Jesse Jackson’s Dangerous Game

It’s hard to believe that we’re still discussing re-counts in December, but this is what the pernicious mentality of distrust that has been peddled by some cynical (and, to be fair, some genuinely misguided) partisan Democrats has wrought. As the Scoreboard has already noted, two defeated third party presidential candidates have blithely conspired to waste 1.2 million dollars out of Ohio’s funds in the quixotic effort to make sure “every vote is counted.” But now Jesse Jackson, apparently lacking a better way to get his name in the newspapers, is hitching himself to internet conspiracy theories and asserting that a recount must occur to prevent the 2004 election from being “stolen”.

Jesse being Jesse, he is using his poetic talents and expertise at demagoguery in calls for an “insurrection.” And Jackson being Jackson (a once legitimate civil rights leader who used to use his popularity and stature in the black community for positive goals, as opposed to the self-aggrandizing corporate shake-down specialist he has become), he has a lot of people convinced that something on the order of the Ukraine presidential election has taken place in the Buckeye State. Reverend Jackson, to his eternal shame, even made the comparison himself.

What’s the harm, you ask? So what if Jesse makes a fool of himself and becomes the last person on the planet to maintain, against all evidence and logic, that the 2004 election was “stolen” by the Republicans?

This is the harm:

Jackson is intentionally inflaming a deep wound on our democratic institutions, inflicted by a random confluence of events in the election of 2000 that made a definitive result unattainable. The Democratic Party, egged on by its apparently scruple-free chairman Terry McAuliffe, continued…for four years!… to encourage the myth that the 2000 election was “stolen.” It was successful at this dubious objective: polls show that nearly 50% of the electorate, almost exclusively Al Gore voters, believe this untruth. (Indignant Kerry supporters in the media made much of the fact that about 70% of “ignorant” Bush voters believe that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the September 11 attacks. Well, guys, almost 100% of Kerry’s voters buy the stolen election lie. Let’s lay off the name-calling, OK? Glass houses and all that…)

They believe the election was stolen despite the fact that no Florida vote count ever even had Gore in the lead; despite the fact that the multiple hand-recounts undertaken by the supposedly liberal-biased news media after the election showed Bush winning legitimately; despite the fact that the only significant and documented factors costing Gore votes (the candidacy of Ralph Nader and the inexcusably confusing “butterfly ballot” that probably gave Neanderthal conservative Pat Buchanan accidental votes from a decisive number of bewildered Gore voters) had nothing to do with the GOP; and most of all, despite the fact that the best result the Democrats could reasonably have hoped for, a disputed vote count in Florida with no clear victor, would still have resulted in a Bush victory by the Constitution’s mandated solution of a vote by the (GOP dominated) House of Representatives.

Of course, what really made this misrepresentation an easy sell was the fact that Gore won the popular vote. If you plumb the soul of the angry Gore voter, what he really believes is that the Constitution stole the election.

All right…it was cynical and intellectually dishonest for the Democrats to exploit this issue: it divided the country and robbed President Bush of any chance of a national constituency, but they thought it would win them the White House in 2004. I would argue that intentionally and deceptively eroding the public’s belief in the American democracy in order to win an election is a terrible and unethical trade-off, but it is something of a tradition under these circumstances. In each previous case where a president was elected despite losing the popular vote (John Quincy Adams over Andrew Jackson, Rutherford B. Hayes over Samuel Tilden, and Benjamin Harrison over Grover Cleveland), the losing party behaved similarly. But now the 2004 election has come and gone. Bush won by 3 million popular votes. It is time to heal the wound and move to strengthen our democratic institutions and the public’s faith in them. This was what was so right, so important, about John Kerry’s timely concession speech.

Jackson and others do not want to let the wound heal. They are playing a dangerous and irresponsible game with the future of America by clawing at the scab and pouring salt into the gaping wound. They are risking the creation of a permanently skeptical electorate that will always believe that if its favored candidate loses, it must be because the other side cheated. This can lead to more cheating. This can lead to violence. This can lead to America actually becoming like the Ukraine.

And because America is the role model for democracy all over the world, this can undermine democracy itself. Sad to say, it is likely that Jesse Jackson is risking all this, not because of a genuine belief that there was such massive election fraud that a recount in Ohio will change the election results, but for narrow and self-serving political objectives: he is willing to damage America’s bond of faith and principle with the American people to keep African Americans distrustful of the government and bolster Jackson’s fading prestige and influence.

It is hard to imagine anything more despicable.

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