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The Drama of Empty Numbers

By       Message Bob Koehler       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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And the voters went "Ahem."

Even with a 40 percent national turnout, which, I know, is good for a midterm election in the world's oldest and most complacent democracy, I find myself battling doubt and skepticism a day later that the criminally incompetent Bush administration has actually gotten its comeuppance. At the very least, I know that those of us who want to reclaim the country still have a lot of work to do. Our celebration at wresting back the House and maybe even the Senate will have to be a brief one.

A White House spokesman, commenting on the president's reaction to the withdrawal of his mandate to dig the holes into which he has thrust the country still deeper during the remainder of his term, said: "But he's eager to work with both parties on his priorities over the next two years."

Yeah, I'll bet. What I wonder is, have we elected bipartisan appeasers who want to "work" with W, or will the newly powerful congressional Democrats reflect the outrage and horror of their constituents and begin shining a moral spotlight on this criminal regime? Will they tell the president where to stick his priorities?

My skepticism is at least partly based on exposure to the boob tube last night for a longer interval than I'm accustomed to at one time, as I watched the election returns with friends. I keep forgetting the depth of American know-nothingism, as purveyed (especially) by the electronic media.

The hollowness of the democracy that mainstream pundits spill into our living rooms was driven home for me by a CNN commentator waxing wise on the Senate horserace in Virginia. Referring to exit polls that showed a majority of males casting their votes for Republican Sen. George Allen, son of the former Washington Redskins coach of the same name, and a majority of women voting for Democratic challenger Jim Webb, he said:

"The men voting for Allen in Virginia - that's football. The women voting for Webb - that's Iraq."

If he's right, it's time for a male anti-suffrage movement, methinks. But there was no moral awareness behind this pseudo-observation, only an indulgent glee in the spirit of that old Art Linkletter show, "Kids Say the Darnedest Things." Americans cast their ballots for the darnedest reasons, apparently. The gals are riled over Iraq, torture, 650,000 dead, while their husbands are dreaming Super Bowl and the 'Skins' glory days. Let's wait and see which candidate wins and we'll see which concern resonates more with the American people. Ain't democracy grand?

If you actually believed the stakes in this election had life-and-death significance, such jocularity might be barely tolerable. But here in America, where 40 percent is a darn good turnout for a midterm election, such folks are in the minority, I guess.

A few other matters were lost in the drama of the numbers that flashed across our TV screens. For instance, the media continue not to care that electronic voting machines are unreliable, hackable, enormously costly and undermine the integrity of our elections. Machine malfunctions - wouldn't start, failed to display candidates' names, flipped votes - occurred in precincts throughout the country, inconveniencing some voters, disenfranchising others. And most such machines leave no verifiable paper trail, making recounts in the many tight races (such as Virginia's Iraq-football set-to) all but impossible.

Also beyond the scope of the drama of empty numbers that we are accustomed to calling democracy, there were some overlooked results that hinted at the true national mood.

One was the surprising success of a number of alternative candidates, including Rich Whitney, the Green Party's nominee for governor of Illinois, who got a whopping 11 percent of the vote in that state.

Another was the fate of resolutions from coast to coast calling for U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. A total of 8.7 million voters cast ballots on such resolutions, according to the national organization Liberty Tree. Most of these referenda passed by wide margins. In Cook County, Illinois, where I voted, for instance, the vote was 456,000 in favor to 167,000 against.

And in San Francisco, nearly 60 percent voted yes on a resolution calling for George Bush's impeachment. Across the Bay in Berkeley, more than 68 percent voted yes.

Oh well, ho hum. This is a footnote in the mainstream media, which excel at bringing us the Super Bowl, but haven't quite figured out how to cover elections, which are more complex and, just possibly, more important.

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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at



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Robert Koehler, an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist, is an editor at Tribune Media Services and nationally syndicated writer. You can respond to this column at or visit his Web site at

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