Friday, October 29, 2004

We Are All Floridians Now

Be ready for a very long night come November 2nd. The dem lawyers will be all over the country trying to ensure a poodle victory. Brew lots of coffee! - Sailor

We Are All Floridians Now
By Douglas Kern
Published 10/29/2004
Tech Central Station

The 2004 presidential election is shaping up to be uglier than an octogenarian stripper convention. Look for intimidation, blatant vote fraud, bureaucratic incompetence, judicial shenanigans, and the promise of an ugly, heavily litigated November - and that's just at my house.
It's grotesque. Chaotic. Undignified.

It's just the way we like it.

The tumult that Florida suffered in 2000 was no fluke. Florida's electoral imbroglio was the perfect political storm -- a confluence of bad faith, aggressive lawyers, shabby laws, faulty procedures, and arrogant judges. And it will happen again, because no one has an interest in fixing the problem.

Do the lawyers want to fix the election laws? Many lawyers will make a killing in November, growing fat off the fees from election litigation. Why kill the golden goose? Moreover, the status quo holds out the possibility that a sufficiently clever legal strategy can subvert electoral results in close cases. What lawyer wants to relinquish that power?

Do the state legislatures want to fix the election laws? The problem only comes up once every four years, and state legislatures have enough trouble with the problems that arise annually. Consider also that election chaos can launch political careers. Katherine Harris is now a Congresswoman. But the more damning problem is the expense of election reform. Reliable voting machines, procedures, and workers cost money -- money that can't easily be funneled towards politically useful constituents. State budgets for "Improvements to the Legitimacy of Federal Elections" tend not to run a surplus.

Do the judges want to fix the election laws? Consider how many judges dream of handing a presidential election to their party's candidate. And even if a neutral, unbiased judge fairly resolves an election dispute, there's always an appeal. This is America, and by God, if there's an aggrieved minority looking to subvert democracy to accomplish a goal, there's an appellate judge somewhere who will make it happen. It's not like any consequences attach to judicial election-thievery. How many members of the Florida Supreme Court lost their jobs over the 2000 election? How many Supreme Court justices?

Do the political parties want to fix the election laws? Ordinarily, when their candidates lose a major election, political parties enter a period of soul-searching and self-examination in which cherished beliefs are contested, flawed paradigms are discarded, and new champions anointed. But soul-searching is uncomfortable. It requires admissions of error. It unsettles the established party elders. And, most important, it tends to get people fired. As political party hacks like their jobs, they'll embrace any outcome that allows them to dodge responsibility for failed campaigns. "Lose? We didn't lose. Blame the courts!"

Moreover, it's difficult to know in advance if a particular electoral reform will favor or disfavor a particular party. Who wants to be the genius who implements an electoral "reform" that ends up knocking your guy out of the presidency?

Do the candidates want to fix the election laws? The threat of a close race with a heavily contested, ambiguous outcome is a boffo tool for getting out the vote among the faithful. The Democrats have been waving the bloody orange-juice-soaked shirt of 2000 for four years now. And the Republicans have cheerfully sounded the alarm over shady Democrat get-out-the-vote stunts. Consider the title of the new book from formidable Republican pundit Hugh Hewitt: "If it's Not Close, They Can't Cheat."

Additionally, Florida-style fiascos present candidates with a prisoner's dilemma: the first candidate to eschew the knee-to-the-groin approach to recounts will get reamed if his opponent doesn't reciprocate the gesture. It's nice to think that upstanding candidates will accept a lost presidential race in order to affirm the validity and legitimacy of the presidential election process. It's nice to believe in unicorns, too. But the election arms race of lawsuits and accusations has already started, and MAD -- Mutually Assured Disenfranchisement -- is still the guiding policy.

Does the mainstream media want to fix…oh, forget it. The mainstream media doesn't want to fix anything. Fixes don't score big Nielsens. But broken democratic processes keep the masses glued to their sets. For a week after the 2000 election, I did nothing but channel-surf and hit "refresh" on my internet browser as several million people worldwide joined me in my quest to know the final outcome of the election seven microseconds before the rest of the world. I'm surprised that the MSM isn't doing everything in its power to ensure that Florida 2000 happens again, and in as many states as possible. (Or…is it?)

And, finally, what about us? Do we, the American people, want to turn away from month-long election processes and hanging chads and near-riots outside of recount stations?

Probably not.

Everyone claims to want closure on the night of the election. But if you knew that your candidate was going to lose narrowly, or even that he was likely to lose narrowly, wouldn't you want to stretch the process out just a little longer? Wouldn't you want to hold on to the hope that, somehow, a friendly court would undo the injustices inflicted upon your hero? And if your guy can't win, the boundless indignation and moral superiority of being the aggrieved, cheated party is a nifty consolation prize.

Election laws will eventually improve; when the novelty of recounts wears off, the electorate will demand (and grudgingly pay for) better systems. But even with improved laws, we can expect blistering, down-to-the-wire presidential elections for the foreseeable future. The War on Terror is far from over, and control of the presidency will make an enormous difference in how (or whether) this war will be fought. Consider, too, that presidential elections are the only means by which the people can influence the federal judiciary. As the power of the federal judiciary grows unchecked, the need to control the source of judicial appointments grows as well. The stakes in presidential elections will get higher and higher.

The fundamental problem is that the problems are fundamental. The red/blue divide demonstrates the profoundly different worldviews that Americans possess. No politician has found a way to bridge that gap. And when stark differences are irreconcilable and evenly split, elections get interesting.

The Republic didn't collapse after Bush vs. Gore and it won't collapse after the 2004 election. But while the Founding Fathers anticipated yeasty elections, they surely did not expect litigious attacks on the very legitimacy of the election process itself. American society has grown fond of resolving hard political problems through lawsuits and judicial fiats. But elections fought through lawsuits are ultimately a means of avoiding a genuinely political confrontation. And sometimes, there's no substitute for an ugly election brawl. Let's make it an honest fight. But let's fight.

Some reforms would help to defuse presidential elections, of course: the reduction of the federal government's scope and power; a revival of federalism; and the appointment of judges who reject judicial activism, to name a few. But none of these things will happen anytime soon. Thus, presidential elections will be ferociously contentious until the red states or the blue states decisively win the argument about what kind of nation America ought to be. Such a victory will engender a political realignment, and thus a (short) period of political goodwill and accomplishment.

But until that day arrives, bring your camcorder to the polls, and be sure to get the thugs and car vandals entirely within the viewfinder. And brew a strong pot of coffee or three for the night of November 2nd, as we sit up all night and watch the madness unfold. We've chosen this weirdness. We ought to enjoy it.

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