Our Rigged Elections
by Christopher Hitchens
The Nation magazine, November 15, 1999
Some things may be true even if Pat Buchanan says them, and
the inescapable fact is that the 2000 presidential election has
so far been a rigged affair, bearing more resemblance to a _ plebiscite
in some banana republic than to anything recognizable as a democratic
contest. However, the entry of Buchanan as a supposed "insurgent"
is itself part of the pre-arrangement and manipulation. Here we
have a loyal Beltway veteran, grown like a mold on the dank sponge
of the national security state, and well known to the powers that
be as someone absolutely reliable. He's already shown himself
quite willing to play the game of slush funds and matching funds.
There's your designated dissident- sorry we left that out of the
mix when we were telling you who the candidates would be and what
their "issues" would look like. Just for fun, why not
set him up against Donald Trump, so that even the supposed outsider
faction can replicate the only allowable division, between machine-produced
clones on the one hand and nutball narcissistic tycoons on the
It wasn't to be expected that any remotely comparable ink
would accrue to the brave volunteers of Public Campaign and the
Alliance for Democracy when they took their protest to Capitol
Hill on October 26. A genuine foe of oligarchy like Ronnie Dugger,
with his reasoned case for the public financing of campaigns,
really does seem like a quixotic loony to our consensual press.
(And since he doesn't manifest any obvious nostalgia for, say,
the Third Reich, he doesn't even count as a colorful character
for Style-section purposes.) The Washington Post ignored the rally
on the Capitol steps, where the largest groups of attendees were
high school students not yet inured to cynicism and not yet old
enough to vote. The paper also ignored Ronnie's act of civil disobedience
in the Rotunda.
The defeat of the rather tepid McCain-Feingold initiative
in the Senate, which was the proximate cause of the October 26
protest, also marked the eclipse of any remaining hope for a fair
or open race next year. The fix is in; the special interests will
pretend to have an election, and you if you choose can pretend
to vote in it. The only recourse that I can see is an appeal to
the international community and the United Nations to send accredited
observers to monitor the "process."
The United States loves nothing better than to certify other
countries' ballots as "free and fair," so there can
hardly be any principled objection to a delegation of monitors
from democratic nations taking up position, pens in hand, as America
makes its "choice." Indeed, given the awful power of
the President and Congress over the affairs of other nations,
it's surprising that this hasn't been suggested already.
Here are some of the questions that the UN and international
monitors would have to consider, before validating the 2000 election:
1) Has there already been the open purchase of votes, as seemed
to be the acknowledged case in the Iowa caucuses?
2) Has there already been the open purchase of candidates,
as is implied by the immense (and, regarding the source of donations,
rather obscure) fund amassed by Governor Bush of Texas?
3) Are there restrictions placed on the entry of third-party
or independent candidates? Have these restrictions been imposed
by a collusion of the existing parties?
4) Do there exist impediments to the placing of minority parties
5) Do there exist impediments to voter registration?
6) Is access to the media fairly apportioned among candidates
and parties, irrespective of wealth?
7) Do the laws barring convicted felons from voting constitute
discrimination against any minority group?
8) Does the allotment of federal matching funds constitute
a subsidy to a duopoly?
These questions are not exhaustive. (I have not, for example,
included the misgivings felt by some experts about the reliability
or integrity of the voting machines that are used to count and
register ballots. Nor have I space to discuss the flagrant disfranchisement
of voters in the nation's capital, a grotesque anomaly that obtains
in no other country and that seems on the face of it to be decidedly
racist in both cause and effect.) And conditions vary from state
to state, so that question 7, for example, would need to be measured
differently according to local conditions and "traditions."
But it's already clear that self-policing is not enough in most
jurisdictions. It's also clear that the American mass media-chief
recipients of the largesse raised and spent by candidates-have
simply abdicated their watchdog role in the matter.
Some elements of the deficit of democracy in this country
should have been put to the test long ago. The Supreme Court ought
to have heard arguments about whether campaign donations constitute
common-law bribery, and there is no reason not to ventilate the
question of the Electoral College, with its inbuilt bias against
urban and minority voters. However, these and other options are
unlikely to be exercised unless the entire system is challenged
in a thoroughgoing way. The announcement by the international
community of a monitoring force seems to me to provide the best
chance for such an alteration in perspective. What is needed,
therefore, is an appeal from a large group of respected Americans
for such a monitoring force to be brought into being. We have
less than a year to refuse the front-loaded, bought-and-paid-for
pseudo-election that is being prepared for us. Already, the primary
process has been short-circuited, and it looks as if the presidential
"debates" will be rigged as they were last time, and
by the same unelected and unaccountable corporate interests. All
those interested in signing an appeal for inspection, and for
verifying and certifying an open political process, should contact
Public Campaign at 1320 19th Street NW, Suite Ml, Washington,
DC 20036, www.publicampaign.org.