What was saddest, perhaps, was that very few people watched the historic joint session of Congress when the electoral votes were actually counted Saturday. With incredible irony and high theater, Al Gore presided over the official ratification of his “defeat.” That was especially gripping, because, as most of those in the room knew, the vice president really hadn’t lost at all; the election had been stolen. Even George Bush had to admit 540,000 more people had voted for Gore. But the vice president had made a calculated decision that there was nothing more to do about it.
For now, he felt his best shot was to look statesmanlike and noble, and wait four years to get another chance at the Shrub. The Democratic leadership had given up, many of them resigned to defeat and quietly working on deals even before the Supreme Court putsch of Dec. 12. Even Gore’s loyal running mate, Joe Lieberman, and two-thirds of the Congress were somewhere else, in part perhaps because they didn’t really want a quorum present, lest someone object to this judicial murder one last time.
And lo, there were objections. Not from one lone member of Congress, but more than a dozen, all members of the group of Americans most cruelly robbed and who stood to lose most by this theft of an election. Once more, African-Americans had been screwed over, disenfranchised, left by the side of the road. Not only were some of their votes not counted, some had not even been allowed to vote. The last time an election was flat-out stolen in this nation, it meant the end of civil rights for almost a century.
They aren’t looking forward to seeing what they’ll get this time, especially under an attorney general like John Ashcroft. When the fraudulent Florida result was read out, they rose to challenge it. “It was the Supreme Court and not the people who decided this election,” accurately said U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).
Under the rules, if a member of each house challenges any electoral votes, the matter goes to Congress for consideration. But not one U.S. Senator was willing to join the blacks on a challenge. Not one. Not the supposedly ultraliberal Paul Wellstone or Ted Kennedy; not Maria Cantwell or our own Debbie Stabenow, both of whom may owe their narrow victories to big Gore wins in their states.
Not even Hillary Clinton. No, they felt that with Republicans controlling the House and everybody (meaning, the media) tired of it all, it would be pointless, and make them look like sore losers once again. (How dare they protest stealing an election!)
In the end, it was left to Alcee Hastings, the once-impeached federal judge turned congressman from, ironically, Florida. “We did all we could,” he cried out to Gore. “The chair thanks the gentleman from Florida,” the man Hastings called president said, smiling. The incoming gang didn’t want you to see that scene, and wants you to forget as soon as possible. But be good to yourself and your country: Don’t.
Looking toward the future, there are lots of other questions nobody seems to be asking. During the campaign, Ralph Nader bristled when anyone suggested he ought to get out. When Democrats said Gore was far better on the environment than Bush, Nader shot back that he was the only true environmentalist in the race.
Fine. But where is Ralph now? Bush has made two fairly frightening nominations, Christie Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and Gale Norton for secretary of the interior. Norton’s anti-environmental biases are well known, and Democrats may actually fight her nomination.
But Whitman is mistakenly seen as a liberal, because she is one of the few GOP heretics who supports a woman’s right to choose. Unfortunately, she is at least as strongly in favor of a polluter’s right to choose; she is about as anti-conservationist as they come.
So where is Ralph? If the Green Party has any credibility, it is on this issue. The Greens were disappointed that Nader got only about half the votes he needed for them to get federal funds. If they have any hope of regrouping, this might be a good place to start.
Closer to home, there’s a mayoral election in Detroit this year, and the usual fuss will be made over relations between the poor city and comparatively rich suburbs. I live less than three miles north of the city’s border, in a wonderful, crime-free neighborhood with good schools, etc. Cross Eight Mile Road and the situation changes immediately.
Why is that? There are still many in the suburbs who are too politically savvy to say so in public, but who firmly believe it is racial. “They can’t run anything; won’t keep things up; can’t keep jobs,” one donut-shop philosopher told me.
The real reason is color: green. Want to know what’s wrong with Detroit? The money crossed the city limits, and Detroit had no ability to annex and tax surrounding areas. That’s how “elastic” cities like Los Angeles and Reno keep prosperity going, as David Rusk shows in his important little book, Cities Without Suburbs.
Nor was anybody politically willing to tackle metropolitan government, as exists in Nashville. Suburbanites don’t want to pay for it. And black politicians fear diluting their political power. We could have a city worthy of the name in the not-very-long run, if some sensible short-term sacrifices were made on both sides. But that would require all of us to postpone gratification for five minutes, and take the long view in this instapoll world.
Politically, I know it is impossible. But, hey, so was that election. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, y’all.Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for the Metro Times. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org