Article — From the August 2005 issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Article — From the August 2005 issue
Whichever candidate you voted for (or think you voted for), or even if you did not vote (or could not vote), you must admit that last year’s presidential race was—if nothing else—pretty interesting. True, the press has dropped the subject, and the Democrats, with very few exceptions, have “moved on.” Yet this contest may have been the most unusual in U.S. history; it was certainly among those with the strangest outcomes. You may remember being surprised yourself. The infamously factious Democrats were fiercely unified—Ralph Nader garnered only about 0.38 percent of the national vote—while the Republicans were split, with a vocal anti-Bush front that included anti-Clinton warrior Bob Barr of Georgia; Ike’s son John Eisenhower; Ronald Reagan’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, William J. Crowe Jr.; former Air Force Chief of Staff and onetime “Veteran for Bush” General Merrill “Tony” McPeak; founding neocon Francis Fukuyama; Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute, and various large alliances of military officers, diplomats, and business professors. The American Conservative, co-founded by Pat Buchanan, endorsed five candidates for president, including both Bush and Kerry, while the Financial Times and The Economist came out for Kerry alone. At least fifty-nine daily newspapers that backed Bush in the previous election endorsed Kerry (or no one) in this election. The national turnout in 2004 was the highest since 1968, when another unpopular war had swept the ruling party from the White House.[CORRECTION]
Yet this ever-less-beloved president, this president who had united liberals and conservatives and nearly all the world against himself—this president somehow bested his opponent by 3,000,176 votes.
How did he do it? To that most important question the commentariat, briskly prompted by Republicans, supplied an answer. Americans of faith—a silent majority heretofore unmoved by any other politician—had poured forth by the millions to vote “Yes!” for Jesus’ buddy in the White House. Bush’s 51 percent, according to this thesis, were roused primarily by “family values.” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called gay marriage “the hood ornament on the family values wagon that carried the president to a second term.” The pundits eagerly pronounced their amens—“Moral values,” Tucker Carlson said on CNN, “drove President Bush and other Republican candidates to victory this week”—although it is not clear why. The primary evidence of our Great Awakening was a post-election poll by the Pew Research Center in which 27 percent of the respondents, when asked which issue “mattered most” to them in the election, selected something called “moral values.” This slight plurality of impulse becomes still less impressive when we note that, as the pollsters went to great pains to make clear, “the relative importance of moral values depends greatly on how the question is framed.” In fact, when voters were asked to “name in their own words the most important factor in their vote,” only 14 percent managed to come up with “moral values.” Strangely, this detail went little mentioned in the post-electoral commentary.1
1. Another poll, by Zogby International, showed that 33 percent of voters deemed “greed and materialism” the most pressing moral problems in America. Only 12 percent of those polled cited gay marriage.
The press has had little to say about most of the strange details of the election—except, that is, to ridicule all efforts to discuss them. This animus appeared soon after November 2, in a spate of caustic articles dismissing any critical discussion of the outcome as crazed speculation: “Election paranoia surfaces: Conspiracy theorists call results rigged,” chuckled the Baltimore Sun on November 5. “Internet Buzz on Vote Fraud Is Dismissed,” proclaimed the Boston Globe on November 10. “Latest Conspiracy Theory—Kerry Won—Hits the Ether,” the Washington Post chortled on November 11. The New York Times weighed in with “Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, Are Quickly Buried”—making mock not only of the “post-election theorizing” but of cyberspace itself, the fons et origo of all such loony tunes, according to the Times.
2. Keith Olbermann, on MSNBC, stood out as an heroic exception, devoting many segments of his nightly program Countdown to the myriad signs of electoral mischief, particularly in Ohio.
Such was the news that most Americans received. Although the tone was scientific, “realistic,” skeptical, and “middle-of-the-road,” the explanations offered by the press were weak and immaterial. It was as if they were reporting from inside a forest fire without acknowledging the fire, except to keep insisting that there was no fire.2 Since Kerry has conceded, they argued, and since “no smoking gun” had come to light, there was no story to report. This is an oddly passive argument. Even so, the evidence that something went extremely wrong last fall is copious, and not hard to find. Much of it was noted at the time, albeit by local papers and haphazardly. Concerning the decisive contest in Ohio, the evidence is lucidly compiled in a single congressional report, which, for the last half-year, has been available to anyone inclined to read it. It is a veritable arsenal of “smoking guns”—and yet its findings may be less extraordinary than the fact that no one in this country seems to care about them.
More from Mark Crispin Miller: