So what really happened in 2004? Did Bush win fair and square or was the electorate fooled again?
According to Mark Crispin Miller, it is the latter. In his book, Fooled Again: How The Right Stole The 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal The Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), Miller makes a compelling case that the election was rigged and that unless We The People stand up and put a stop to this nonsense, we may never again see a fair national election in this country.
Miller’s primary argument is that Bush’s victory was a miracle; that, in fact, there were so many reliable indicators pointing to a Kerry victory, that it is a literal impossibility that this election could have been fair.
Miller’s evidence is thorough and exhaustive, though a good bit of it may be familiar territory for anyone who was paying attention. He lays out the chicanery of the touch-screen voting machines, supplied by companies such as Diebold and ES & S that had close ties to the Bush administration and whose CEOs publicly stated that they would do everything in their power to ensure Bush’s re-election. Such machines did not produce a paper record. The companies, rather than the states that purchased the machines, held the source codes, thus allowing them to be hacked before, during and after the election. And the results were predictable. A vote for Kerry would be recorded as a vote for Bush (this actually happened to my mother in Montgomery County, Maryland. Fortunately, she checked the read-out before hitting send). Sometimes a Kerry vote would add a vote for Bush and then subtract one vote from Kerry’s total, which resulted in Bush receiving more votes in some districts than had actually been cast.
Miller also documents the kind of “rat-fucking” that would make Donald Segretti blush, such as not enough voting machines and not enough ballots in Democratic areas, especially African-American and Hispanic districts; Republican poll watchers challenging the validity of registered minority voters; leaflets distributed in minority neighborhoods stating that if one votes illegally, one might be arrested, have their children taken away, be deported; disinformation campaigns designed to dupe Democratic voters into voting at the wrong polling place and even on the wrong day; and in the Southern states, various measures that were so downright Jim Crow, they’d make George Wallace happier than a pig in slop.
Such tactics were widespread, resulting in thousands of complaints all across the country. Miller asserts that much of what occurred, down at the precinct level, resulted from carte blanche granted from state election commissioners who themselves were Bush supporters, perhaps the most notorious being Kenneth Blackwell, Ohio Secretary of State and co-chair of Committee to Re-Elect George W. Bush in Ohio.
As disturbing as these examples are, what is really shocking is the broad, well organized and well coordinated campaign to throw the election and render the outcome a foregone conclusion in advance of Election Day. Perpetrators of such efforts included not just state election commissioners, but Republican Party operatives and even private corporations.
State election officials attempted to put up roadblocks against voters who wanted to vote early, as a way of making sure their votes would actually be counted. Absentee ballots were sent late, if at all. Voters showing up in person to cast an early absentee ballot would be sent away for one reason or another. Students at Black colleges would be told they had to vote in their home districts. And provisional ballots in many states were never verified; they were thrown into the shredder.
Even more pernicious, according to Miller, was the privatization of the election process as election commissions outsourced the task of compiling voter lists to corporations with ties to the Bush administration. The result was a repeat of what happened in Florida during the last election, the infamous elimination of thousands of “felons” from the voting rolls, except this time the culling was even more numerous and blatant as registered voters were un-registered simply for being Democrats. Such was the experience of one Democratic Party operative in Ohio, who had been tasked with making sure confirmed Kerry supporters made it to the polls. Throughout Election Day, she would monitor certain precincts, as they would post the voter rolls, so she could see if people on her list had voted. When the first list was posted at 3:40 p.m., she found that some of her names were not listed on the rolls—not listed as registered voters! Comparing notes with other operatives, she found that roughly 10 percent of registered Democrats in that county had been eliminated from the voter rolls.
However, it was not merely registered voters who found themselves shut out as part of an Election Day surprise, but also newly registered voters, victimized by bogus registration campaigns, perhaps the most notorious being conducted by Sproul & Associates, which set up camp in several states and operated without disclosing who they were and with whom they were affiliated. Sproul received several million dollars in payment from the Republican National Committee to fund its campaign to register Democrats, then destroy the registration forms or register Democrats as Republicans or simply refuse to register people who might want to register as Democrats.
When considering Miller’s analysis, one has to ask if Fooled Again is credible. I say, yes it is. Miller is no tin-foil helmet wearing conspiracy theorist. He’s a professor of media studies at New York University, who has written a great deal on film, television, propaganda and politics and has several books under his belt. The book itself is painstakingly researched. As Miller said at the “Mad Hatters Review” April reading at KGB Bar in New York City, “Don’t believe me. Check the footnotes.” Fooled Again features hundreds of footnotes, which, by the way, make for interesting reading in and of themselves.
How extensive is Miller’s research? For instance, at the KGB reading, I approached Miller and told him a story of how in Madison, the Republican opponent of Representative Tammy Baldwin had signed off on a leaflet produced by the College Republicans and distributed in the dorms at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The leaflet caused an uproar because of the statement, “Feel free to vote at the polling place of your choice.” Miller replied, “I know about that. It’s in the book.” And it is.
The other question is: Do the numbers add up to prove that the election was stolen? Keep in mind that Bush won the popular vote by three million votes, not a large number and easily questioned. More importantly, the election came down to who would win Ohio’s electors. Bush won Ohio by 118,000 votes. Given the level of egregiousness of the wide variety of fraud and voter-suppression tactics in Ohio, it’s not hard to believe that Kerry would have won that state easily had the election been conducted with a modicum of fairness.
But what makes Fooled Again particularly compelling is that Miller does not merely supply the what and how, but the why as well. Miller writes, “In short, the election of 2004 was stolen by a theocratic movement, just as hostile to the promise of democracy as any Bolshevik or Nazi of the past or any fuming Islamist today. That movement has never spoken for the American majority and never will.”
With his background in propaganda, this aspect of analysis plays right into Miller’s wheelhouse. With mechanical precision, Miller paints a vivid picture of the members of the Christian Right who perpetrated this fraud. They are true believers who see the world only in absolutes of good and evil. Anyone who opposes them is evil and therefore must be stopped, must be destroyed by any means possible. According to Miller, these people were convinced they had to steal the election because the Democrats would use any means possible to steal the election. In addition, as Miller outlines in the chapter “The Requisite Fanaticism” those of this ilk tend to enjoy seeing themselves as martyrs of a divine cause, a couple notable examples provided in this chapter being Clarence Thomas and Tom DeLay.
Another useful area in terms of causality concerns the media and the Democratic Party, which Miller denounces as complicit in this whole sad affair. According to Miller, the Republicans had created such an atmosphere of intimidation that most Democrats were fearful to speak up or else be branded as crybabies and sore losers. Miller tells the story of running into John Kerry and telling him he was robbed. Kerry replies, “I know.” When Miller mentions this exchange publicly, Kerry’s people circle the wagons and issue denial after denial after denial.
Miller expresses great disappointment in, and disdain toward, the media for ignoring this story, but points out that that is endemic due to the lack of a truly independent media.
If I have a quibble with Fooled Again, it is in the area of causal relationships. First, Miller really doesn’t pay attention to the unholy alliance between the Christian Right and the corporatocracy, a process I have called “corporations going Christian and Christians going corporate.”
By finding common cause, the Christian Right and the corporate establishment have formed a symbiotic relationship that presents a clear and present danger to our democracy. The Christian Right offers vast organizational capabilities and the corporatocracy offers money, lots of it. The result is fascist theocracy where government serves business by letting business do whatever it wants and then the Rapture Rightists, who get elected with corporate support, can spend the rest of the time in their respective legislatures passing laws that fit their twisted moral vision.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Ideology is fine and dandy, but in the end it all comes down to money. Corporate money sees no ideology. It merely sees a path to power and subsequent profits. In the end, faith-based initiatives end up putting government money into somebody’s pocket. In the end, tribute must be paid to the bosses and capos that put politicians in positions of power. Thus we have seen “good Christians” facing jail time for nuts-and-bolts corruption. In the end, Tom DeLay was nothing more than a bagman for Jack Abramoff and his corporate masters.
The fraud of 2004 could not have occurred without cooperation from the corporate elites, at least certainly not on the level or scope as Miller describes.
The other causal relationship I wish Miller had explored is the role of cognitive dissonance. Myself, I have no trouble believing the 2004 election was a sham, but then again, I don’t believe our system works. I believe that it can work, but I don’t think it currently does.
However, people who go into politics and, to a large extent, people in the media believe in the system. Therefore, the politicians and journalists who need to fight for us are less willing to believe the truth. Human nature dictates that we avoid cognitive dissonance. Thus it becomes that much less likely that these people will even seek out or pay attention to that which challenges their personal paradigm.
Furthermore, it is the system, honest or corrupt, that grants them their positions, so it makes it that much less likely that such a person would be willing to upset the apple cart. That is why people like Judith Miller and Senator Joe Lieberman are so willing to play ball with the Bush administration. I’m sure a healthy case of denial helps Miller and Lieberman sleep at night.
And I believe this is a reason why Miller’s excellent book has received so little media attention. See no evil! Hear no evil! Fooled Again is hard to believe because it is so unbelievable, but believe it we must.
Fooled Again is a hugely important work, both in the long term and the short term. It stands in opposition to the “What’s Wrong With Kansas Syndrome” where Democratic Leadership Council types state that for the Democrats to win back the White House, they need to move to the right and that the party needs to isolate liberals and purge leftists. There are even some Democrats who have the gall to claim that it is no longer politically expedient for the Democratic Party to be pro-choice.
As for the long term, Miller offers a much needed critique of our electoral system. Miller states unequivocally that if the system is not fixed, we may never again see a fair election. Black-box voting must be outlawed. Elections must not be privatized. It is the ultimate hypocrisy that our national leaders denounce voting fraud overseas while aiding and abetting it here at home.
Thus I say, read this book, but that is not enough. Tell all your friends and family members to read Fooled Again. Hell, send copies of it to your congresspeople and the editors of your local newspapers. And get active. Contact your local and statewide election officials and demand fair elections.