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Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election

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Ah, the subject every Republican in America wishes would just go away, dammit! Well, sorry–not gonna happen for a very long time.

Two and a half years later, the basic facts of this historic event are still mind-boggling: The day after the election, out of millions of votes in Florida, George W. Bush is separated from Al Gore by a tiny margin of .03%. A recount is certain. A fair recount is crucial. But in control of the state election machinery are two of the most powerful Republicans in the state: Bush’s brother, who is both the state governor and the chairman of the Bush election campaign, and the Secretary of State, who is the co-chair of that campaign. The governor recuses himself from official involvement in the election controversy–yet his staff “quits” their jobs in droves to work directly for George W. Bush. The Secretary of State, claiming impartiality, makes one decision after another that just happens to go her candidate’s way.

The contradictions displayed by the two political camps over the 36-day battle were amusing when they weren’t sickening. Gore demands that the state “count all the votes”–but, oddly, he only asks for recounts in a handful of Democratic-leaning counties. George W. Bush, who as governor had signed a Texas law that held up manual recounts as the highest standard for accuracy, now argues against manual recounts as if they were designed by the devil himself. And this right-wing federalist, committed to the Republican ideology of “states’ rights,” and possessed of the disdain of federal lawsuits that ideology demands, files the first lawsuit in federal court–and ultimately depends on judicial activism by the highest federal court in the land to install him in the White House.

Their political tactics were through the looking glass. Gore did not encourage Democratic activists from around the nation to take to the streets in Florida and raise a stink about Bush’s “stealing” the election–a TV spectacle that might have made the nation so uneasy that everyone would have just shaken their heads and said, “Forget it, just count every vote again with one standard and let’s get this over with.” On the other hand, Freeper Republicans flocked to the state, and political operatives even staged a mini-riot that shut down one recount–a clear incidence of criminal behavior influencing a government function. Hey, that’s our tactic, you frickin’ Freepers!

Still, there’s no getting around the central fact: The Republicans stole the election. Al Gore tried to steal it, but they beat him. If only Al Gore had actually demanded a principled recount–manually count all the votes in the state–from the first day, he likely would have gotten it, and it is almost certain from the research done since that he would have won that particular kind of recount.

And there’s no getting around another disturbing fact. It isn’t talked about much in the press, but the election was really decided by the Florida Republican political machine before it occurred. As Greg Palast writes in Harper’s:

    In November the U.S. media, lost in patriotic reverie, dressed up the Florida recount as a victory for President Bush. But however one reads the ballots, Bush’s win would certainly have been jeopardized had not some Floridians been barred from casting ballots at all. Between May 1999 and Election Day 2000, two Florida secretaries of state–Sandra Mortham and Katherine Harris, both protegees of Governor Jeb Bush–ordered 57,700 “ex-felons,” who are prohibited from voting by state law, to be removed from voter rolls. (In the thirty-five states where former felons can vote, roughly 90 percent vote Democratic.) A portion of the list, which was compiled for Florida by DBT Online, can be seen for the first time here; DBT, a company now owned by ChoicePoint of Atlanta, was paid $4.3 million for its work, replacing a firm that charged $5,700 per year for the same service. If the hope was that DBT would enable Florida to exclude more voters, then the state appears to have spent its money wisely.

As shown in an early segment of “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election,” a concise and gripping 48-minute documentary, Jeb Bush’s operatives specifically ordered DBT to use loose standards, even though the company said it would certainly result in “false positives”–that is, disenfranchisement of voters who truly possess the right to vote. Civil-rights groups and others have sinced raised hell about this scandal, but Jeb Bush managed to put off dealing with it until it was too late to fix before his reelection campaign in 2002. A company that analyzed the data has determined that 95 percent of those 57,000 voters were placed on the purge list in error, often simply because they had a similar name to a felon. The loose standards insisted upon by Jeb Bush’s operatives meant that, for example, a man legally named “Johnny Jackson Jr.” was purged from the registration list because the database found a felon legally named “John Fitzgerald Jackson” in Texas–of course, the race, black, did match.

If a typical portion of those disenfranchised voters had cast their votes, the Gore-Lieberman ticket would have won by a relative landslide: perhaps 22,000 votes. (Ya think those Republicans who became so enamored of “equal protection” when it rationalized the Supreme Court appointment of Bush are at all concerned about this? Hmm…haven’t heard them mention it lately. I’m sure it weighs on them heavily, though.)

Nitpicking? Sure, if there were similar stories on the Republican side.But no groups of traditionally right-leaning voters were purged from the lists. In fact, the Republicans successfully intimidated Gore into allowing (generally conservative-leaning) military ballots that were clearly illegal–even ballots postmarked after the election. Even ballots in which the person wasn’t even registered in the county. No–the stories all go in one direction: Disenfranchisement of the (mostly black) left, special treatment for the right. But that’s politics. Jeb Bush had a mandate to “deliver the state,” and he did. Even if he had to spend $4 million of Florida’s money to remove legally registered black voters from the rolls.

* * *

I had a lot of fun writing the above. I never tire of telling this story–in conversation, on message boards, anywhere, anytime. The Stolen Florida Election is a favorite liberal myth, and for good reason. It is a meaningful story, and the heroes and villains are clear: There really isn’t any doubt that our adversaries used dishonest and even hateful tactics to undermine democracy and ensure their victory. Villainy happens, and it happened here. A good myth needs high stakes: as we’re seeing on TV, the stakes here were literally life and death.

I’m not the least bit ashamed of my compulsion to tell and re-tell this story. We liberals need to tell this story to ourselves, and we’re not nearly done with the re-telling. A story isn’t over just because it’s been told. African-Americans know the story of Rosa Parks–but they still tell it over and over. Because it matters. Because it’s never over. The story is teaching you, and you can never safely forget its lessons.

Naturally, we learn lessons from the Stolen Florida Election myth: Be vigilant. Work harder. Show up. Never imagine there is a moral line your adversary won’t cross–never, ever trust in his good faith.

And probably most of all: You have to want it as bad as they do. A common analysis of the Florida defeat is that Gore brought a knife to a gunfight. Or, maybe, a Bible to knife fight. He was worried about propriety. He put old William Christopher in the ring with the vicious and amoral James Baker. Gore should have known it was a rigged fight, and that Bush controlled the ref. So he should have done what he said he was gonna do at the DNC: “fight for you.” He should have fought hard and, if necessary, fought dirty.

But it’s not just Gore. We should have been there, too. I wasn’t in Florida. The day the Iraq adventure started for real, one feeling among many I had was a crushing guilt that I didn’t go to Florida in November 2000. Why didn’t I add my body and voice to the effort? Why didn’t a million of us do that? Why? Answer: Because we didn’t want it bad enough. We coasted through Clinton–the other side seethed. They wanted it bad.

Well, now I do, too. That’s really why I tell this myth over and over. To remind me. We’re paying the price now–U.S. history is paying the price now, world history is paying the price, real Iraqi people are paying the price–for letting this myth have the ending it did.

Never again.

That’s what’s so useful about “Unprecedented.” After the screening this morning here in L.A. (it is only screening mornings here for the next few weekends), the filmmakers, Richard Ray Pérez and Joan Sekler, did a Q&A that turned into a political rally of sorts. Pérez and Sekler are performing a vital function in the liberal community–they are re-telling one of our favorite stories, keeping us motivated, and, most of all, keeping us focussed (on elections rather than, oh, impeachment, or public vomiting). At the Q&A Pérez and Sekler encouraged the audience to buy a copy and screen it for groups. They know what they’ve got, they know we’re not getting it anywhere else, and they know what it can do.

There’s nothing wrong with telling this myth to ourselves. A comparison is often made between the Democrats’ “Bush-hating” and the right-wingers’ conspiracy theories about the Vince Foster suicide and the Clintons’ ordering murders for hire and such. But those stories were just plain made up. They were fantasies designed to give people a reason to hate the Clintons, the same way that the black-men-are-raping-our-daughters fantasy helped Southern racists feel good about lynching.

This isn’t the same thing. This story is real. It happened. The myth I tell is based on the facts, and the most important fact of it is that there was a close race and we didn’t win. That’s what the myth is about. That’s not hatred. It’s keeping your eyes on the prize.

Rosa Parks really was convicted of a crime for sitting down on a bus. Gays really did rise up against bigoted police at Stonewall. George W. Bush really did steal the 2000 Presidential Election.

It’s a good myth. It’s a myth rooted in fact and, even better, truth. It’s a myth that matters.

And, Republicans, I’ve got some bad news for you: We’re not going to stop telling it.

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About Brian Flemming

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    You seem to think that if you just keep saying the same lies and innuendo that after some few thousand times they will become true, as if by magic.

    They will not. The fact is that Bush won a very close election in Florida. Get the hell over it and move on with your life.

    They counted the votes on election day. Bush got more votes.

    They recounted the votes. Bush still had more votes.

    The partisan Democrats of the Florida Supreme Court tried to put their thumbs on the scales, the US Supreme Court knocked them down. Too bad, so sad.

    For my part, I would have just as soon the US Supreme Court stayed out of it, if only because it would give a bunch of whining sore losers an excuse to bitch for years and years, even if the court was right. There was a reasonable case for what the US Supreme Court did; the votes had been counted and recounted and the Democrats were just not going to stop until they got the result that they wanted.

    Nonetheless, even after the US Supreme Court decision, the media went through and sponsored yet another recount after Bush’s inaugaration. The result? Bush had more votes.

    So in summary, the votes were counted and re-counted. Bush got more votes every time.

    You liberals are so goddam childish with this stuff that it is a couple of years past being funny now. There is simply no way that you are going to concede anything ever, no matter what.

    Your automatic charges of Republican skullduggery are completely without merit. The votes in the key controversial areas were counted by local elected DEMOCRATS. Ms. Harris didn’t have anything to do with counting the votes; she merely added up the figures from the counties, in accordance with state law.

    The fact that the governor was the candidate’s brother is co-incidental and irrelevant. You make it that this fact basically automatically proves that Jeb did something to throw the election. He did not. There’s no sign or evidence of any such thing whatsoever.

    On the other hand, please feel free to keep flogging this dead horse. If this is the best thing you have to campaign on, Dubya will sweep to a huge re-election against whatever jackass you put up.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Al,

    The facts in my review are specific and sourced. Please state which facts in particular you believe are “lies and innuendo.”

    A blanket accusation and a bullying command do not an argument make.

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    OK then, let me try to dumb it down so that even a liberal can understand:

    We had an election. They counted the votes. George Bush got more votes in Florida.

    They recounted the votes. Bush still had more votes.

    Democrats simply would not concede their loss. Courts state and federal got in, confirming the results of the two full state counts. Bush was inaugarated.

    Media conducted another count at great length and expense. Bush got more votes.

    End of goddam story.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Al,

    Sorry. I got a notice of your comments that said this and only this:

      Comments:

      You seem to think that if you just keep saying the same lies and innuendo that after some few thousand times they will become true, as if by magic.

      They will not. The fact is that Bush won a very close election in Florida. Get the hell over it and move on with your life.

    That’s why I responded the way I did. For some reason, the rest of your comments were not up at first.

    In any case, as usual, you do not quote from me or specifically counter any facts in my review. I suppose swearing at me and insulting me stands in for that.

    Here’s just one aspect of the review you failed to address:

      And there’s no getting around another disturbing fact. It isn’t talked about much in the press, but the election was really decided by the Florida Republican political machine before it occurred. As Greg Palast writes in Harper’s:

      In November the U.S. media, lost in patriotic reverie, dressed up the Florida recount as a victory for President Bush. But however one reads the ballots, Bush’s win would certainly have been jeopardized had not some Floridians been barred from casting ballots at all. Between May 1999 and Election Day 2000, two Florida secretaries of state–Sandra Mortham and Katherine Harris, both protegees of Governor Jeb Bush–ordered 57,700 “ex-felons,” who are prohibited from voting by state law, to be removed from voter rolls. (In the thirty-five states where former felons can vote, roughly 90 percent vote Democratic.) A portion of the list, which was compiled for Florida by DBT Online, can be seen for the first time here; DBT, a company now owned by ChoicePoint of Atlanta, was paid $4.3 million for its work, replacing a firm that charged $5,700 per year for the same service. If the hope was that DBT would enable Florida to exclude more voters, then the state appears to have spent its money wisely.

    As shown in an early segment of “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election,” a concise and gripping 48-minute documentary, Jeb Bush’s operatives specifically ordered DBT to use loose standards, even though the company said it would certainly result in “false positives”–that is, disenfranchisement of voters who truly possess the right to vote. Civil-rights groups and others have sinced raised hell about this scandal, but Jeb Bush managed to put off dealing with it until it was too late to fix before his reelection campaign in 2002. A company that analyzed the data has determined that 95 percent of those 57,000 voters were placed on the purge list in error, often simply because they had a similar name to a felon. The loose standards insisted upon by Jeb Bush’s operatives meant that, for example, a man legally named “Johnny Jackson Jr.” was purged from the registration list because the database found a felon legally named “John Fitzgerald Jackson” in Texas–of course, the race, black, did match.

    If a typical portion of those disenfranchised voters had cast their votes, the Gore-Lieberman ticket would have won by a relative landslide: perhaps 22,000 votes. (Ya think those Republicans who became so enamored of “equal protection” when it rationalized the Supreme Court appointment of Bush are at all concerned about this? Hmm…haven’t heard them mention it lately. I’m sure it weighs on them heavily, though.)

    Nitpicking? Sure, if there were similar stories on the Republican side.But no groups of traditionally right-leaning voters were purged from the lists. In fact, the Republicans successfully intimidated Gore into allowing (generally conservative-leaning) military ballots that were clearly illegal–even ballots postmarked after the election. Even ballots in which the person wasn’t even registered in the county. No–the stories all go in one direction: Disenfranchisement of the (mostly black) left, special treatment for the right. But that’s politics. Jeb Bush had a mandate to “deliver the state,” and he did. Even if he had to spend $4 million of Florida’s money to remove legally registered black voters from the rolls.

    Do you dispute these facts? If so, do you dispute them based on anything but more insults and swearing?

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    If you look at the media recount (rather than just the post-9/11 headline), it is clear if all the votes (both under and over) were counted, Gore got more votes in Florida. See Robert Perry’s excellent analysis.

    I hope Bush proposes that the president of the United States be elected by popular vote as an example to the Iraqis on how democracy should be done.

  • Rob

    If Gore and his supporters were so sure they had won, why did he concede, and not once but IIRC, twice?

  • http://www.well.com/~srhodes Steve Rhodes

    Because Gore is an idiot who completely mismanaged the fight over Florida. He still won though (and the even bigger idiot is now president).

  • InMarin

    GOP Mob Consisted of Congressional Staff
    Ask yourself this question: if the Republicans’ viewpoint on the Florida election results is so correct, why did they have to pay current and former Congressional workers to protest?

    1. Tom Pyle, policy analyst, office of House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).
    2. Garry Malphrus, majority chief counsel and staff director, House Judiciary subcommittee on criminal justice.
    3. Rory Cooper, political division staff member at the National Republican Congressional Committee.
    4. Kevin Smith, former House Republican conference analyst and more recently of Voter.com.
    5. Steven Brophy, former aide to Sen. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.), now working at the consulting firm KPMG.
    6. Matt Schlapp, former chief of staff for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), now on the Bush campaign staff in Austin.
    7. Roger Morse, aide to Rep. Van Hilleary (R-Tenn.).
    8. Duane Gibson, aide to Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) of the House Resources Committee.
    9. Chuck Royal, legislative assistant to Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
    10. Layna McConkey, former legislative assistant to former Rep. Jim Ross Lightfoot (R-Iowa), now at Steelman Health Strategies.

    Mob Scene In Miami; We look at the players behind the ‘spontaneous’ protest that preceded the shutdown of Miami-Dade’s recount

    Everybody knows Al Gore won Florida

    Total Florida Ballots: Results of counties reporting over/undervote

  • http://www.anothertime.blogspot.com Tim Tucker

    It is a sad fact that fringe democrats will be hashing and rehashing this for decades to come. The truth however, is after every recount Bush won. According to the media at the time , the looser the standard on the recount, the more Bush won by. At that point I was completly satisfied. When a private recount down by a left leaning paper looking for a story comes up with nothing to report, you gotta be thinking the horse is dead move on. Gore grew a beard then lost his mind, let fly with whatever came out of his mouth and trashed his politcal future, but he has more integrity than the ones who continue a witch hunt looking for a vast illuminati conspiracy that stole this election. But for my part; keep it up, the more this gets stirred up, the madder the red states get. Go on, talk down a President with a 70% approval rating, but thank your lucky stars he was there on 9/11.

  • http://www.slumdance.com/blogs/brian_flemming/ Brian Flemming

    Tim,

      Go on, talk down a President with a 70% approval rating, but thank your lucky stars he was there on 9/11.

    I hear this from pro-Bush people all the time. What is it that you think Gore would have done if he were President? Is it an article of faith with you that he would have turned over the White House to Osama bin Laden? What are you basing this on? The Clinton-Gore Administration’s going to war over the objections of Congressional Republicans?

    I have an idea of what Gore might have done, in contrast to Bush…

    1) He would have taken the level of the religious rhetoric down, not up. He wouldn’t have used the word “crusade.” He would have reached out to the non-U.S.-hating Muslim community and treated the problem as a shared problem. Having no base that includes fundamentalist Christians who feel it is their duty to hate Islam, he would not have had to pander to these people, giving Gore more options to work with when approaching the worldwide problem of extremist Islam.

    2) Gore would have BUILT on the huge outpouring of support from the other countries in the world instead of squandering it. In 2003 we would have found ourselves working in cooperation with a world that felt we were committed to leading the globe toward peace, NOT a world filled with people who hate and fear us and rate us in opinion polls as the #1 danger to the world. Right now the campaign against terrorism would be helped enormously by this good will. We don’t have it. With Gore, we almost certainly would have. He never took pleasure in showing contempt for the rest of the world, as Bush does (Kyoto, Int’l Criminal Court, lying to the U.N.). Do you honestly feel it is BETTER that most of the globe hates and fears the U.S.?

    3) Gore would have attacked al Qaeda in Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. But instead of merely promising to rebuild that country, as Bush did when the U.S. needed the cooperation of the people there, Gore would have actually followed through, and Afghanistan would be a more stable society today, filled with people grateful to the U.S., not resentful of U.S. broken promises.

    4) Gore would not have been committed to a rigid tax-cuts-no-matter-what ideology, so he would have had flexibility when dealing with the economy. He would not have plunged us into the quagmire we have today, and he wouldn’t have needed to make domestic security a campaign issue in 2002 and “market” (quote from Bush’s chief of staff) a war for political advantage.

    Oh, and that 70% approval rating for Bush? That’s a wartime rating. So an honest basis of comparison would be to OTHER presidents’ wartime approval ratings. Like, say, a previous president during a Gulf war, just 12 years ago. W’s dad had a 90% approval rating. Explain the reason for the difference, please.

  • SlackMFer

    Brian Flemming wrote:
    “It’s a good myth.”

    i totally agree with you. you use the word myth over and over, and i think that is totally appropriate, considering…

    MYTH:
    1.A fiction or half-truth, especially one that forms part of an ideology.

    2.A fictitious story, person, or thing.

    thanks.

  • Turko

    Get used to it Conservative jackasses… this is the long-overdue backlash for the eight years of anti-Clinton harrassment and conspiracy theories. This next election, I hope the Democrats gloves come COMPLETELY OFF for once… they always roll over for you bastards and let you have your way.

    The ignorant posts here completely avoid the facts the film brings up by the way.. why were people illegally expunged from voters rolls? If they weren’t the DAMN VOTES WOULD BE IN FAVOR OF GORE! no matter WHO counted them or HOW MANY TIMES! yeah after you stack the deck, the votes went your way.. but you knew that didn’t you??

    Let’s run someone with some balls this time and kick these ignorant, asshole bastard NAZIS all the way back to Berlin this time!

  • http://sim1 sim

    Why did African Americans dislike Jeb Bush in the first place? Like did he do or say something to make them want to vote against him?