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Event

 
Washington Post calls Bush moves to postpone US 
elections "appropriate"
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 
contingency planning.

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 
under discussion.

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 
most newspapers.

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 
terrifying thought."

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 
thinking."

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 
bourgeois democracy.

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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