US Elections 2002: Unconventional Wisdom

Published: Wed 16 Oct 2002 04:46 PM
NOTE TO READERS: My deepest condolences to those injured in body, mind, and heart by the tragedy in Bali – Barbara O’Brien, NYC
Notes From The US 2002 Elections Campaign
By Barbara O'Brien
September 15, 2002
Unconventional Wisdom On Iraq
In the wee hours of Friday morning, the U.S. Senate voted to authorize use of military power in Iraq. The House of Representatives had already approved the resolution the day before. The political impact of this vote has yet to be measured, but there are signs the results may not be those expected.
First, although the vote was not close, the size of the opposition caught some commentators by surprise. A few weeks ago it was thought only 20 members of the House of Representatives would vote no. The week before the vote, the known opposition had grown to 50 congressmen.
The final vote in the House was 296 for, 133 against. The Senate voted 77 to 23 in favor of the resolution.
Conventional wisdom said that a “yes” vote was a politically safe vote. A “yes” vote was supposed to inoculate Democrats from charges of being soft on terrorism. Those Democrats considered most likely to make a bid for the presidency in the future all voted “yes.” But conventional wisdom may have been wrong.
For example, Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, who had been trailing his Republican challenger for several weeks in a tight race, announced a few days before the vote that he is opposed to a unilateral attack of Iraq. Conventional wisdom said that this would cost Wellstone the election. Instead, he suddenly surged ahead of his opponent in statewide polls.
Further, rank-and-file Democrats and the liberal independent voters Democrats need to win elections are furious that their legislators lack the spine to stand up to the Bush Administration. Ambitious Democrats forgot their base -- the people they need to carry their signs, pass out their bumper stickers, register their voters, and man their phone banks. These political water-carriers are heartily tired of seeing their legislators cave in to intimidation from the Administration on issue after issue. If the next Democratic candidate for President were to be chosen today, the winner would be “none of the above.”
Home of the Brave (and Well-Armed)
As of this writing, nine people are dead and two wounded by a sniper who (seemingly) shoots victims at random in the Washington DC area. Although it seems callous to place this horror into a political context --there’s a political context. And that context is gun control.
Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (yes, she’s one of those Kennedys) of Maryland is the Democratic candidate for governor of her state. Last week she announced she is considering a plan to require gun makers to record the “ballistic fingerprints” of some high-powered rifles sold in Maryland. As I understand it, these “fingerprints” are marks left on a shell casing that are unique to every firearm. The theory is that a database of such fingerprints would be an aid to law enforcement by making firearms used in crimes easier to trace.
In any other nation on the planet, Townsend’s statement would inspire yawns and perhaps a request to pass the potato chips. But not in the United States. Here, them’s fightin’ words.
Gun rights organizations are outraged that Townsend even suggested that she might consider such a heinous infringement of the right to own firearms. She is exploiting the tragic shootings, several of which occurred in Maryland. Townsend is using the stacked bodies of the sniper’s victims as a soapbox from which to spew her un-American views on gun control.
And so on. If you lived here, you’d be used to this nonsense. Of course, it’s perfectly all right for the President to use September 11 in politically creative ways, and even for the Republicans to make money by selling commemorative September 11 photographs. But making gun control a campaign issue is way out of bounds.
Once upon a time, American politicians liked to be photographed kissing babies. Now they get photographed with their hunting rifles. Even Senator Jean Carnahan of Missouri had her campaign staff mail out photos of her shooting skeet.
Even so, living in fear of sudden death can change one’s perspective. It will be interesting to see how Maryland voters react.
Once again, it’s all up to Florida. The President’s brother, Jeb Bush, is up for re-election as governor, and he is in a dead-even race with the Democratic challenger, Bill McBride. A Bush loss would not only be an embarrassment to the President’s family; it would also make it possible for Florida to have an honest election in 2004. Republicans are worried.
If the race continues to be close, expect the new voter machines to go haywire and erase thousands of ballots in Democratic precincts. (Although today the Miami-Dade County Commission voted to hire the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy to oversee the November 5 elections.)
A particularly contentious issue in Florida surrounds public schools and a popular amendment that would place a cap on the number of students in a class. The governor thinks limiting class size is too expensive, however, and is campaigning hard against it. Unfortunately, the President’s brother was caught on tape announcing he had “devious plans” for undercutting the amendment if it passes.
On Monday, a report written months ago mysteriously surfaced and gave McBride more ammunition. Dated August and produced for a task force headed by the state's Bush-appointed education secretary, the report states that Florida schools compare poorly to schools in other states and that they have improved “relatively little in recent years.” The report also suggests that smaller class size would benefit disadvantaged students.
The Democrats accused Bush of suppressing the report. A representative of the Governor claimed they had no idea such a report even existed.
A Bush In The Dock
Earlier this year the Governor’s 25-year-old daughter, Noelle, was arrested for attempting to buy a controlled anti-anxiety drug with a phony prescription.
This summer, while in a drug addiction treatment facility, she was caught with unauthorized prescription pills and sent to jail for two days. Criminal hearings are scheduled to begin Thursday.
The Bush family tried to have the hearings closed to the public, but today a judge ruled that Florida law requires the hearings to be open.
Three weeks of campaigning to go. Stay tuned!
- Barbara O'Brien, creator of The Mahablog!, is a New York resident and a freelance writer. She will be providing a regular column for Scoop on the US Elections. Readers are invited to visit The Mahablog! and see the Timeline of Terror!

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