Washington Post calls Bush moves to postpone US
By Patrick Martin
15 July 2004
The major daily newspaper in the US capital has endorsed the Bush
administration's review of possible actions to suspend the 2004
elections in the event of a major terrorist attack inside the United
States. The Washington Post published an editorial on July 14,
headlined "Tuesday in November", which presents the preparations
initiated by the Department of Homeland Security as "useful"
and "appropriate", and casts them as a legitimate exercise in
The whole approach of the Post is saturated with contempt for those
who are alarmed about the implications of such an action for American
democracy. The newspaper dismisses such concerns as "a few
suspicious, even hysterical reactions, and talk of stolen elections."
Even the length and positioning of the editorial - a brief four
paragraphs, placed second on the page under a comment on the gay
marriage amendment - were meant to convey that nothing monumental was
While counseling caution, the Post editors do not express any
principled objection to a decision to call off the elections.
Instead, they devote the bulk of their abbreviated comment to
advising the Bush administration on how to counteract those who are
suspicious of its political motives. They urge that Congress, not the
executive branch, take the lead, possibly by appointing a bipartisan
commission headed by such figures as ex-senators Bob Dole and George
Mitchell, to study the issue.
For all the sneering about "hysterical reactions", the Post is
clearly worried that the reports of plans to call off the election
have touched a nerve in public opinion, despite efforts to downplay
the significance of the issue by the Bush administration, the
Democratic Party and the bulk of the media. (While the Post preaches
complacency, for instance, the New York Times practices it. There has
been no editorial comment on the subject from the Times and only a
few brief reports in its news pages.)
Overall, the news reporting on this subject, by both the television
networks and the daily newspapers, has been remarkably perfunctory.
Far less attention has been paid to the open discussion of calling
off the November 2 election - an event that would have incalculable
consequences for American society - than to such trivialities as the
debut of Bush's daughters as participants in his reelection campaign.
There is a stark - but highly informative - contrast between the
media response to last week's press conference by Tom Ridge, the
secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and its
response to Ridge's decision to investigate the possibility of
calling off the election.
Ridge warned on July 8 that Al Qaeda terrorists were planning attacks
aimed at the US elections, suggesting that the Democratic and
Republican conventions and Election Day activities could be major
targets. Ridge gave no details, provided no evidence and proposed no
action except greater vigilance. The DHS did not even raise the
threat level on its color-coded warning, which has become an object
of widespread derision. Nonetheless, Ridge's press conference
received saturation coverage in the media. It was the lead on the
television news and was reported in prominent front-page articles in
Three days later, Newsweek magazine revealed that DeForest Soaries,
chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, had recommended to
Ridge that the DHS investigate what legal authority would be required
to suspend the elections in the event of a terrorist attack, and that
Ridge had forwarded this inquiry to the Justice Department's Office
of Legal Counsel. There was a brief wire service report on the
Newsweek revelation, quoting noncommittal responses from
congressional Republicans and Democrats, and similarly low-key
coverage by the television networks.
Both incidents concerned the possibility of a terrorist attack in
conjunction with the US elections, but they received vastly different
media treatment. The reason is obvious - and sinister.
In the first case, the force allegedly aiming to disrupt the US
elections is a foreign terrorist organization. In the second case,
the force admittedly considering postponement of the US elections is
the US government itself, acting through Bush appointees in the
Justice Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the
Election Assistance Commission.
The fundamental truth, which the corporate-controlled media seeks to
suppress, is that the US government is a far greater threat to
American democracy than Osama bin Laden. Al Qaeda is a small band of
stateless terrorists who can murder innocent people, but are
incapable of imposing their reactionary vision of an Islamic
fundamentalist state even in the Middle East, let alone in the United
States. The Bush administration, however, directs the most powerful
imperialist state, using its powers to attack the living standards
and democratic rights of the American people while enriching the
wealthy elite that constitutes Bush's principal social basis.
Under Bush, the US government has already conquered two formerly
independent countries, subjecting 50 million people to the rule of
American puppets. Now the outcome of Bush's self-proclaimed "war for
freedom" in the Middle East is the open preparation for the
suppression of democracy within the United States itself.
Such a course is fraught with enormous peril for the Bush
administration and the US ruling class. They are operating, not from
a position of strength, but from weakness: a deeply discredited
government, an unpopular war, and an economy undermined by
catastrophic budget and trade deficits, kept afloat only by an
effusion of credit that is ultimately unsustainable.
The crisis of the Bush administration has produced a significant
division within the ruling elite itself, reflected in the surge of
financial contributions and relatively favorable media coverage for
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential
candidate, who has pledged to sustain and even intensify the US
military effort in Iraq.
These divisions are reflected as well in editorials in a number of
major daily newspapers, denouncing the Bush administration's
preparations to postpone the elections, in some cases in scathing
terms. These are staid bourgeois newspapers, conformist
and "respectable" in their editorial views, most of them owned by
giant media corporations. None can be said to be prone to "hysterical
reactions" when it comes to criticism of the Bush administration. But
they are concerned - and rightly so - that an attempt to call off the
November election could produce a social and political explosion.
The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial on July 12
headlined "Don't Even Think About It." The Cleveland Plain-Dealer
declared, "This is a horrible idea. It should be stopped now. Today."
The Chicago Sun-Times raised concerns about the longer-term
precedent, asking "what security comes from pushing elections back
two weeks or a month? What prevents terrorists from attacking again,
and then what would we do? Keep postponing elections? That's a
Even USA Today, flagship of the Gannett Co., the biggest US newspaper
chain, expressed cautious disapproval of the postponement option,
writing in an editorial on July 14, "If the US were trying to send a
signal that terrorists had won, delaying a national election would
certainly do the trick."
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune directly questioned the good faith of
the Bush administration, observing: "given the vagueness of the
intelligence on Al-Qaeda plans to date, one has to wonder why this
particular contingency, over all those certainly being analyzed, was
made public - and whether equal and sufficient effort is being
expended to make certain that the elections do take place on Election
Day ... given the Florida shenanigans in 2000, voters should be
forgiven for feeling skeptical upon hearing about this line of
Such editorials reflect serious concerns within the US ruling elite
over the implications of a direct move to dictatorship, which is what
any suspension of the elections would represent. Nevertheless, the
refusal of the most influential media outlets at the center of
American financial and political life - including the broadcast
networks and such newspapers as the New York Times and Washington
Post - to either seriously report and critically investigate
government moves to close down the elections, or forthrightly
denounce them as a conspiracy against the democratic rights of the
people - illustrates the profound and irreparable decay of American
Even if the Bush administration is persuaded to desist from using
terrorist threats as the pretext for calling off or disrupting the
November election, the very fact that the issue of canceling
elections has been raised, with little protest from within the
political and media establishment, establishes the most dangerous
precedent. There can be little doubt that, at the very least,
measures will be taken, either under a second Bush administration or
a Kerry presidency, to establish a legalistic cover for calling off
elections in the future.
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