronic voting system is used to register and count the votes.
But even if we get a secure, tamper-proof and accurate system for counting votes, there still is the matter of all these so-called "values voters" and the conservatives' ongoing perception management campaign to convince Americans that President Bush has a mandate to enact an extremist agenda that half the country opposes.
The Republican base is built upon fundamentalist Christianity. They are the most motivated voting bloc and they apparently made the difference in the states where fraud wasn't needed to carry the day.
While we can expect a renewed effort to outlaw abortion and same-sex marriage, the question is how hard can a fundamentalist agenda be pushed without a backlash from the other half of America that didn't vote for these things. While 22 percent of voters said moral issues mattered most and 80 percent of that group voted for Bush, 20 percent of voters said economic issues mattered most and 80 percent of that group voted for Kerry.
Bush's base is not as wide as you think. He lost the majority of Americans earning less than $50,000 a year. While 88 percent of Bush's votes came from whites, only 10 percent of blacks, 40 percent of Latinos and barely 50 percent of Asians voted for him.
In other words, the national split continues. The only mandate is in the minds of the people who narrowly won an election that increasingly looks as illegitimate as the 2000 election. And the conservatives are following the same game plan as they did in 2000 - say you won, keep saying you won, attack the people who question whether you actually won, and keep claiming victory until most Americans are convinced you won, despite evidence to the contrary.
So, in addition to devoting our efforts to constructing an electoral system that's beyond reproach, we have to work to convince our fellow Americans that there is no mandate for Bush's radical agenda.
The numbers cited at the beginning of this column prove that Bush didn't get a resounding endorsement. Then there are these numbers, courtesy of the Institute for America's Future. Its post-election polling found that a majority of the voters it surveyed, a margin of 51 to 41 percent, believed the country was going in the wrong direction. The survey found voters believe the invasion of Iraq made this country less secure by a 49-45 margin, that a 57-40 majority wanted Social Security to be left alone and that a whopping 72-24 majority favored reforming the nation's current health care system.
Additionally, a post-election Gallup poll found 63 percent of voters would prefer to see Bush pursue policies that both parties support and only 30 percent want to see Bush advance the GOP agenda
In other words, the electorate appears to be far more in tune with liberals than conservatives when it comes to the economy, health care and the war on Iraq. But the election was never really about those issues. According to Kerry adviser and Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, the Bush team succeeded in making this election a referendum on issues other than his job performance.
By pushing hard on the hot button issues dear to the hearts of fundamentalist Christians - same-sex marriage, abortion, creationism, and stem cell research - Bush was able to avoid an honest debate over his record and shift the discussion.
The Democrats played into Bush's hands by not vigorously challenging the president on the Iraq war and the economy.
The hard-core fundamentalists will never be won over. They will keep fighting the culture war and they will keep voting against their economic interests because the Democrats abandoned economic populism in favor of a squishy centrism that fails to explain who really wins and who really loses when Republicans control the government. When Democrats stop talking about economic issues, they have nothing else to offer voters.
All you have to do is look at the big items on the GOP agenda, like replacing the income tax with a consumption tax. Can Republicans get away with transforming the tax system so that the burden is shifted completely away from the wealthy and corporations and totally on the backs of working Americans? They managed to with the first two rounds of Bush tax cuts because the Democrats failed to effectively point out that they were giveaways for the rich.
Then there is privatizing Social Security. As I have written on many occasions, it isn't broken. It will be solvent for decades to come, but there are too many people - in the financial services industry, most especially - who want to get their hands on this money. Making the transition to a system that allows individuals to invest some of their payroll taxes in private accounts could cost up to $2 trillion over the next decade to implement. There is no way benefits for current retirees can be paid without drastically cutting benefits or pushing the federal deficit out of sight. There is no chance privitization will work as planned, but there is every chance that the longtime GOP goal of destroying Social Security would be achieved.
We know Bush could get up to four chances to put radical conservative justices on the Supreme Court. We know that Iran is next up in the "war on terror" and that Iraq will get a whole lot worse before it gets better. I will be absolutely shocked if there is no military draft by the end of 2005
And we know that conservatives will not reach out to the 55 million of us who voted against Bush. They will do what they do best - polarize, antagonize and demonize - to get what they want. We don't exist in their world.
Unless of course, we remind them vigorously and often that we do exist and that we do not support their goals. Use every opportunity at your disposal to do so. Support the people and businesses who share your ideals. Shun the ones who don't. When opportunities exist to build bridges with honest conservatives (yes, there are a few of them out there) and non-lunatic Christians, take advantage of them.
If there is any silver lining to the dark clouds enveloping our democracy, it it is this. The Republicans have control of everything, and they now have nobody to blame when things go wrong.
Things will go wrong. You can count on it. Just as they did when Newt Gingrich and his "Contract with America" were the hot political item, the Republicans will overreach. After all, they think they have a mandate. When they discover how few people actually support the most extreme parts of their agenda, they will implode and we should stand ready to fill the vacuum.
The impossible can happen, you know. Fifteen years ago this week, we saw the Berlin Wall come down. We never thought we'd see that happen in our lifetimes, but it did. Never forget that it was people power that helped end the Cold War and that it took years of work to pull it off.
George W. Bush and company didn't just pop up overnight, and they won't go away overnight. We got a lot of hard work ahead, but I still believe we will ultimately win.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com