Kennedy Debates Manjoo: Manjoo Debates Straw Man

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Well it's a start. Salon is one of the only major press outlets willing to wade into the election fraud issue with both feet. Most major outlets have either ignored Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s Rolling Stone expose, or invited him onto "news" shows only to shout him down and insult him. (e.g. CNN's Wolf Blitzer and Fox's Neil Cavuto.) By welcoming Kennedy onto their pages to debate Farhad Manjoo, Salon advances the cause of public discourse over an issue too many people wish would just go away.

Manjoo has also taken a lot of heat for stating disagreement with Kennedy. Salon was deluged with letters from readers disgusted with the continued dismissal of questions about 2004. But as a firm believer in reasoned debate over demagoguery, I would far rather see Kennedy taken to task than ignored.

I have two major problems with those, like Manjoo, who want to forget 2004 and move on to "election reform." One is that they nit-pick statistical data, determine that there's no way to say for sure that Kerry should have won, and call the whole examination a wash. The other is that they keep redirecting attention to long-standing voting problems, rather than looking at the very dramatic problems that have brought this issue to a head. In short they are minimizing the central issue: the relentless Republican aggression on voter rights.

However Manjoo and others have characterized Kennedy's article, Kennedy himself never claims that the election was stolen. He stops well short of drawing that conclusion. The title of the article ends in a question mark, and the sum of the entire article poses a question: If the will of the voter had not been subverted in multiple ways, who would be President now? Or, to quote Kennedy:

For the second election in a row, the president of the United States was selected not by the uncontested will of the people but under a cloud of dirty tricks. Given the scope of the GOP machinations, we simply cannot be certain that the right man now occupies the Oval Office...

None of Kennedy's critics have chosen to address the stated issue of an election tainted by uncertainty. Most of the debate that has ensued in the wake of Kennedy's article has been with a straw man. It's very easy to dismiss the position that says, Kerry should have won. It's much harder to address the issue of just how many ways voter intent was subverted, how much doubt that casts on the outcome, and what it means for future elections.

Whether or not enough voters were suppressed or enough ballots were misread by optical scanners in machines owned by Republican concerns to have swayed the final result doesn't alter the fact that these things occurred and will continue to occur if not addressed proactively. Attempted theft is cause enough to face down a GOP that can be counted on to put its thumb on the scale every election day.

Even the New York Times, a paper that has long avoided this issue, called a spade a spade in today's editorial.

If there was ever a sign of a ruling party in trouble, it is a game plan that calls for trying to win by discouraging voting.

The latest sign that Republicans have an election-year strategy to shut down voter registration drives comes from Ohio. As the state gears up for a very competitive election season this fall, its secretary of state, J. Kenneth Blackwell, has put in place "emergency" regulations that could hit voter registration workers with criminal penalties for perfectly legitimate registration practices. The rules are so draconian they could shut down registration drives in Ohio.

Sadly, none of this is new. It's become standard operating procedure for the GOP to subvert voters from getting to the polls at every turn. And Manjoo's argument that Republicans are being disenfranchised, too, and therefore it's not partisan, does not hold water. What becomes clear to anyone regularly observing these machinations is that the Republican Party appears to have decided that they benefit by eliminating as many voters as possible, and if a few Republicans get caught up in the net, oh well. As long as they're registering aggressively and properly their motivated base in churches, they seem willing to take those odds.

There is too much happening that is far too outrageous to be called "voting problems as usual." From the Brooks Brothers riots shutting down the recount in 2000 to the CEO of Diebold promising to "deliver" Ohio for Bush, the public record of these events beggars belief in a fair-but-flawed voting process.

Manjoo and other critics minimize and ignore stunning outrages -- like the fraudulent security lockdown of one of the last vote counting facilities to tally in Ohio, Warren County, for which there is no record of any terrorist threat -- and focus on the unanswerable question of whether or how disenfranchised voters would have voted for Kerry. That's just counting the dancing angels on the head of a pin while our electoral system lay dying.

There is plenty of evidence that the will of the people was subverted. How that will would have expressed itself in an unfettered process can only be estimated.

Even Manjoo concedes that Blackwell was up to no good.

There's no argument that he used those powers for partisan gain. As Kennedy documents, in the months prior to the election, Blackwell issued a series of arbitrary and capricious voting and registration rules that could well have disenfranchised many people in the state.

But to prove Blackwell stole the state for Bush, Kennedy's got to do more than show instances of Blackwell's mischief. He's got to outline where Blackwell's actions could possibly have added up to enough votes to put the wrong man in office. In that, he fails.

Again, Kennedy didn't fail. He didn't make the claim. The straw man of Manjoo's imagination did. Kennedy simply put forth evidence that there was an effort to subvert the process, which Manjoo concedes, and that the will of the people was not fairly demonstrated at the polls.

Similarly, we know that a Republican operative orchestrated a phone line jamming operation in the 2002 New Hampshire gubernatorial race to block Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts and that he and two others went to jail for it. Do we know if incumbent Jeanne Sheehan would have defeated John Sununu? No we don't. But that doesn't mean a crime did not occur. We know, with absolute certainty, that an orchestrated effort to interfere with the right of the people to participate in an unfettered voting process took place. By Chris Bowers logic, as outlined here, the answer to such things is for Democrats to stop being lazy and unjam those phone lines. (I don't know... with their teeth or something.)

As far as I'm concerned the people who characterize a clear pattern of voter disenfranchisement as long-standing voting issues are missing the forest for the trees. Whether or not we can prove who should have won, we cannot deny that there is a clear pattern of Republican intent to subvert the will of the people. If we don't address that and deal with it head on, any hope of "election reform" is doomed to fail, as is our democracy.