Reliving the Recount

Recount filmThere 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.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Reliving the Recount

  1. It is possible, of course, that a Gore administration would have treated intelligence warnings about attacks using jetliners as bombs more seriously than Bush’s people did. And if so, lives here and overseas would have been saved.

    Think of another scenario, though. Let’s imagine that, all due diligence aside, the Gore administration did not prevent crazies from attacking New York and Washington. The ensuing outcry would have, I believe, essentially ended the Democratic party.

    If we take that "what if" further, we can wonder whether the end of the Democrats might have become a good thing (clearing out the dead weight, making room for a real progressive party) or a nightmare enabling an even more terrifying police state than the one we inhabit today.

    It didn’t happen that way, so we don’t know. That’s the fun of time-travel fictions; you change one crucial thing, you change everything.

  2. @JMF – I’ve given a lot of thought to this. The attack under Gore would not have seen the Republicans rally around the president the way the Democrats rallied around Bush. In fact, I remember a number of people (one was quite famous) saying they were relieved that Gore was not president.

    But I don’t think it would have been the end of the Democratic Party. The crazies would still have been the crazies, but most Americans would have rallied around the president. There is a good chance that Gore would have lost in 2004, however. But I would have said the same thing about Bush back then.

    I also don’t think it really would have mattered on the grand scale if we had managed to stop the 9/11 attacks. Richard Clarke noted this in his book. The way we are (I would go further: the way [i]humans[i] are) we would have had to have a major tragedy before we took the threat seriously. Of course, I think we took the threat a good deal [i]too[/i] seriously, but that is another matter. (Seriously, but not effectively or intelligently.)

  3. This is all speculation, and your reference to Clarke is a good one. Still . . . we should keep in mind the "branding" (brands being more important than the products they label) of Dems/Repubs as "weak/strong" on foreign policy. Bush, I think, got a pass for the attacks because he successfully played the "it wasn’t my fault, it was eight years of weakness" card. Gore wouldn’t have been able to.

    Gore would have had to go to war with someone. It wouldn’t have been Iraq. It probably would have been Afghanistan. That war would have failed as it fails tragically now, and forever Repubs would wave the WTC "bloody shirt" to keep Dems out of the White House.

    Unless (and here’s a possibility most people forget) — Gore had taken the Taliban up on its offer to hand over bin Laden, IMMEDIATELY after the attacks, with the provision that he be tried in an Islamic nation. Saudi Arabia would have gladly done it. And then maybe there would have been no wars (besides the usual covert ones everywhere.) The abysmal Taliban would still rule Afghanistan, but they’re going to wind up doing so anyway. And fewer people would be dead.

    Again, all speculation, but interesting to think about.

  4. @JMF – I totally agree about Afghanistan. America had to go to war with somewhere. It is who we are. And I agree with you that we can’t really say. I do think we know a few things:

    1. No Iraq War.
    2. No "we’re all together" moment.
    3. No trillion dollar tax cuts.

    It would have been messy. I suppose one could argue that the Bush administration showed America that Republicans can’t govern. But they should have known that before, and they still don’t really get it. Had Romney won (and he came close enough), we would have had a repeat of the Bush years.

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