Will John Kerry Report for Duty?
By Robert Parry
January 4, 2005
Early in Campaign 2004, Sen. John Kerry challenged George W. Bushs operatives to bring it on, fully expecting that they would try to smear his patriotism despite his Vietnam War medals. In accepting the Democratic nomination, Kerry again highlighted his national service by snapping off a salute with the words: Reporting for duty.
Yet one of the biggest disappointments for many Democrats was that the bring it on John Kerry didnt show up at key moments in Election 2004. He failed to respond aggressively when a Republican front group spread lies about his war record. He then meekly conceded defeat on the day after the Nov. 2 election rather than fight for a full examination of voting irregularities.
Now, John Kerry may have one more chance to report for duty. On Jan. 6, after the new Congress convenes, he could join with Reps. John Conyers, Maxine Waters and other members of the House of Representatives in supporting their expected motion for a full-scale investigation of Election 2004, particularly the widespread allegations of voting fraud in the pivotal state of Ohio.
For the House motion to have any standing, it must be signed by at least one U.S. senator. So far, no U.S. senator has stepped forward despite petition drives from rank-and-file Democrats demanding that Bushs victory be contested.
A similar situation arose dramatically after Election 2000, when House members from the Congressional Black Caucus rose to challenge election fraud in Florida that disenfranchised thousands of African-Americans and put Bush over the top. At that time, Kerry and other Democratic senators refused to join them.
The painful tableau was captured in Michael Moore Fahrenheit 9/11 with then-Vice President Al Gore presiding over a joint congressional session and repeatedly ruling African-American representatives out of order due to the absence of a senators signature. Out of apparent desire not to further divide the country, Gore and the Democratic senators accepted Bushs dubious election. [For details on how Bush won in 2000, see Consortiumnews.coms So Bush Did Steal the White House.]
Now, on Jan. 6, 2005, assuming Conyers and other representatives go ahead with their challenge, it would be Vice President Dick Cheney gaveling down African-American Democrats unless a U.S. senator agrees to sign their motion.
Of course, even if the motion gets a senators signature and is ruled to be in order, the Republican congressional majority is sure to block a full-scale investigation and instead simply certify Bushs election. Still, the challenge would mark a new determination among the Democrats to fight the Republicans over principles of democracy.
The motion also presents John Kerry with a difficult political and ethical choice. He basically would have three options: He could join the demand for a full investigation and risk being dubbed a sore loser; he could choose to sit silently while Cheney pounds his gavel; or he could stay away from the session altogether. One Kerry adviser told me the senator may be traveling outside the country on Jan. 6.
Since Election Day, most of Kerrys political advisers have been counseling him to accept defeat gracefully and protect his political viability, possibly with an eye toward another run for the presidency in 2008. By contrast, many rank-and-file Democrats have demanded that Kerry and other national Democratic leaders dig in and fight.
To many of these grassroots Democrats, Kerry should have ignored the advice of the professionals even before the election and waged a more aggressive campaign against Bush. These Democrats have complained that Kerrys political advisers, such as consultant Bob Shrum, staged a Democratic National Convention in July 2004 that tried so hard to be positive that it largely avoided telling the American people why a second Bush term would be a national disaster. [See Consortiumnews.coms Campaign 2004s Jedi Mind Tricks.]
Kerrys advisers also turned a deaf ear to early warnings about the political damage that could be inflicted on Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a pro-Bush group that accused Kerry of lying about his war record and faking his wounds. Kerrys advisers didnt believe the mainstream news media would give the accusations much credibility and then were shocked when CNN and other mainstream outlets pushed the allegations. [For more on the Swift boat case, see Consortiumnews.coms Bushes Play the Traitor Card and Reality on the Ballot.]
Instead of responding in kind by hammering Bushs contradictory accounts about how he ducked service in the Texas Air National Guard the Kerry campaign sought the high ground, even urging pro-Kerry groups to mute their criticism of Bushs National Guard record. [For more on Bushs National Guard contradictions, see Consortiumnews.coms Bush the Infallible.]
For his part, Bush refused to specifically denounce the attacks on Kerrys patriotism and indeed presided over a Republican convention where some delegates wore Purple Heart band-aids to mock Kerrys war wounds. Kerrys negatives soared as Bush built a double-digit cushion that helped him absorb opinion-poll blows that followed his stumbling performances in the three presidential debates.
Bushs Late Vote
Then, for a few hours on Election Day, Kerrys advisers thought their finessing strategy had worked. Exit polls showed Kerry winning by about a three-percentage-point margin nationwide and carrying almost all the battleground states. Kerrys advisers informed him that he would likely be the next President of the United States.
At the White House, Republican advisers also broke the news to Bush about Kerrys impending victory. Bushs political guru Karl Rove was one of the few optimists, reportedly assuring Bush that his vote would come in late.
And, indeed, as the official results rolled in, Bush took the lead nationally and was awarded six of the battleground states that had appeared headed for Kerrys column. By the end of the tally, Bush had amassed a record total of more than 61 million votes and had registered about a three-percentage-point win over Kerry. [See Consortiumnews.com Election 2004s Myths & Mysteries.]
Though Ohios 20 electoral votes could have tipped the Electoral College to Kerry and rank-and-file Democrats already were howling about voting irregularities there Kerrys political advisers concluded that Bushs Ohio margin, then around 136,000, could not be erased by the provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted.
So Kerry agreed to concede on Nov. 3 while still vowing to fight for the principle that all the outstanding votes must be counted. But Kerrys concession effectively prevented any thorough examination of voting irregularities in Ohio and across the country.
Two small parties the Greens and Libertarians filed for a recount in Ohio, but Ohios Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell slow-rolled the process on the grounds there was no compelling need for speed. Blackwell, a co-chairman of the states Bush-Cheney campaign, refused to permit any recounting until an official tally was certified on Dec. 6, more than a month after the election. By then, Bushs lead had dwindled to about 119,000 votes.
Blackwell next held off the start of a limited recount until Dec. 13, the day the Electoral College met to formalize Bushs victory. The delayed recount was limited to a three-per-cent sampling of Ohio precincts, amounting to little more than a re-tabulation of the count, with Bushs total shaved to about 118,500 votes. Tens of thousands of rejected ballots were never examined to determine whether they actually did record preferences for president.
Reasons to Challenge
In perhaps the most comprehensive coverage of Ohios flawed election and problems in the recount, the Columbus (Ohio) Free Press described 10 preliminary reasons why the Bush vote does not compute, and why Congress must investigate rather than certify the Electoral College.
The Free Press reported that in Ohio and other key states, the Bush campaign appears to have followed a do-everything strategy to suppress the vote in Democratic precincts, including providing inadequate numbers of voting machines that forced long lines and caused many voters with children or other duties to give up and not vote.
The Free Press also reported that more than 106,000 Ohio ballots were left unexamined, mostly for supposedly not registering a choice for president, again predominantly in Democratic precincts. Meanwhile, the Free Press said voting in pro-Bush precincts appears to have been exaggerated, at times exceeding 100 percent of the registered voters.
Crucial flaws in the national vote count, most importantly in Ohio, New Mexico and Florida, indicate John Kerry was most likely the actual winner on Nov. 2, as reported in national exit polls, according to the Free Press article by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman. At very least, the widespread tampering with how the election was conducted, and how Ohio's votes were counted and re-counted, has compromised this nation's historic commitment to free and fair elections. [Free Press, Jan. 3, 2005]
Nationwide, many rank-and-file Democrats remain angry over what they see as a Bush campaign that relied on dirty tricks, voter suppression, vote tampering and stonewalling of recount demands. Indeed, a large number of Democrats appear convinced that Bush stole a second presidential election on Nov. 2.
Ive spoken to or exchanged e-mails with many Democrats from a variety of backgrounds who even believe that the Republicans now have in place electronic means for rigging elections. A surprising number of these Democrats knew details about this controversy although it has received little attention in the major news media.
They know, for instance, that Ohio-based Diebold, with more than 75,000 electronic voting stations operating across the United States, is headed by Walden ODell, a major Bush fundraiser who announced that he was committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president. [See a Plain Dealer article about ODells statement, Sept. 16, 2003, posted at Diebolds Web site.]
Because of a wave of these Democratic e-mails in the days after the Nov. 2 election, I wrote a story about the technological feasibility of computer tampering. [See Consortiumnews.coms Evidence of a Second Bush Coup?] We also have run stories about the anomalies in voting patterns in traditional Democratic precincts in south Florida and elsewhere [see Consortiumnews.coms Bushs Incredible Vote Tallies.], as well as stories contrasting the major U.S. news medias outrage over electoral problems in Ukraine with ridicule heaped on U.S. citizens challenging the Nov. 2 election here. [See Big Medias Democracy Double Standards.]
Whatever the truth about systematic vote rigging, its now clear that the growing suspicions represent another threat to Democrats in the future. Many rank-and-file Democrats now believe that national elections are being rendered meaningless, with a Republican victor preordained through computer hacking, so why vote?
A chasm also seems to be opening between the Democratic base and the Democratic professionals in Washington over how to deal with todays Republican-dominated government. With the Jan. 6 congressional session looming, many rank-and-file Democrats want to escalate the fight with Republicans over democracy in the United States, while the Democratic professionals seem ready to move on to other issues.
This division represents a political risk, too, for John Kerry. While his Washington advisers may have assured the senator that his future political viability is best protected by him playing the part of good loser, many Democrats want him to stand with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in demanding a full investigation of the Nov. 2 election even if he gets called a sore loser for doing so.
For many in the Democratic base, it may be Kerrys last chance to show that he meant what he said when he challenged the Bush dirty tricksters to bring it on.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'
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