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Remember the 2000 Coup d’Etat!

Progressives should not soon forget what dark forces installed the lackluster George W. Bush to the position he’s achieved.

What follows are some special memories of the 2000 presidential election:

  • May, 2000. Thousands of black voters evicted from the Florida voter rolls supposedly because they are ex-felons. Nearly all of these never were criminals, however, but nearly all of them are black. 4,000 of them never bother to get back on the rolls. The list of people to evict was prepared by a firm hand-picked by Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Counterpunch, November 16-30, 2000.)

  • 11/7/00: Election day. Palm Beach, Florida. Dozens, maybe hundreds, of angry voters attempt to tell the Election Board that the Butterfly ballot being used was too confusing.

    That night, Gore handily wins the national popular vote, but the result in Florida—key to the election with its critical electoral votes—remains uncertain.

    In Palm Beach, city with many elderly Jews, 16,000 ballot votes are made with both Patrick Buchanan and Al Gore specified. Thousands of angry voters claim they intended to vote for Gore but the ballot confused them. On TV Buchanan later admits the 3,000 votes he alone received in that county were certainly a mistake. This is significant because that number of votes handily exceeds Bush’s alleged final margin in all of Florida.

  • Soon afterwards the Florida counties begin their recounts while Secretary of State Harris—who served as co-chair of Bush’s Florida campaign but failed to recuse herself in the aftermath of the election, as would have been appropriate—tries to stop them. In critical, Gore-leaning Dade-Miami County, a disturbance is caused by a group of Republicans which causes the recount there to be discontinued. Jonathan Schell in The Nation (December 18, 2000) describes the event:

    “[On 11/22/00] the board of canvassers decide that in the interest of time it would count only those ballots that had gone uncounted by the voting machines. In the afternoon, they decided to cancel even that smaller recount. It was the decisive moment [for Gore in the election]... In the interval between the decision to do a partial recount and the decision to cancel it, there was a minor Republican riot inside and outside the county building. When the canvassing board moved to a new room that made observation more difficult, GOP Representative John Sweeney of New York ordered, “Shut it down!”

    Schell goes on to say that the Wall Street Journal (and staunch Republican) columnist Paul Gigot was a witness to Republicans pounding on walls, shouting down Democratic observers trying to give interviews to the media, and TV cameramen being punched. Schell says Gigot confirms the event is "semi-spontaneous." Schell also writes that the participants were Republican House staffers. They were organized by the very Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) who had been given all sorts of attention by the mainstream media since Election Day for saying that the Democrats were ‘stealing the election’. If Schell is correct, DeLay’s use of his office in that fashion is certainly worth the front-page of every newspaper in the nation, and DeLay is guilty of treason. Interfering with the lawful process of counting votes in an election is certainly an infinitely more impeachable offense than seeking comfort from a subordinate and lying about it under oath. (DeLay was a pivotal figure behind the successful Republican drive to impeach Clinton.)

  • In the next chapter, Secretary of State Harris then certifies the election before the recounts are completed. (Incidentally, see Counterpunch, November 9-23, 2000, regarding Ms. Harris’s rumored illicit relationship with George W. Bush.)

  • On to the courts, where Bush is holding a straight flush. Republican appointee Judge N. Sanders Sauls upholds Harris’ premature certification (“Bush has won”) and says the hand-counts must stop. The Florida Supreme Court overrules him and orders that the recounts be continued. States-rights champion and foe of “judicial activism” George W. Bush now appeals to the Supreme Court, which orders the recounts to be stopped by a vote of 5-4.

    Justice Antonin Scalia declares “The counting of votes that are of questionable legality...threaten[s] irreparable casting a cloud upon what [Bush] claims to be the legitimacy of his election.” Scalia, you see, has already assumed Bush will win if recounts are made. Legal scholars call the Court’s first action “incomprehensible.” (Scott Turow, the Washington Post, 12/17/00).

    (By the way, Scalia has two sons who worked for Bush’s law firm. Also, Clarence Thomas’s wife, as an employee of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has been collecting applications for people who want to work in the Bush administration. Neither Justice recused himself, as would have seemed appropriate.)

  • Then comes the Supreme Court decision about the recounts. By the same 5-4 margin, Scalia, Thomas, Rehnquist, Kennedy and O’Connor rule that continuing the recounts would be “unconstitutional” because the Florida legislature lacked “guidelines” to determine the “clear intent of the voter.” In this fashion the Court had Gore in a legal Catch-22. If Florida had established procedures to handle an election this close after it took place, the procedures would have been overturned because they would have been “new rules.” But without such new rules for doing a recount, the voters would have been denied “equal protection.”
The Court, in its December 12 decision, also prevented the recount from continuing by stipulating that the results of any count had to be submitted on that very same same day—the last date for Congress to challenge Florida’s result. And, let us also not forget, a primary cause that the arbitrary December 12 deadline cannot be met by Florida is that the Court itself had called off the recount effort pending its decision—which, via its impossible time constraints, effectively decided the election.

The Court’s decision is binding because, as Washington Post writer Scott Turow points out, the five justices were refusing to acknowledge that Florida could ever determine the winner on its own. This prevents Florida from having the authority to recount—or count for the first time, in tens of thousands of instances—and conclude the election as it sees fit, as is any state’s constitutional right.

In their judicial activism, the Supreme Court’s majority opinion emphasized that “our consideration is limited to the present circumstances.” This means, Turow says, that the Court did not define legal principles that could govern future disputes. Instead, this Star Chamber bluntly terminated the election and pronounced Bush the winner. (WP, 12/17/00).

What the U.S. Supreme Court, two U.S. Congressmen (and the Republican mob of Hill staffers they organized), Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, and Bush brother and Florida Governor Jeb Bush accomplished here has the feel of a bloodless coup d’état.

Never before have so many prominent leaders of our government thwarted the public’s will, and a state’s electoral autonomy, quite so brazenly. It is almost as if they were putting in power a weak man with aspirations of being our Fuhrer.

Welcome to our Banana Republic. If concerned citizens don’t soon start getting more involved with politics, and if our supposedly independent media don’t do their watchdog job, we might soon start seeing more blood with our coup d’états.

Scott Loughrey

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