The brazen theft of the Maine Republican caucus by Mitt Romney and the Republican establishment should be a lesson to us in the antiwar movement – and, indeed, one that needs to be learned by all Americans hoping and working for real political change.
First, a word about the evidence left at the crime scene: this is a case of vanishing voters, caucus participants whose ballots simply disappeared. In the town of Belfast, the seat of Maine’s coastside Waldo county, the caucus resulted in a Ron Paul victory, but when the caucus chairman called the state party to report the results, he was told they already had the vote totals – which showed Romney had won. The caucus chair was puzzled, since he was the designated reporter, and no one else. He was told "Oh, I’ll be sure those numbers are changed." The numbers, however, have not changed. Indeed, all but one of the precincts in Waldo county have the same official tally: zero. According to the participants, Paul swept those precincts: the party establishment’s solution to this "problem" was to simply disappear those voters.
The town of Waterville, in Kennebec county, where over 15,000 registered voters reside, also saw its voters disappeared. Of course we all know it’s sheer coincidence Paul carried that precinct, 21-5, according to the Kennebec GOP. What are you, some kind of conspiracy theorist? I’ll bet you believe in black helicopters, too!
Voting in Washington county was delayed due to a prediction of three inches of snow, a prospect that didn’t discourage the Girl Scouts from going ahead with their planned event. So much for the GOP as the Party of Macho! In any event, the Washingtonians were told by the state party a delay would be okay, and their votes would still be counted in the official tally. So the local Republican leadership went ahead and rescheduled the caucus for this Saturday. However, the state chairman has stated Washington county’s votes will not be counted after all. This casts a cloud over the Maine GOP’s announcement that there will be a recount. The question is: which votes will be recounted? And that just shows you where we are in this 230th year of the Great American Experiment in democracy.
While there are usually a few glitches in most elections, in a contest
where less than 200 votes separates the "winner" from the runner-up,
this is not nit-picking.
The argument that the Maine vote was just a "beauty contest," and that the real contest takes place according to an arcane process — involving district conventions and then a statewide convention at which the actual credentialed Maine delegates going to Tampa will be chosen — misses the point. As Rachel Maddow explained so cogently the other night, the narrative going into Maine was that Romney’s hot-air balloon was in danger of imploding. Having just been relegated to third place in Minnesota – behind Paul, who came in second – and been gobsmacked by Santorum in Colorado, where he expected to win, Mitt Romney limped into Maine exuding a narrative of decline. Paul’s second place showing in Minnesota set the stage for an upset the GOP establishment could ill afford at that point, and so they took measures to make sure it didn’t happen.
In short, they stole the election fair and square – and that’s just a hint of things to come. Because if Maine’s delegate selection process is exclusively an internal party affair, one that takes place behind closed doors — and is subject to the dictates of the pro-Romney state leadership — then the shenanigans are going to be more like a Soviet party congress circa 1939 than anything resembling the American electoral process.
There are two conclusions we can draw from the mysterious case of Maine’s vanishing voters: first and foremost is that it isn’t a mystery at all, but the result of a deliberate effort to steal the election for Romney. Secondly, if they’re doing it in Maine, they’re doing it elsewhere: indeed, there is plenty of evidence that’s just what they tried to do in Iowa.
If we project the case of Maine’s disappearing voters nationwide, onto all states holding caucuses instead of primaries, then the fraud takes on a scale that threatens to delegitimize the entire process. This at a time when the entire political system is distrusted and even disdained by large portions of the electorate: turnout in the GOP primaries has been significantly lagging this time around, hardly what one would expect from the rank-and-file of a party supposedly eager to overturn the Obama administration. With billionaires buying elections, and both parties under the thumb of the Money Power, ordinary Americans just don’t take elections that seriously anymore. The idea that the electoral process confers any kind of real legitimacy on the victors is a fast-dissipating myth.
Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that an anti-interventionist candidate for President was actually elected, in spite of the Establishment’s best efforts to rig the election. He or she would come into office shackled by legal precedents, previous executive orders [.pdf], and the implacable hostility of the national security bureaucracy, including the top ranks of the military. Without the sustained and active support of an aroused populace, President Paul, for example, would wind up so entangled in fighting his own government – that is, the permanent government of career bureaucrats and special interests – that he would have little political capital or energy to do much else.
The only circumstances in which there would be much hope for success would be in a crisis situation, an economic emergency in which the reality of national bankruptcy is brought home to us in an immediate and dramatic fashion: even in that case, however, the forces of the status quo would rally, and do their best to stop President Paul from dismantling the empire. It would take a popular mobilization of unprecedented scope to counter this kind of pressure. In the end, I wouldn’t rule out a coup d’état as the last resort of the elites, as they desperately cling to power.
In the long run, we have the advantage, and every reason to be optimistic – that is, if the impending financial implosion of the West is something to look forward to. Because, in the end, that is what will bring down the empire, and disabuse us of our more grandiose notions about an "American Century" and the glories of "American exceptionalism." If this mindset means Americans are exceptionally obtuse when it comes to understanding the limits of military power – and its dependence on economic power – then I’m a believer. It will take a crisis of earth-shattering import to shake them out of their complacency, which has been percolating since the end of the cold war. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, we’ve been telling ourselves we’re the last superpower left standing – and doesn’t it strike you as odd that no one wonders what happened to the rest of them?
Rome fell, Napoleon had his Waterloo, and the sun did eventually set on the British Empire. The Soviets thought they would inevitably inherit the future – right up until the very moment their mighty empire was relegated to the dustbin of history. All were felled by the same occupational disease: overextension and subsequent bankruptcy.
Americans aren’t so good at history: they think it doesn’t apply to them. That’s what our vaunted "exceptionalism" is all about. We’re exempt from all the rules. Or so we think. Yet the laws of economics [.pdf] are indifferent to such folly, as are the ways of karma – the process that sets Nemesis on the trail of hubris and exacts the divine vengeance of the gods.
Moved by a mindless faith in the future and abject ignorance of the past, the American people are driving themselves and their civilization right over a cliff. Whether this is due to some lemming-like instinct, or the sheer momentum of accumulated past errors, is for the historians of American decline to sort out. Suffice to say here that no single election is going to turn back that process: the disaster awaiting us has been too long in the making.
What, then, should anti-interventionists do – what should be our attitude toward electoral politics, and what are the implications for a larger strategy for social change?
Activists have to understand that we’re in this for the long haul: the battle for peace and liberty is bound to be a protracted conflict, one in which we’re going to have to utilize every weapon at our disposal. The idea that we’re going to make an electoral breakthrough, and accomplish much of our agenda in one fell swoop, is wishful thinking: success, when it comes, is going to be incremental. Additionally, it is going to come not as a result of five-second "sound bites" and glitzy campaign ads, but as a consequence of a sustained educational campaign that aims at raising awareness of the vital issues.
Antiwar.com has been around for sixteen years, and in that time we’ve seen all kinds of candidates and campaigns come and go. The War Party, however, is still in the saddle, albeit a bit more unsteadily than previously, and it is going to take a lot more than campaign slogans to unseat them.
There is no necessary contradiction between educating the public and asking for their votes: indeed, they go hand in hand. These complementary strategies, however, must be carried out in tandem with each other: an electoral campaign bereft of an educational effort results in inflated expectations and ultimate disappointment and burnout. On the other hand, pure educationism, to the exclusion of actually trying to implement one’s program, ends in a sectarian cul de sac.
Undertaking these twin tasks – electioneering and educating – can achieve real gains for the peace movement if they are taken up together. We run into problems, however, when we electioneer without laying the educational groundwork: that’s like planting a garden before turning the soil and amending it. The result is spotty, and invariably weedy.
Which brings me back to Antiwar.com. Right now we’re in the midst of a vitally important fundraising drive, one that takes place on the eve of a much-anticipated attack on Iran, by the US, by Israel, or by both. For this web site to go under at this time would be an unmitigated disaster for the cause of peace.
Millions have heard the arguments for a peaceful non-interventionist foreign policy this year, and it would be a shame if we didn’t have the resources to educate them once we’ve piqued their curiosity and challenged their assumptions. Yet that’s just what will happen if Antiwar.com fails to make its fundraising goal this time around.
After sixteen years of constant effort, and a sustained campaign to educate the American people about the real history of our empire-building project abroad, Antiwar.com has made real progress: now we’re asking you to help us continue our vital work. Please take a moment to consider just how important this work is, and how our success works in conjunction with the efforts of others to achieve the same goals by different means.
In short: we need your help, and we need it now. Please, contribute as if the fate of the pro-peace pro-freedom movement depends on it – because it truly does.
They can "win" by stealing elections only for so long. Help us educate the American people so that we’ll reach that point sooner rather than later. Make your tax-deductible donation today.