You Call This a Democracy?

BY David Sirota

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Our political system is starting to resemble the kind of banana republic authoritarianism we claim to despise.

There is nothing quite as hypocritical as a politician preaching the virtues of democracy while doing everything he can to destroy it. But as Election Day approaches, that is exactly what is happening.

President Bush is traveling the country bragging about supposedly bringing democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan while waging a stealth campaign far different from his rhetoric here at home. Unwilling to wage a fight within legal bounds and undeterred by the odious stench of the 2000 debacle, the president has deployed his operatives to rig the outcome on November 2.

Before you call this conspiracy theory, read on:

  • In August 2003, the head of one of the biggest manufacturers of voting machines wrote a fundraising letter saying he is “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.” According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Walden O’Dell, CEO of Diebold Inc., also “attended a strategy pow-wow with wealthy Bush benefactors—known as Rangers and Pioneers—at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch earlier this month.” The next week, he invited guests to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for the Ohio GOP at his mansion in the Cleveland suburbs. This is the man whose machines have no paper trail and will be used by at least 8 million voters in the upcoming election.
  • In June 2004, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his political appointees used the guise of clearing felons off voter rolls to hide an attempt to disenfranchise 48,000 traditionally Democratic voters. The list, which was disproportionately African-American, was rife with inaccuracies. Additionally, in a state with a heavily Republican Cuban population, a technical error caused the names of thousands of Hispanic felons to be excluded from the list.The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has asked the Department of Justice to investigate.
  • In July, a top GOP official in Michigan gave voice to Republican efforts to squelch minority voter turnout. State Rep. John Pappageorge said, “If we do not suppress the Detroit vote, we’re going to have a tough time in this election.” What did he mean? While Michigan is predominantly white (78 percent), Detroit has an overwhelmingly minority population (88 percent). This strategy is no accident: Polls show that more than four in five blacks believe Bush did not legitimately win the election and two-thirds think deliberate attempts were made to prevent black voters’ ballots from being counted.
  • Also in July, the Miami Herald found the Republican Party staking out naturalization ceremonies for new immigrants to trick them into registering Republican. Specifically, GOP operatives have been handing out voter registration forms to new citizens just moments after being sworn in by the U.S. government with the party affiliation box already checked Republican. Once registered, the GOP can target mailing and other campaign outreach to those voters.
  • In August, Jeb Bush was at it again—this time having his political appointees at a key county election board hire a law firm with direct connections to the Bush-Cheney campaign. Though the Broward County Elections Board is supposed to be nonpartisan, Bush’s official there hired the law firm Blosser & Sayfie. James Blosser is a top fundraiser for the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Justin Sayfie is co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Broward County. The firm, which was fired after public outrage, was to represent the county in legal challenges should another election debacle occur.

Outrageous, certainly, but at least we have our ability to freely protest against them without being harassed, right? Wrong. The New York Times reports that the FBI has “contacted” a number of people who have organized political demonstrations, forcing some to appear before a grand jury to disclose what they know of protest plans. Want to take your complaint to the top? Think again. The Albuquerque Journal reports that those who wanted to attend a speech by Cheney were refused at the door unless they signed a pledge to vote GOP in November. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that the Secret Service, led by the president’s top personal aide, accosted peaceful AIDS demonstrators during a Bush speech last month. Demonstrators were “shoved and pulled from the room—some by their hair, one by her bra straps—and then arrested for disorderly conduct and detained.”

Our political system is starting to resemble the kind of banana republic authoritarianism we claim to despise. The only things missing are government-sponsored mural portraits of George W. Bush splashed on sides of buildings and state-run television.

Who knows? With Bush’s aircraft carrier stunt, Fox News’ incessant propaganda, and the White House now telling journalists it has a “different set of rules” for those who give too much coverage to the president’s opponents, anything is possible.

David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.

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