Hail to the thief

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Mon Jan 22 09:12:34 MST 2001

San Francisco Bay Guardian

Hail to the Thief, Our Commander in Chief - by Martin A. Lee

President Ronald Reagan would often confuse motion pictures and real life.
Now he's got me doing it, too.

Am I mistaken, or is Forrest Gump, played by George W. Bush, about to place
his hand on the good book and take the oath of office?

"A new drama of invention starring Mr. Bush is beginning to unfold," gushed
a New York Times editorial. That's how the paper of record referred to the
impending inauguration of Boy George. I kid you not. Several news outlets
have noted in passing Dubya's "Reaganesque management style," how he gets
"impatient with distracting details," as Time magazine put it.

But Boy George is not as good an actor as the Gipper, and for all we know,
he might even be dumber than Dan Quayle. While deferential on camera,
conservative TV pundits laugh among themselves during commercial breaks
about our next president's modest cerebral capacities.

Perhaps it's fitting that Boy George is one of the poorest communicators
ever to occupy the Oval Office. Describing him as "a man whose lips are
where words go to die," GOP speech-writer Doug Gamble muses that "Bush's
shallow intellect perfectly reflects an increasingly dumbed-down America...."

To many Americans, Bush is 'just like us,' a Fox-TV president for a Fox-TV
society." Ours, after all, is a country in which one out of three adults
can't name a single nation that the United States fought against during the
Second World War. Beset by historical amnesia and political apathy, we are
a country where barely half the number of eligible voters cast their
ballots for president and most citizens don't know if their elected
representative is a Democrat or a Republican.

When Boy George made the ludicrous assertion in one of the televised
debates that we still need more studies before we can confirm global
warming, was he being completely clueless or a shameless shill for
corporate power? Or both?

If there was ever a president defined by his well-heeled donors and
advisers, it's Boy George. Emanating antigravitas, he is a compelling
example of Gertrude Stein's famous phrase "there's no there there."

Less a leader, in the imperial sense, than a personification of interests,
Dubya is above all a reflection of the company he keeps - a predictable
gaggle of oil and agribusiness execs, avid militarists, free market
fundamentalists, and death penalty freaks, with a few unreconstructed
neoconfederates thrown in to spice up the drab cast.

The new administration will be structured as a corporation, we are duly
informed, with Chairman Bush setting the general tone and offering
consensus-building missives from on high, while Vice President Dick Cheney,
the mother of all CEOs, tackles the "distracting details" of running the
country. "He views governing more like a business," said Dave Lesar,
Cheney's number two at Halliburton, the human rights-challenged oil
services firm. While some editorial writers may take exception to the odd
cabinet choice or two, major news media are eager to shore up the
legitimacy of the president, a task deemed all the more urgent given the
partly farcical and thoroughly scandalous manner in which Boy George laid
claim to victory. Having lost the nationwide popular ballot, he stole the
election by obstructing a recount in Florida, where more people intended
and tried to vote for Democrat Al Gore.

Aided and abetted by the Supreme Court, Bush's grand larceny hinged on
finagling the law to insure the desired result in the electoral college.
The outcome was sealed when two justices with personal ties to the GOP
establishment refused to disqualify themselves over conflicts of interests.
The fact that Scalia's son and Thomas's wife earned their keep as
Republican operatives adds a new twist to the usual conservative flimflam
about family values.

"American politics is essentially a family affair, as are most
oligarchies," Gore Vidal said. And oligarchy is from whence Boy George
hails. Privileged beyond repair, he's the penultimate fortunate son whose
very presence in the White House makes a mockery of the "will of the people."

The fix was in a long time ago - ever since the Founding Fathers concocted
the electoral college as a hedge against the "tyranny of the majority." At
the Constitutional convention of 1787, James Madison objected to the direct
election of presidents on the grounds that it would put Southern states at
a distinct disadvantage.

To bolster the political influence of the South, a compromise was
instituted so that a black slave (who was not allowed to vote) would count
as "three-fifths of a man" for the purposes of calculating the number of
electoral college members allotted to each state.

Boy George owes his term in office to a centuries-old political system that
was designed to keep African Americans from overcoming the legacy of
slavery. Look at what happened in 1876 when electoral college chicanery
trumped Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote, and gave the
presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes. This devilish, smoke-filled, backroom
bargain had profound consequences, signaling an end to Reconstruction and
the resurrection of the white power structure in the South, which doomed
blacks to generations of semiservitude.

In effect, the robber baron industrialists of the North had cut a deal with
the landed gentry from below the Mason-Dixon line, and within a year the
armies that fought the Confederacy "would be withdrawn from the South and
sent west to drive Indians from their ancestral lands," historian Howard
Zinn said. The U.S. army was also deployed to smash the great railroad
strikes of 1877, Zinn explained, as "Democrats and Republicans,
whilefencing with one another in election campaigns, would now join in
subjecting working people all over the country to ruthless corporate power."

Fast forward to Florida, year 2000, and the festering inequities are eerily
familiar. We find an astonishing number of black Floridians whose ballots
were disqualified or who were denied the right to vote. According to Human
Rights Watch, 31 percent of all African American men residing in the
Sunshine State were barred from polling stations because of a felony
conviction, including many who had paid their debt to society and were no
longer under criminal justice supervision.

Factor in hundreds of thousands of Florida residents whose names had been
mistakenly purged from the voter rolls. Consider also the transportation
tie-ups, police blockades, short voting hours, and faulty equipment in
predominantly African American districts - all of which contributed to
undercounting the black vote. Florida officials have known of such problems
for years, but Gov. Jeb Bush, big brother of Boy George, did nothing to
remedy the situation.

Similar conditions exist in poor enclaves across the country, where old
voting machines resulted in a plethora of dimpled chads and other glitches,
which effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of black people.
Meanwhile, affluent white suburbanites in Florida and other states utilized
more reliable optical scanners for voting, and consequently, a much smaller
percentage of their ballots were disqualified due to technical errors as
compared to heavily black precincts.

Crunch the numbers, taking into account all the discriminatory practices
and the glaring racial gap in voided votes, and guess what? An African
American still amounts to something like "three-fifths of a man" at the polls.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People delivered a
scathing, 300-page report to the Justice Department, which documented
"voting fraud, intimidation and irregularities," many of them in Florida.
And two class-action lawsuits aimed at reforming voting procedures in
future elections were filed last week.

But don't expect much sympathy from a Supreme Court led by William
Rehnquist. An ardent opponent of desegregation during the civil rights
movement, Rehnquist owned two homes with covenants against selling to Jews
or people of color when he became the chief justice in 1986. Information
about the covenants surfaced during his confirmation hearings, but Senate
backed him anyway. "Despite the seesaw aftermath of the presidential
election, we are once again witnessing the orderly transition of power from
one presidential administration to another," Rehnquist wrote following the
controversial Supreme Court decision that put Boy George over the top.

It was if the electoral outcome, like a televised sporting event, had been
shown on instant replay in slow motion, and everyone could plainly see that
the refs blew it. They made the wrong call. But the ruling stands anyway,
and the game goes on. A parody of democracy continues. So let's all hail
the thief, our commander in chief.

Martin A. Lee (martin at sfbg.com) is the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast
Reawakens, a book about neofascism. His weekly column, Reality Bites,
appears in the San Francisco Bay Guardian every Monday.

Louis Proyect
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