Bush's victory in perspective


Well, I guess wishing doesn’t make it so.

Last week I hoped for “ but did not predict “ a Democratic sweep in the American elections, with liberals picking up every office from president to dog-catcher.

Sure, I thought Democrat John Kerry would eke out a narrow victory, 272 electoral college votes to George W. Bush’s 266 votes, losing Florida but winning Ohio. But I also placed a vital caveat on the outcome, saying that ‘if the votes were counted fairly’ Kerry and running mate John Edwards would become president and vice-president.

In the end, Bush won the crucial state of Ohio by a margin of about 135,000 votes. Polling officials estimate that approximately 250,000 provisional votes, mainly from heavily Democratic precincts, are yet to be counted, and they are scheduled to begin the job by Thursday 11 November. When John Kerry conceded the day after the election, he also acknowledged that provisional ballots were unlikely to make up the difference and reverse the result in Ohio.

Still, it’s worth asking if, yet again, the Republican fix was in “ just as it was in Florida in 2000, when Bush really did cheat his way into power. In Florida, the Secretary of State responsible for overseeing the vote-count, Katherine Harris “ she of wildly teased hair and heavily daubed lipstick “ was also the state chair of the Bush-Cheney campaign. Four years later in Ohio, Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, is, you guessed it, state chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election effort.

This time in Florida and Ohio, there were widespread instances of voter suppression in Democratic areas. A classic technique by Republicans who control the balloting process was to send only one or two voting machines to college towns, where, despite a modest turnout in the past, almost everyone knew this election would be different, and create monumentally long lines. In some cases, people waited for fifteen hours to exercise their democratic right while others gave up and left in despair just as the Bush campaign had planned.

Once again, we shall probably never know if this election was honest.

But even on the figures we have, any talk of a Bush ‘mandate’ is ludicrous. The U.S. remains an almost equally divided nation. Bush won 51 percent, while Kerry and Ralph Nader (who this time was merely an egotistical nuisance rather than a real threat to a Democratic victory) won a combined total of 49 percent.

To put the narrowness of Bush’s victory in perspective, he won with a margin of 3.5 million votes out of approximately 120 million cast. His popular-vote margin was the narrowest for any incumbent president since 1916. In 1964, when the electorate was just 72 million voters, liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson “ yes, civil rights and the Great Society make him a great liberal, despite the immoral Vietnam War “ won with a margin of 16 million votes. Now that’s a mandate.

But it ill behooves progressives to deny the reality that, short of hard evidence of massive and systematic vote rigging “ which is conceivable under this mob but unlikely to be investigated “ the conservatives have, for now, tightened their grip on American politics. The ultra-conservative White House and the far-right-wing congress are now in lock step and, boy, are there some nutters on the scene.

Try Tom Coburn, the new Republican senator from Oklahoma. He frightens even some Christian conservatives by suggesting doctors who perform abortions “ that’s any abortion, including cases of rape, incest or threats to the life of the mother “ should get the death penalty. He also reckons lesbianism is so rampant in Oklahoma public schools that girls should only go to the bathroom one at a time. This man will be making laws.

Of course, the result, as bleak as it is for progressives, holds out the delicious prospect of conservative overreach. As the Iraq war and the multi-trillion dollar deficit spin out of control, and the Republicans are forced to hike taxes, slash social security for seniors and payments to disabled veterans and, maybe, introduce a backdoor draft, we can wait for the inevitable backlash.

It happened in 1993 in Canada, where the Tories were driven to extinction. It happened in Britain in 1997, where the Conservatives “ re-elected unexpectedly in 1992 for a fourth, scandal-filled term “ were driven into political irrelevance, probably for a generation. And it happened in Australia, where the 1993 Labor victory only fuelled Paul Keating’s towering hubris, leading to the 1996 rout, from which we’re still reeling.

Some cynical lefties will want to just sit back and watch the tragic-comedy. Me, I prefer to keep hope alive.

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