Sunday, December 12 marked ten years since the US Supreme Court effectively decided the outcome of the 2000 presidential election, halting the counting of votes in Florida and awarding the White House to George W. Bush. The 5-4 ruling in Bush v. Gore, together with the contemptible capitulation of the Democratic Party, constituted a milestone in the decay of American democracy.
In a social and political context in which the debacles produced by the Bush administration loom so large in everyday life, it might be thought that the American media and political opinion makers would devote considerable attention to the tenth anniversary of the event that placed Bush in the White House.
In fact, however, the silence is deafening. Neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post, the two leading national newspapers, published retrospectives to mark the occasion. Their example was emulated in the regional and local press and on the television networks. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the four dissenters in Bush v. Gore, gave a rare live interview to Fox News Sunday, but the subject never came up.
Only one bourgeois pundit, right-wing columnist George Will, took up the issue, and he dismissed the Supreme Court action as one of little or no lasting significance, asserting that the passions over the decision "dissipated quickly" and that "remarkably little damage was done" by the post-election crisis.
Significantly, however, Will's cursory rehash of the dispute included flatly antidemocratic assertions--that the votes of those who "cast ballots incompetently" should simply have been discarded and that the fundamental right at stake in the court fight was the "rights of state legislatures" (in Florida's case, Republican-controlled), which have "plenary power" to determine voting procedures.
Will, of course, agrees with the five-member majority in Bush v. Gore that the central issue was not to determine, in as objective a fashion as possible, how the people of Florida actually voted--in other words, to count every vote--but to bring the controversy to a speedy end with the result favored by the political right. This entailed ignoring the result of the popular vote, won by Democrat Al Gore.
The silence of the nominally "liberal" press is a guilty one. They do not wish to revisit the history, not so long ago, in which the Democratic Party and the liberal media surrendered to a right-wing judicial coup d'e'tat, whose effect was to install the most right-wing government in American history.
The events of Election Day 2000, encompassing the night of Tuesday, November 7 and the early morning hours of Wednesday, November 8, are among the most extraordinary in American political history. Yet they came after a presidential campaign of the most humdrum character, in which no political issues were seriously discussed. The consensus among political pundits and pollsters was that Bush, then governor of Texas, held a narrow but significant lead over his Democratic opponent, Vice President Al Gore.
As in 1998, however, when predictions of major Republican gains in the midst of the impeachment crisis failed to materialize, it appeared as the votes began to be counted that the political establishment had underestimated the popular hostility towards the right-wing program of the Republican Party, founded on tax cuts for the wealthy and the slashing of domestic social spending.
Gore won many of the big industrial states with relative ease, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. The Democrats were sweeping the northeastern states and were expected to win the Pacific Coast, while Bush carried the south and southwest, the Rocky Mountain states and Ohio. It appeared that the election would be decided by Florida's 25 votes in the Electoral College.
Just before 8 p.m., several US television networks called the outcome in Florida for Gore, based on their exit polls of voters compiled throughout the day. The Bush campaign reacted immediately, breaking with precedent and putting the candidate before television cameras to denounce the network projections and declare his certainty that Florida--where his brother Jeb was governor and the Republicans controlled the machinery of state government--would end up in his column.
The networks backed down, rescinding their call for Gore and declaring the outcome in Florida still undecided. Then, in the early hours of Wednesday, Fox News became the first network to call Florida for Bush, thereby declaring him the victor in the election.
Heading the decision desk, where the network reviewed vote totals and polls to arrive at projections, was John W. Ellis, a first cousin of George W. Bush. Ellis unilaterally called the election for Bush before any determination by the Voter News Service, the consortium of leading newspapers and television networks, after a 2 a.m. telephone discussion with Bush and his brother Jeb.
When the other networks followed suit, pronouncing Bush the winner, Democrat Al Gore telephoned his concession to Bush. But on the way to make his televised concession speech before an audience of supporters in Nashville, Gore received a phone call from campaign aides who advised him that the numbers in Florida showed the race too close to call. Gore telephoned Bush again and retracted his concession.
These events had critical importance for what was to follow. The media coverage, as well as Gore's premature concession, gave the impression to the public that Bush had "won" Florida--and the national election--by a narrow margin. Throughout the ensuing crisis, the corporate-controlled media largely parroted the official Republican posture that Bush was the presumptive winner. The fact that Gore had won by a sizeable margin in the national popular vote, as much as a half million votes, was dismissed as of no significance.The struggle in Florida
Gore retracted his concession phone call to Bush because of reports flowing in to his campaign about numerous and widespread irregularities in the Florida voting, including measures to suppress the Democratic vote by arbitrarily barring black voters. It emerged that in a single county, Palm Beach, some 19,000 votes cast for president were invalidated because the voters, confused by the layout of the ballot paper, had chosen more than one candidate. Thousands more in Palm Beach, in heavily Jewish precincts, had inadvertently cast ballots for the ultra-right independent candidate Patrick Buchanan.