Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Truth Is Out There . . . But It Ain't on "The Point"

In his commentary "Conspiracy Theories," Mark Hyman mocks concern over voting irregularities and chalks up this as sour grapes from the (you guessed it) “Angry Left.”

We at The Counterpoint know a little bit more about conspiracy theories than does Mr. Hyman. One of the things we know is that “conspiracy theory” is a weak epithet thrown at an argument one isn’t willing or able to argue against logically.

Sure, Hyman quotes a Miami Herald story that claims a limited recount confirms Kerry votes may have been undercounted, but not nearly enough to affect the outcome. But as a number of number of independent media outlets have noted, the numbers actually show a potentially huge undercount of Kerry’s votes in Florida.

But that’s not the issue. The difference between Hyman’s reading of voting irregularities and that of the people he labels rather than contradicts comes down to a matter of basic philosophy. As George Lakoff notes in his books Moral Politics and Don’t Think of an Elephant, liberals and conservatives simply see the world through different frames. Lakoff focuses on the metaphor of the family, suggesting conservatives think in terms of a “Strict Father” mentality, while liberals see the world in terms of the “Nurturing Parent” model of the family.

In the case of the issue of recounts, voter fraud, etc., this difference takes the following form: conservatives see electoral politics in terms of a contest where the only thing that matters is whether you win or lose. But liberals add to this a concern over “how you play the game.” What’s at issue in looking at the many reported problems with voting (particularly electronic voting) goes far beyond the winner and loser of the 2004 presidential race. Even if Bush (or Kerry) had won in a landslide of historic proportions, it would still be essential to investigate any reported voting irregularities—not because these would affect the outcome, but because it’s essential in a healthy democracy that the electoral process be (and be seen as) fair and accurate. The fact that Bush received several thousand more votes in one Ohio precinct than there were voters registered in the precinct wouldn’t by itself affect the outcome of this election. What it does affect, however, is the faith of the voting public on whether their vote counts or not.

For the past several decades, voter turnout has been dropping. The bump in registration and turnout in the most recent election would be cause for celebration if we could count on it being part of a trend. But it was hard to persuade many potential voters that their vote would “count” in the abstract sense of the word back when we were all naïve enough to assume all votes were literally counted. The debacle of 2000 and the disturbing problems of the “reformed” electoral system in 2004 have given citizens good reason to feel their votes might not be counted in even the most literal sense. Add that to the preexisting foundation of skepticism, and we have the conditions for the body politic to grow increasingly decrepit.

This should concern all Americans, perhaps Bush supporters more than any. After all, it was the appearance of a stolen election that hamstrung the Bush presidency until the events of 9/11, and served as a basis for the “Hate Bush” movement that grew with each misguided policy decision. It’s in the best interest of the Bush administration to clear up any possible irregularities in the most recent election.

For conservatives such as Hyman, however, it seems like the idea of fair play is a quaint anachronism in an age of realpolitik (or at least Rovepolitik). But let’s face it: had the CEO of Diebold, the largest manufacturer of electronic voting machines, promised to deliver Ohio for John Kerry rather than George W. Bush, there would likely have been a week’s worth of “Points” devoted to this assault on democracy, and even more had Kerry won Ohio and the election.

Hyman wants to paint his political opponents as sore losers, but it’s his side’s lack of concern about the health of the democratic process that reveals them as the poor sports they are.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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