This morning I was flipping around the TV and came across C-SPAN's "Washington Journal." Normally when I do this, it's just in time to hear some belligerent voice, often with a southern drawl, castigate "the libburls" or "the Democrats" for this or that imagined transgression. Today, though, I caught an enraged caller from Illinois blasting the war and, before signing off, reminding the people that "the real terrorist is George W. Bush!"
I was relieved to hear this--not because I necessarily agree with it, and certainly not because I think it's a politically useful stance for Democrats to take, but because it suggests the culture hasn't chilled to the point where we can't even voice dissent. Presumably the caller, after hanging up, went off to work or maybe posted on his blog, in all likelihood without any government oppression resulting from his publicly stated view. In a time when so much else is going wrong, we need to appreciate that this is still something very right in our country.
(I know there are exceptions to this rule, and we have to remain vigilant in defense of personal liberties--but let's face it, just the users of this site have said and written some pretty strong things about the country's current political leadership, myself certainly included, and we've never been physically or legally assaulted for doing so.)
But while freedom of opinion remains more or less intact, the powers that be are taking every action they can to render those dissenting voices irrelevant. How much have you heard or read about what Rep. Conyers is finding in his investigation of fraud and chicanery in Ohio? Outside of the left-leaning blogosphere, probably not much at all. Will any Democrat challenge the electors on January 6? I'm not holding my breath. And if not, we face a political reality pretty close to what's described here:
Suffice to say that the evidence of fraud is compelling, and is accumulating by the day. The statistical evidence is overwhelming, reports of anomalies are almost all one-sided accounts of “errors” favoring Bush, and there is no credible explanation of how Bush gained eight million additional votes over his 2000 total. Still more startling is the failure of the “conventional view” to refute this evidence – other than a couple of early criticisms of marginal issues. Instead, the media response is either no response, or ad hominem attacks on the critics. Note the headlines in the mainstream media: “Vote Fraud Theories, Spread by Blogs, are Quickly Buried.” (New York Times), “Internet buzz on vote fraud is dismissed” (Boston Globe), “Latest Conspiracy Theory – Kerry Won – Hits the Ether” (Washignton Post) “Election paranoia surfaces: conspiracy theorists call results rigged” (Baltimore Sun)... [t]he three private GOP-oriented companies that built and programmed 30% of the voting machines, and that compiled 80% of the vote totals, used secret (“proprietary”) software codes. If these companies did not finagle the totals to assure a Bush victory, then they played it straight out of their own unverifiable public-spirited volition. If they rigged the election, there is no direct paper record or access to the source code to prove the crime. So in answer to the question, “How do we know the reported results were fair and accurate?” the only possible answer from Diebold, ES&S and Sequoia corporations is “Trust us.” Period.
...Suppose now that the election was stolen, that Kerry in fact would have won an honest and accurate election, but that Bush’s corporate allies in the vote-counting business rigged the totals to give Bush the election. Though very few American citizens were aware of it, Bush’s “victory” was fore-ordained, regardless of the will of the voters. A Kerry victory was ruled out at the pre-election get-go. Bush’s electoral defeat at the polls was as unlikely as Josef Stalin’s.
If all this is so, then consider the current posture of the Democratic Party. Clearly, the Democrats will have opted, either deliberately or naively, to play the role of “The Washington Generals” in the next elections and far into the future. They will never retake power, for the private corporations that count our votes with secret software, in collusion with the Republicans, will never allow a transfer of power. The Democrats will instead serve as “window dressing” for this travesty of “democracy.” “Of course we are a democracy,” the new autocrats will tell the American people and the world, “after all, don’t we have an opposition party? And haven’t the American voters repeatedly preferred us Republicans to the Democrats?”
I'm still not ready to embrace the notion that the election was stolen. But the symptomatic behavior the author talks about is real enough: the Democrats repeatedly fail to stand up to Republican bullying, and thus essentially enable all kinds of atrocious behavior--not to mention unilaterally disarm within a political context. We didn't highlight Abu Ghraib, despite the now-revealed reality that the decisions to employ torture were made at the highest level, because Kerry likely feared that he'd be accused of "blaming the troops." We didn't stand up for gay marriage, or even civil unions, on a principled anti-discrimination argument because the "professional election losers" simply hoped that low-income cultural conservatives would vote their pocketbooks, not their Bibles. And now I'm guessing the Democrats won't speak out against the transparent misdeeds of Ohio (and elsewhere) out of fear of again being dubbed sore losers, contemptuous of the electoral majority.
So where does this leave us? I'm not terrified of "overt fascism" in the sense of punishing dissent and filling the jails with political prisoners--because that's bad for business. Even the ideologues on the Republican side probably understand that the First Amendment is a great support for capitalism--the freedom to innovate in the economic sphere would be difficult, maybe impossible to sustain while taking away freedoms of speech, assembly, and press. But they can and are imposing economic consequences for what they might deem the "misuse" of those freedoms: thus we have a corporate media that shies away from too-close examination of electoral fraud, official lies or, for that matter, the truth about Social Security (namely, that there is no "crisis" and the proposed Bush plan is both a giveaway to his finance-industry donors and a mammoth shift of economic risk from the public to the individual and her/his family).
In other words, they won't shut down Josh Marshall or Paul Krugman or any other liberal voice--they'll just build firewalls to ensure that these voices won't get anything close to an equal hearing in the court of public opinion. So the society remains "free", but the playing field tilts ever more against those of us who believe in economic equity and social justice. We're free, but powerless.