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Banana Republicans


November 13, 2000

The Bushies are desperate — desperate to stop a manual recount of disputed Florida votes. And as so often happens when one is desperate, they’re saying some really stupid things. Former Secretary of State and Bush fixer James A. Baker III even went on national television to say that manual recounts are not as reliable as machine counts.

The Bush camp craves power more than it respects democracy. ‘Trusting the people’ is just a slogan to them.

WHILE BAKER has a right to his opinion, his opinion does not trump Florida election law, which calls for a manual recount if there are anomalies in the machine count.

And apparently George W. Bush does not share his lawyer’s suspicion of manual recounts, since in 1997 he signed a law saying a manual recount was preferable if a machine count yielded a result that was too close to call. Having voted in Texas — as recently as the last presidential election — I know firsthand that many Texans vote on the same controversial punch-card machines as were used in Palm Beach County.

The Bushies are so desperate to stop the manual recount they’ve devised a two-tiered strategy :

First, they’ve gone into federal court to ask that the Florida election law, which clearly allows a manual recount, is unconstitutional. This is legal lunacy and political hypocrisy. Legally, Florida’s recount law is like most states,’ in that it allows recounts in close races or where some discrepancy is shown. Before any county can grant a Gore campaign request for a recount, the county must first demonstrate — by examining 1 percent of the ballots by hand — that there is some cause for concern that the machine might have missed some ballots. Such a regime is common and fair, hardly the abridgement of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause and the First Amendment’s free speech clause, as the Bushies’ stunning legal brief argues.

Politically, this is the most blatant hypocrisy since another Bush got elected by asking us to read his lips and then raised our taxes. Bush Jr. campaigned on a commitment to return more power to states and localities. Now, where a state (run by his own brother) is exercising control of its own electoral process, Bush wants the feds to come in and take it over.

The man whose slogan was “I trust the people,” now says he trusts machines more. The man who campaigned for tort reform and against lawyers, is now trying to use lawyers to stop a legal and valid recount — apparently because he fears that if the real will of the people is known, he’d lose.

Fortunately, a federal judge has denied the request for an injunction. Score one for democracy.

But the Bushies aren’t through yet. The other prong of the Bush anti-recount strategy is even more chilling :

The Florida secretary of state — a partisan Republican who campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire and who the Tampa Tribune says spent $100,000 of taxpayers’ money on a world tour to boost her credentials for a Bush ambassadorial appointment - has ruled that the deadline for all certified county results is 5 p.m. ET Tuesday. Such a deadline would make many of the hand recounts impossible to complete. What’s the rush? The overseas absentee ballots will be coming in until Friday, so there’s no need to rush the process to a close. Besides, Florida law clearly allows for a manual recount. It seems unfair — and unconstitutional — for a state official to set such a tight time limit that the recount becomes a practical impossibility.

Such heavy-handed, anti-democratic strategies qualify them to be Banana Republicans. They seem to care more about their preferred outcome than an honest and fair process.

Al Gore has already demonstrated his willingness to accept an unfavorable result by conceding the election when he thought Bush had won Florida by a fairly wide margin of 50,000 votes. Gore’s campaign spokesman made it clear that if a fair and accurate count yields a Bush victory, the Democrats will recognize it. Have we ever heard a single Bush spokesman make such a comment? No. In fact, thanks to the reporting of Michael Kramer of the New York Daily News and Andy Miga of the Boston Herald, we know the Banana Republicans had a secret strategy for undermining a Gore victory if Bush had won the popular vote. Now that the result is the other way, we’ve seen no Democratic strategy for de-legitimizing Bush. In fact, Gore has made it clear that although he won the popular vote nationwide, he will respect the result of the electoral vote as determinative. I have yet to hear a single Banana Republican say the same thing. They crave power more than they respect democracy.

“Trusting the people” is just a slogan to them.
As they did during the right-wing lynch mob’s attempt to impeach our president, the American people are showing their usual good judgment. According to a Newsweek poll released Monday, 72 percent of Americans feel that making certain the count is fair and accurate is more important than getting matters resolved as quickly as possible. Almost 70 percent say that the recount and the delay are proof that the U.S. electoral system is working, not a sign of weakness. And two-thirds (66 percent) of all Americans, and a majority (54 percent) of Bush voters think Gore did the right thing in withdrawing his concession to Bush. So pay no attention to the hot-air boys who are trying to railroad this election for their man Bush. Let’s settle down, slow down and get the most accurate count possible. It’s more important to get this right than to get it right away.

Finally, I feel compelled to respond to something that was said on MSNBC cable last week. Mike Barnicle is one of the great voices of American commentary, and last week he held up the USA Today map of how every county in America voted. There was a sea of Bush red across the South, Midwest and Rocky Mountains with Gore blue hugging the coasts. Barnicle said this was proof of a cultural divide in America: “Wal-Mart versus Martha Stewart,” he said. “Family values versus a sense of entitlement.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since. And while I appreciate a guy from the Northeast opining about the cultural superiority of the Deep South, let me offer my own perspective: I was raised in that ocean of red. I grew up in Sugar Land, Texas — a place so conservative our Congressman is Tom “the Hammer” DeLay, the leader of the right-wing forces in the GOP Congress. There is no doubt that Barnicle’s observations have merit: There are different cultural mores on the coasts than there are in the middle of the country. But I don’t think that’s the only thing going on here.

Why would my beloved South vote so heavily Republican when just a generation ago it was heavily (no, totally) Democratic? LBJ knew. When he signed the Civil Rights Act he put his head in his hands and told his press secretary, Bill Moyers, “I’ve just given the South to the Republicans for a generation.” LBJ’s pessimism was prescient.

In the next presidential election, George Wallace stormed across the South with a message that cloaked racism in anti-government, anti-federal rhetoric. Richard Nixon’s infamous “Southern Strategy” was aimed at co-opting the votes of Southern Democratic racists who were disillusioned with their party’s support of civil rights. And by 1980, Ronald Reagan could stand in Neshoba County, Miss. — where Goodman and Chaney and Schwerner were murdered by racist thugs for registering black voters — and call for “states’ rights.”

The only two men from my party who won the White House since LBJ were moderate Southerners who knew the ins and outs of racial politics: Jimmy Carter of Georgia and Bill Clinton of Arkansas. If we were in a recession or a war, you could understand the unanimous verdict of my fellow Southerners. What is it about peace and prosperity that has them so angry? Could it be that the Clinton administration was the first in history to take on the extremists at the NRA, by pushing through the Brady Law and the assault weapon ban? Could it be that this administration saved affirmative action from a right-wing assault in the courts, the ballot box and the Congress? Could it be that this administration stood courageously for the simple proposition that no American should be fired from his job because of who he fall in love with?

Vice President Gore tells reporters that democracy, not the election, is at stake.

Yes, Barnicle is right when he notes that tens of millions of good people in Middle America voted Republican. But if you look closely at that map you see a more complex picture.

My point is that Middle America is a far more complicated place than even a gifted commentator like Mike Barnicle gives us credit for. It’s not all just red and blue — or black and white.

Democratic strategist Paul Begala is the co-host, with Oliver North, of MSNBC’s “Equal Time.” Begala is also the author of “Is Our Children Learning? The Case Against George W. Bush.”

Florida Recount ...


Just when the Fat Lady was two-thirds through her aria, the Florida Supreme Court has stuffed a big-ol' sock in her mouth. The Court has ordered, finally, that the disputed ballots from Miami-Dade County -- and any other undervotes from any other county -- be counted.

This is only fair. And fairness should count for something. I spoke to a high school civics class this morning, and had a hard time trying to explain why, since I believe any fair and full counting will show that Gore won Florida and with it the White House, The System may not give us that full and fair counting. The best I could come up with is to remind the students of what President Kennedy said, "Life is not fair."

JFK had been, as he memorably said of his generation, "tested in war, (and) tempered by a hard and bitter peace." He had seen his brother killed in combat, his sister killed in a plane crash, his boat shot out from under him in the Pacific. And yet he knew others who'd emerged from the war unscathed -- and others still who were never called to serve at all.

His conclusion : life is not fair.

For someone like me who has, thank God, never been asked to serve in combat, I lack JFK's tough, but accurate, perspective. And, Lord knows, an election is not a war. No one will die. No one will be injured. No one will have their lives shattered. So, while this is definitely the biggest political story of my lifetime, Kennedy's lesson has helped me put it into perspective.

Still, I am thrilled that the Florida Supreme Court has ordered a careful count of the disputed ballots. It would be even more fair to have, as Gore has suggested, a full recount of the entire state of Florida. But absent that, counting the disputed ballots may yield a victory for Gore -- or it may yield a victory for Bush. But more fundamentally, the count will confer legitimacy. After all, when 6,000,000 votes are cast but only 537 separate the winner from the loser, and tens of thousands of ballots have never been accurately read, it seems only fair to give those ballots a look-see.

I know The System is not always fair. But it ought to be unfair to both parties in the same way. That is, if the GOP is going to tell hundreds of voters in Palm Beach County that their votes don't count because their local canvassing board submitted the paperwork 127 minutes late (when the Supreme Court had said the Secretary of State could receive them the next morning); if we're going to tell 20,000 citizens whose votes were invalidated by a flawed ballot, and thousands more whose votes were never counted because of flawed machines, and untold more whose votes were excluded because of a lack of translators for Haitian immigrants or because the needlessly complicated ballot confused a lot of first-time voters -- if the Republicans' answer to all of those people is, "Life is unfair," why do they appeal to fundamental fairness to include thousands of ballots whose applications were tampered with by party operatives?

The twin-killing of the Seminole and Martin County cases makes sense when you consider the radical -- and unfair -- nature of the remedy. Nobody wants to throw out the votes of thousands of citizens who did nothing wrong. Nobody but the Republicans, if those votes happen to be for Al Gore. By the same token, the Florida Supreme Court ruling makes sense. If every vote counts in Seminole and Martin Counties, they ought to count in the state's other counties as well.

Watch for the Banana Republicans to attack the Court, just as Bush lawyer (and the man who ran the Wilie Horton campaign for Poppy) James Baker called the last Supreme Court ruling with which he disagreed, "unacceptable." The Bushies will resort to the US Supreme Court, the Florida Legislature, Tom DeLay and the right-wingers who run the GOP Congress. All Al Gore has on his side are the people, the votes and the law. It's going to be one helluva fight.

The drumbeat from the Know-Nothing Class continues


Why, the pundidiots ask, won't Al Gore simply concede defeat and let us get about the important business of sucking up to the Bushies? I can hardly blame them. The Clinton Era has been a long, lonely walk in the wilderness for most of the chattering class. The Clintons didn't like them. Didn't like their arrogance or their condescension. Couldn't stand their ruthlessness. And they let it show.

Worse, the Clinton Era proved the absolute and total lack of power in the punditocracy. From inside the White House it seemed to me as if 90 percent of the talking heads were calling for Clinton's head. And he wouldn't offer it up. Day after day they told the American people that Clinton had to go. The American people followed it carefully, studied it judiciously and told the pundidiots to pound sand. Obviously what Clinton did in his private life was wrong, and lying about it was terribly wrong. All of that made him a bad husband, perhaps, but it didn't change the reality that he was, in the eyes of the American people, a terrific president. And so they hung in there with him. The pundidiots acted like two-year-olds who weren't getting enough attention, "But our opinions matter!" they screamed. "We get the best tables at the finest Georgetown restaurants. When we say he has to go, he has to go."

But he would not go. And the American people would not let him go. And so he stayed. He survived, he succeeded, he triumphed. He is seen as more successful in his job than Eisenhower or Reagan were at this stage of their presidencies. He has become the most successful president since FDR, accomplishing more of the goals he set at the beginning of his presidency than anyone since.

And in so doing he pissed-off the pundidiots mightily.

Perhaps that's why they're so cranky, so angry, so nasty to Al Gore. Good Lord, the man won the election. He got more votes than the other guy. More Americans wanted him to be President than George W. Bush. I know that's not constitutionally dispositive, but it's pretty damned important. But only if you think the will of the people matters.

George W. Bush may capture the White House. But somewhere in the pea-brain of his is the knowledge, the fact, the certainty that most Americans did not want him in that job -- that more Americans wanted the other guy. What's worse, his supporters can draw no comfort from the argument that they won the electoral vote, since we know Bush's only hope to "win" Florida lies in legal technicalities, deadlines and the trump card of the Tallahassee Taliban setting aside the will of the voters and giving W 25 electoral votes by legislative fiat.

Independent, nonpartisan analyses of the Florida vote conducted by both the Miami Herald and the Orlando Sentinel concluded that Gore won Florida by a comparatively comfortable margin -- as much as 23,000 votes.

Not ready for prime time


January 8, 2001

Chavez flap is one more sign of Bushies’ arrogance.

So now we learn that Labor Secretary-designate Linda Chavez housed — and may have employed — an illegal alien. We don’t have enough information yet to discern whether this was a commendable act of charity or a criminal violation of the labor laws. And until more facts are in I’m not interested in passing judgment on Chavez.

But this revelation does allow us to make some important judgments about Team Bush :

THEY LIE : I know that sounds harsh, but what else do you call it? The New York Times reports that Bush spokesman Tucker Eskew “said Ms. Chavez was unaware of the woman’s legal status at the time she was sheltering her and only realized after she had departed from her home that she was here illegally.” But that’s not what the woman in question says. Marta Mercado told The Washington Post that she informed Chavez of her illegal status about three months after moving into her home. And Chavez’s close friend, Abigail Thernstrom, told the Times, “I’m pretty confident that Linda did know” that Mercado was not legally in this country.

Why would the Bushies lie about such a thing? For the same reason George W. Bush lied about failing to report to the Alabama National Guard and for the same reason the president-elect lied about his arrest for drunk driving. It’s the same reason the Bushies lied about Dick Cheney’s post-election heart attack. And the same reason Bush lied to a court in Texas about whether he’d discussed with state regulators a controversial investigation of a funeral home company run by a gubernatorial campaign contributor. Because that’s what they do.


Yes, Bill Clinton denied having an affair. I don’t excuse that, but what straying husband wants his family, much less the world, to know? And (except for Hillary) whose dadgum business is it anyway?

As they never tire of telling us, the Bushies don’t have extramarital affairs. They save their lies for public affairs.

So spare us the lectures about “restoring honor and dignity” to the White House. Bush hasn’t even gotten there yet, and he’s already left a trail of mendacity from here to Waco. The only thing the Bushies ever wanted to restore was themselves — to power.

But the lack of candor from Bush and his minions is not the only lesson from this mess.

We’ve also learned — horrors :

They’re hypocrites.
When Attorney General-designate Zoe Baird was being pilloried for failing to pay Social Security taxes on an illegal immigrant she’d hired as a nanny, Linda Chavez was one of the loudest voices in the hypocrites’ choir. “I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she’d hired an illegal alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay Social Security taxes,” Chavez told PBS in 1993, according to the Post.

And Chavez was far from alone. During the Baird case, and all the way through impeachment, Republicans argued for a strict, unforgiving reading of the law, invoking in pompous, pious tones, “The Rule of Law.” Let’s see the same people who argued for Bill Clinton because he was reluctant to admit an affair turn around and argue for leniency in the Chavez case.

A strict reading of the law says it’s a violation to harbor someone who is illegally in this country — irrespective of whether you actually employed her (which would be another violation). But suddenly, the same people who trashed the Constitution to impeach President Clinton because they wanted to make a constitutional crisis out of an affair, are now, in the words of the Bush transition spokesman, appealing for “a common-sense standard : government should not punish you for trying to help somebody else out in life.”

Only a Bushie could produce this whiplash-inducing spin. Only a Bushie could convince himself that the rules don’t apply to him and his cronies. And only a Bushie could argue that when “they” break the rules, the act is a manifestation of their good intentions and moral superiority, while if a Democrat makes a mistake it is, literally, a federal case and proof of that person’s moral sleaziness.


Finally, we’ve learned something more surprising :

Not ready for prime time. Who would’ve thought that Cheney-Bush, Inc. would stumble so badly on something so obvious? Spokesfibber Eskew was coy when asked if Chavez’s illegal immigrant problem had surfaced in the pre-nomination vetting. “The vetters ask a range of serious questions,” he told the Post, “including things about domestic employees and paying taxes. They don’t, however, ask potential nominees to enumerate every act of compassion.”

Sounds like they missed this. They missed Dick Cheney’s EKG, which looks like 40 miles of bad Oklahoma farm road, and his congressional voting record, which looks like Jesse Helms’ greatest hits. They missed John Ashcroft’s remark that the cause of the Confederacy — slavery — was not “perverted.” If people owning people ain’t perverted, I don’t know what is.

The Bushies promised competence more than ideology. So far we’ve gotten mendacity and hypocrisy — all in service of a right-wing ideology.

No wonder they lost the election.

paul begala shoots the bull

pearly gates