Wednesday, February 23, 2005

BKBA - 24 Hours in America: Or Why I Gave Up On Democracy

(Throwback blog...)

November 3, 2004

24 Hours in America: Or Why I Gave Up On Democracy

I can’t believe it. I went to bed late on election night, I woke up, I passed out, I woke up, and I saw “Kerry Concedes”… I can’t believe it. As I watch coverage of his house near Fanueil Hall on CNN, waiting for him to leave to concede, I recall in real-time right now, what the last 24-hours have wrought…

I’m in Boston to visit a friend, and witness this historic election first-hand. Getting across the border was rough for me and other Canadians, and a U.S. customs officer browbeat me as part-guidance counselor and part-prison guard. But this beautiful city brightened my mood, and optimism was high here in his hometown with the Red Sox breaking “the curse”, that Kerry could break through to the American public. But this isn’t about Kerry, it’s about Democracy, and while certain values are timeless, this version for export is definitely a new breed, and can have lasting consequences for the world.

After emailing while listening to “The Essential Bob Dylan” for most of the election-day afternoon, it was time to get social. I hit a bar around the corner for a pint and free bar-food, as my Canadian dollars were getting stretched a little thin after a week. The election was discussed, but the last and most significant conversation I joined was between two locals arguing about police actions after Game 7 of the ALCS, or when the Red Sox fans celebrated coming back from 3-0 down to win 4 straight games and beat the hated Yankees. Tragically, this was also when a young girl was shot in the eye and killed by police. One guy was arguing “the crowd” was responsible, including torching a car; the other guy said that the police were “testing” new riot-gear equipment ordered for “security”, and clearly overreacting. I stepped in and admonished the former for always using the word “crowd”, noting that it denies focus on the individuals responsible, and that if a guy was acting crazy in this bar and the police stormed in and shot the three of us to get him, it wouldn’t be worth it. Also, while car insurance would get the owner a new car, the girl’s parents would not get a new daughter. He conceded, the latter guy was happy, and we all glumly and silently reflected on the state of the world before I left.

I made my way to Copley Square, where the Kerry rally was being held. Police were everywhere, and I asked one if once I passed the initial barriers I could still grab a coffee somewhere. He looked at me like I was an idiot, and vaguely mentioned it was possible. I continued on, grabbing a Kerry "7-Election” cup from a 7-Eleven, I love that joke. As I approached the rally I was shocked by how it was dispersed, as a giant square area where the day before I’d stopped to hear jazz students practicing was blocked off for no apparent reason, wrecking the view and unity of the back of the crowd where I stood. I couldn’t figure it out, as this group of people wasn’t even “protesting” anything to potentially act violent. There were simply there to cheer, and much like any concert, giant holes cut into the crowd are usually unnecessary.

(1:36 pm - I just saw Kerry smiling, waving and leaving his house. I can’t believe it.)

I met an 18-year old local Bay State student, and he and I chatted about why we were here and what it meant for all of us to brave the light rain threatening. I’d learned a fair bit before coming here, both in the mainstream and independent media, so I gently shocked him with the odd anecdote of what is being done in the name of security – and what is being done irrespective of security but given no coverage in the media. A couple of girls near us were busily downloading data on the election on their cellphones, and it wasn’t good, as Kerry was losing for hours. We chatted as well, and both girls were teachers at a school for young offenders who loved their jobs while recognizing the difficulties. In the distance The Black-Eyed Peas, James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Bon Jovi, and others played their hits, while the girls honestly discussed how the building blocks of fascism were clearly in place, and worried about the future.

A couple of hours later we made a trip to the Wendy’s for a snack, and in the line for the washroom I met a guy who was on the “recall” list for Iraq over the next 4 years. He was in the Coast Guard so he was a lower priority, but he considered going to Canada to avoid fighting in Iraq, and after identifying myself as a Canadian I encouraged him. After 5 hours at the rally, well after identifying the importance of a physical presence representing America in support of Kerry, I bailed around midnight. With no Kerry in sight and dubious chances of a result being announced, I said goodbye to my new friends after we exchanged emails.

Back at my friends place watching CNN, I was amazed at how simple the commentary was on the results, and how the discussion was edging towards how impressive the Bush showing was, so far. They were very careful in explaining their lack of bias, keeping the last state that mattered Ohio “green” as too-close-to-call on a screen covered with “red” (Bush) and “blue” (Kerry) states. While provisional ballots were discussed, the one idea repeated was having faith in the system despite the differing tallies on how many ballots there actually were, allegedly between 140,000 and 250,000. How the greatest democracy in the world can have a state that doesn’t know how many pieces of paper they collected in “the most important election in a generation”, boggles the mind.

(1:56 pm – I see Kerry and Edwards on stage. I can’t believe it. But, like a car accident, I have to watch. Excuse me.)

(...)

(Okay, they’re nice guys, and even I got a little teary over their nice-guy-ness. But, unfortunately, it’s never been proven better: nice-guys finish last. Also, how come he didn't say how many provisional ballots his lawyers found in Ohio when he said there weren't enough for him to win?)

For several hours on CNN and the other networks on election night, I watched, and no one discussed the suppression of votes. No one. No one discussed the moral responsibility of the leaders of either party to send the message to their supporters to stop. No one. No one wanted to examine in detail the flaws of the system. No one. All this is conveniently ignored or breezily brushed aside in the desire to crown a winner. No one cares.

As the Ohio results became confirmed save for the provisional ballots, the Bush campaign was already declaring victory, and that it was “impossible” for the Kerry campaign to win. Before the provisional ballot numbers were even confirmed, it was morally reprehensible to declare victory, and start the public relations campaign of asking for a concession to “heal” the nation and call for “unity”. With what has been universally accepted as a massive case of election fraud in Florida in 2000, any “pain” the country would feel for a few days is something the country should have the stomach for.

Eventually Senator Edwards came out and said all the votes would be counted, and since one side wanted to call the election early, I’m glad at least the other wanted to call it fairly. Still, the public has a curious relationship with the media being “critical” these days, and even though 2/3rds of newspapers supported Senator Kerry, having long-ago punted on the truth-yard line, their endorsements were likely meaningless in the outcome. So now the media are generally supportive of what they think the public wants instead of challenging them with critical information or analysis, and they viewed any “challenge” to the voting results with skepticism, and forewarnings of election fatigue: no one cared to even wait a day or so to properly count the ballots. Without the media backing them and by extension the public, no one cares to look into the massive evidence of Third World-style election-fraud, and it is no surprise that the Kerry/Edwards campaign took just enough time before caving to make it seem like they took just enough time.

(3:02 pm – President Bush has arrived on the stage to give his victory speech. Again, like a car accident…)

(...)

(A strong speech by the President, who used pregnant pauses well to allow supporters time to applaud, and discussed the revitalized economy and strong international ties among other areas. I wonder if he gets the BBC? It would help. Or hurt. Or neither.)

The lack of political will among the people to question authority, question decisions, and demand more from the press, is astounding. Watching CSPAN the other night, I saw British Prime Minister Tony Blair defend himself in the crosshairs of Parliament during “Prime Minister’s Questions”, which he does for an hour each week, and it reminded me how there is simply no need to hear what this President thinks on a regular basis – until the election. Even then his people love the fairy tale, they love to hear that news isn’t bad, and a steady diet of that fails to ensure the news remains news. For the mainstream press, after abrogating their right to criticize it seems they’ve lost it permanently, and have since moved towards daily hagiography, aiding in massaging the messages provided by the Bush administration into even more digestible forms. After all, they’re in a war, and this war could last years…

There is no desire in this representative democracy to have peoples representatives question the President, or administration, with their constituents concerns. There is no desire for anything but good news and bad TV shows, and America is clearly rallying around this war-time President. There is no desire in the press or public to learn more about “terrorism”, despite the fact that everyone acts like an expert on it all the time, using it to explain why he or she is voting for Bush, and ripping into John Kerry for being weaker on “terror” since he’s never been President. When entire regions of the world are branded “good” and “evil”, there is only one primitive solution: brutal force. Even historic conservatives have punted their deepest held beliefs in fiscal conservatism, foreign policy isolationism, small-government, private morality, and others, in the face of the flimsiest of fears unsupported by facts, and a President who so far hasn’t alleviated those fears – and in fact may be making them worse. Shrinking freedoms for minorities and dissent are also acceptable in the face of fear, and considered steps backwards in any other democracy – and frankly, any other form of government. There is no desire for peace, and President Bush has been given a clear mandate to “stay on the offensive” as expressed by the press beyond those who voted for him. Senator Kerry negotiated peace in Vietnam and Nicaragua… but again, there is no desire for peace.

And finally, that’s why I gave up on democracy after seeing the world’s role model in action: I thought the goal of democracy was to bring peace. If this new American democracy is what is being sold to the world through economic or military intervention, then I give up, and suggest we all look for something else.

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