There were certain liberal commentators during the first decade of this millennium who really pushed the idea that George W. Bush was smart. I tended to side with them—at least against those who said that Bush was stupid. It is clear that Bush was not stupid. But over time, I began to see that Bush was not smart. He was wily. I think that’s clear: wily, but truly smart—in the sense that I am (which is not saying that much)—no.
Watching the HBO produced movie Recount, makes me think this is more generally true of Republicans. There was no new information in the film; I know the story. But it shows it from the inside and by all accounts (especially those of Republicans), it is accurate. And what you see are a bunch of Democrats working in good faith and a bunch of Republicans gaming the system: anything to win. Nowhere is this more clear than in the Brooks Brothers riot.
Look: I understand. If you have no real grassroots support, you pretend. I understand that the Tea Party is 90% AstroTurf. Liberal groups start with no financing and no cheer leading from major media outlets. Conservative groups need a lot of help. I accept that. But to hire operatives to pretend to be protesters, that’s not acceptable. That makes ratfucking seem quaint.
At one point in the film, Ron Klain (played by Kevin Spacey) says, “I’d just like to know who won this fucking election!” This is not a question that the Republicans are asking. I think this is because the Republicans already know. There’s a reason that the Republicans put 20,000 non-felons on their list of felons who cannot vote. This is why the Republican Party is pushing to overturn the Voting Rights Act. And in the film, this is why the Democrats are thrilled at a state-wide recount and the Republicans are not. Republicans know—and there is no doubt of this—that when a lot of people vote, they lose. What’s more: if all the people voted, they would always lose—and lose big.
It is depressing to get dragged through this whole thing again. But most of all, it just reminds me of what might have been. I wasn’t a big Gore fan then and I’m not now. But can anyone question that we would be in a better position now if Gore had been made president as the actual votes in Florida indicated? It is possible that there would have been no 9/11. I don’t say this because I think so highly of Gore, but there is no question that his staff took the threat of terrorism seriously. We also wouldn’t have had the huge tax cuts. We would not have had the huge corporate giveaway that is Medicare Part D. And most of all, we would not have had the Iraq War.
But even more, the 2000 Supreme-Court-decided election did this: it proved that we only have a democracy if we fight for it, because one of our major political parties is completely against it.
There is one critical point in the movie where Joe Lieberman breaks ranks on the counting of overseas ballots. I think a strong case can be made that this was really what lost Gore the election. Regardless, it is typical Lieberman. Lawrence O’Donnell often makes the case that Democrats in red states should be cut some slack. He specifically refers to Ben Nelson of Nebraska. But this doesn’t follow for Lieberman. He comes from a blue state. He is simply the kind of guy you don’t want on your team. Regardless of the good he does, it is outweighed by his gross incompetence and inconsistent policy positions.