Published on December 7, 2004 by The Providence Journal / Rhode Island
Timid Kerry Stopped Counting Too Soon
by John R. MacArthur
|I'm sorry I didn't vote for Ralph Nader
Yes, I know it would have been a quixotic gesture, and on some moral level a wasted vote in support of the despicable incumbent. But at least I wouldn't be burdened with the embarrassment of having voted for the great equivocator from Massachusetts, who disgraced himself with his hasty concession to George Bush on Nov. 3.
The question just hangs there, unanswered: Why did John Kerry capitulate so quickly, after so many people -- especially poor people -- had braved long lines, cold rainy weather and Republican intimidation to record their opposition to the Bush imperium? Why did he throw in the towel when the whole world was watching for a repeat of the stolen election of 2000 -- stolen by the Bush Machine's disenfranchisement of poor blacks in Florida? Why did he give up when the possibility -- not so far-out -- almost immediately arose that Gov. Robert A. Taft II's Republican organization had corrupted the electoral machinery in Ohio?
What happened to the inspiring rhetoric about counting every vote? Where were all the lawyers, supposedly primed to fight the Republicans tooth and nail if there was even a hint of fraud? Who turned off the supposedly ferocious 527 committees that, rather than screaming for Kerry to fight, just evaporated?
And that timid concession speech! Kerry's limp clichés blasphemed the hallowed Revolutionary confines of Faneuil Hall, scene of so much fiery rhetoric against the undemocratic rule of kings. His excuse for quitting insulted the very people he said he had come to thank:
"I would not give up this fight if there was a chance that we would prevail. But it is now clear that even when all the provisional ballots are counted, which they will be, there won't be enough outstanding votes for us to be able to win Ohio. And therefore we cannot win this election."
But there was, and is, a chance that Kerry could prevail. The unofficial count on Nov. 3 had Bush winning in Ohio by 139,000 votes, while 155,000 provisional ballots and unknown numbers of overseas ballots remained to be counted. The provisional ballots were provisional precisely because Republican poll watchers had aggressively challenged voters in poor precincts -- where people tend to have less stable addresses and jobs than in the Republican suburbs -- that would ordinarily go Democratic.
An election isn't an exercise in probability and statistics; it's about counting the votes. By conceding early, Kerry removed the principal guarantee of an honest count in Ohio: the threat of de-legitimizing Bush's second term. With Kerry out of the picture, who was going to care if a lot of poor people were deprived of their right to vote?
It gets worse. We already knew about the Franklin County, Ohio, precinct that tallied 4,258 votes for Bush when only 638 people had actually voted. But last week Juan Gonzales, of the New York Daily News, reported new evidence about highly suspicious vote totals in certain black precincts of Cleveland. In one, Kerry was credited with 290 votes, Bush 21 and Michael Peroutka, of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Constitutional Party, a phenomenal 215. In another, nearby precinct, it was Kerry 318, Bush 21 and the Libertarian Party candidate 163. Not bloody likely. In 2000, third-party presidential candidates in the aformentioned precincts had totaled eight votes.
I grew up in Cook County, Ill., an electoral locale synonymous with corruption. In 1960, Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine singlehandedly stole the presidential election for John F. Kennedy by delivering the state of Illinois; so why is it so implausible that the Taft-family satrapy of Ohio stole the election for Bush?
But even if Bush prevails "legitimately" in Ohio (after a probable Green Party-requested recount is completed), I'm left with the sense that Kerry betrayed his supporters -- that he was every bit the elitist patrician that Red State America mistrusted so deeply. It's ironic and, I suppose, unfair that the combat veteran who got his hands bloody in Vietnam was portrayed as a less genuine human being than the draft-dodging prep-school smart-ass Bush. But after Kerry's concession performance, I'm not so sure that he didn't get what he deserved.
An authentic tribune of popular opposition to Bush would have fought this election as if his life, and the future of the country, depended on it. Kerry tried to back into victory on the updrafts of hot air from his pollsters and consultants. He never really attacked Bush for his lies about Iraq, about the real cost of the war, or about Halliburton's corrupt contracts with the Pentagon. He never confronted Bush and Cheney over their rank hypocrisy in permitting Halliburton to do business in embargoed Iran, a charter member of Bush's "axis of evil." In short, Kerry never made Bush's dishonest foreign policy the constitutional issue that it should have been.
In politics, the only thing worse than a bully is someone who won't stand up to one.
Anyone can make mistakes, and perhaps there were small, practical adjustments Kerry could have made to improve his chances -- for example, naming Sen. Bob Graham, of Florida, or Rep. Richard Gephardt, of Missouri, as a running mate, instead of the blow-dried blowhard from North Carolina. (I still think that John Edwards was imposed on Kerry by the Clintons and the Democratic Leadership Council, to weaken the ticket and pave the way for Hillary in 2008.)
But you can't change a man's fundamental character. Above all, Kerry is a cautious card-carrying member of the establishment -- Bush's Skull and Bones fraternity-brother-for-life. And after Skull Bones and Yale, there is only one more exclusive club in America: the millionaire members of the U.S. Senate.
Compared with that crowd, what's a bunch of poor people standing around in the cold and rain, trying to be the equal of John Kerry and George W. Bush?
John R. MacArthur, a monthly contributor, is publisher of Harpers magazine.
© 2004 Belo Interactive Inc.