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July 18, 2004 - Paranoia Take Two...

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In Let us not be paranoid… there was a bit of discussion on reports, verified reports, that officials in the Bush administration have been discussing the idea of postponing Election Day in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day – and this was announced by a Homeland Security Department spokesman last Sunday.

Lots of sound and fury followed, but may signify nothing.

Over at the Washington Monthly Kevin Drum points out that it is unlikely this could happen -


… consider the mechanics of the whole thing:

  • The only body that can change the date of federal elections is Congress.
  • Assuming the Supreme Court agreed, Congress could delegate this power to a federal commission if it so desired.
  • However, in a couple of weeks everyone goes home for the summer. They come back on September 3rd.
  • The current target for adjournment of the current congressional session is October 1st.

    In other words, supposing that the Justice Department actually decided (suicidally, in my opinion) to propose legislation to create an election commission with the power to reschedule elections, Congress would have a grand total of four weeks to debate and pass it.

    This is impossible, of course, unless the bill had essentially unanimous bipartisan support.  Which it wouldn't.

    Bottom line: short of a nuclear attack on Washington DC nothing is going to happen and elections will proceed as scheduled.  Convinced?

Yep.  That’s pretty convincing.

But Bob Harris here is NOT convinced -


Yes, I do believe that Team Chimpy is likely to exploit any possibility of postponing our elections in one way or another.

My opinion only, but it seems delusional to imagine they wouldn't, given the laundry list of the unimaginable we already know they're perfectly happy to do: muscle into power, steal multiple entire Congressional districts by redistricting, expose our own intelligence people for political gain, start an entire war based on obvious lies, endanger our safety by subordinating the fight against Al-Qaeda, treat our own wounded troops as pariahs, claim the right to imprison indefinitely at the president's whim, rationalize torture, try to time the arrest of Bin Laden to sabotage the Democrats, and build their entire freakin' convention around the shameless exploitation of a mass murder.

I can't think of a single damned thing that these people won't try to spin and twist and distort into a political advantage. Right this very minute, it's an uphill fight to make sure the voting machines themselves aren't simply hijacked. And you know perfectly well which side Chimpy is on.

If you truly imagine there's a line they won't cross if they can, you're not paying attention. This is not about democracy for them. It never has been. As Molly Ivins put it so well: They wish not to govern, but to rule.

I mean, what more would we need to see the utterly obvious here? Dick Cheney simply biting large bits out of people every time they disagree with him? "Go fuck yourself" replacing "E pluribus unum" as our national slogan? Karl Rove strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue drinking Tom Daschle's brain marrow through a crazy straw?

(And really, at this point, would you be all that surprised...?)


Bob Harris of Los Angeles - a "Jeopardy!" five-time champion by the way - is not a trusting sort, is he?

And he seems kind of angry – perhaps appropriately so, but angry.  Perhaps that clouds his judgment.

The first argument seems more sensible to me.  Getting congress to approve granting DeForest B. Soaries Jr. – chair of the newly formed Election Assistance Commission and former New Jersey secretary of state, and senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens in Somerset, New Jersey – the power to postpone the coming presidential election, for as long a he thinks appropriate, would be difficult.  It’s hard to imagine the Bush team could rustle up the votes to grant the senior pastor that right, the man they appointed to a commission they invented.  Establishing a new, neutral body would be more difficult yet.  Time really is running short.

Harris does mention the administration seeking “any possibility of postponing our elections in one way or another.” 


One way or another?

Are there other ways?  An executive decree in time of national emergency might work.  We are not officially at war.  Congress has not issued a declaration of war, as such.  But do we need a formal, official, fully-declared war - or just a national emergency?

Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War – and of course there are still many who say that war was not at all a “civil war” in any sense of the term, and refer to it as the War Between the States.  (Yes, I lived in South for a few years.)  But Lincoln suspended habeas corpus nevertheless, and the world did not fall apart.  The nation came out of that “late unpleasantness between the states,” as some in the South used to call it - and in 1867 habeas corpus was reborn.  Truman, as the Korea War spun up – an undeclared war, but a war nonetheless, even if it was officially a UN police action – attempted to nationalize the steel industry here.  He got slapped down.  The Supreme Court said he didn’t have that power.  Are there other examples of the chief executive assuming certain parts of the constitution could and should be suspended given events at the moment?  Don’t know.  Not my field.

Can the chief executive suspend parts of the constitution as needed?  All you can do is try it out.  Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t.

As a practical matter, what would actually happen of the president declared we had a national emergency and he was suspending, carefully, selected parts the constitution – the presidential election and perhaps the freedom of the press to investigate and report on particular events – because… but I’m not sure here what his reason would be.  Because if we held the national election in November al-Qaeda would, without doubt, set off massive explosions and unleash chemical and biological attacks all over America, and hundred of thousands of citizens would die?  I guess that would be the reason, the official justification – public safety.  That makes the whole business a simple if-then proposition – if we vote, then we get attacked.  If we don’t vote – well, then no one has to die.

Well, you’d have to trust them on this if-then logic, and assume they had the hard intelligence to be certain that this was exactly what would happen if the election went forward.  But then again, the administration hasn't exactly been batting a thousand on obtaining good intelligence.  But we’d have to trust them.  We’d be told we just couldn’t afford to take the chance that this might not be so.  Many would, I suspect, buy into that.  Many would not.

Each president takes an oath to protect and defend the constitution, and this one did too, just as did all the presidents before him.  But the right is always trotting out the well-worn line – “The constitution is not a suicide pact.”  No, it isn’t – but I don’t see how holding the federal elections on schedule would be certain suicide.  Then again, I don’t have the resources of the CIA, NSA, NRO, the Defense Department spooks, the State Department analysts, the independent Cheney-Feith investigative teams and all the rest.  Would we all have to assume they know things we do not know, things they cannot reveal without compromising their sources, and we thus must simply trust them?  (“Simply” has multiple meanings in this context, of course.)  Trusting them has become a problem for many, given recent events.

As a practical matter then the “you just have to trust us” approach would not work very well.  Too many people feel they have been jerked around a bit too much by these guys – and some of them have lost sons or daughters, husbands or wives.  You can only go to that well so many times.  It done gone dry, at least for half of us.

The Madrid Scenario

But Tom Ridge is really suggesting something else.  He is suggesting that IF there is an attack BEFORE the scheduled election, THEN perhaps we should postpone voting to avoid people making hasty decisions about who should lead the country for another fours years.  Well, he’s not exactly saying that.  That is certainly implied in what he’s saying, but not explicit.  “Disruptions to the process” is his tune here.  He’s implying that voting in such a circumstance could not really be fair – as some precincts and polling places would be, well, wiped out.  And everyone else would be all upset – at least far more upset than they are now.  I think his idea is that it would just make sense not to hold an election when events are so dire.   But some people see events now as dire.

This second argument is far weaker.  In this Madrid Scenario the authority of the president to suspend laws – to suspend certain constitution rights – seems less clear than the first case, stopping the elections to save lives.  In the Madrid Scenario many people are already dead.  Efforts to assure public safety, in this case, have already failed.  So why not hold the election and do the best you can?  You might have to step over a few smoldering bodies to get to the voting booth, but in that case you probably would really WANT to vote?

In this Madrid Scenario I suspect that is what really worries the Bush Administration.  After all, these guys keep saying - Hey, really, we made things safer for you all, we really did – trust us, we really did!



Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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