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Will John Kerry Report for Duty?

By Robert Parry
January 4, 2005

Early in Campaign 2004, Sen. John Kerry challenged George W. Bush’s operatives to “bring it on,” fully expecting that they would try to smear his patriotism despite his Vietnam War medals. In accepting the Democratic nomination, Kerry again highlighted his national service by snapping off a salute with the words: “Reporting for duty.”

Yet one of the biggest disappointments for many Democrats was that the “bring it on” John Kerry didn’t show up at key moments in Election 2004. He failed to respond aggressively when a Republican front group spread lies about his war record. He then meekly conceded defeat on the day after the Nov. 2 election rather than fight for a full examination of voting irregularities.

Now, John Kerry may have one more chance to “report for duty.” On Jan. 6, after the new Congress convenes, he could join with Reps. John Conyers, Maxine Waters and other members of the House of Representatives in supporting their expected motion for a full-scale investigation of Election 2004, particularly the widespread allegations of voting fraud in the pivotal state of Ohio.

For the House motion to have any standing, it must be signed by at least one U.S. senator. So far, no U.S. senator has stepped forward despite petition drives from rank-and-file Democrats demanding that Bush’s victory be contested.

Black Opposition

A similar situation arose dramatically after Election 2000, when House members from the Congressional Black Caucus rose to challenge election fraud in Florida that disenfranchised thousands of African-Americans and put Bush over the top. At that time, Kerry and other Democratic senators refused to join them.

The painful tableau was captured in Michael Moore’ “Fahrenheit 9/11” with then-Vice President Al Gore presiding over a joint congressional session and repeatedly ruling African-American representatives out of order due to the absence of a senator’s signature. Out of apparent desire not to further divide the country, Gore and the Democratic senators accepted Bush’s dubious election. [For details on how Bush “won” in 2000, see Consortiumnews.com’s “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

Now, on Jan. 6, 2005, assuming Conyers and other representatives go ahead with their challenge, it would be Vice President Dick Cheney gaveling down African-American Democrats unless a U.S. senator agrees to sign their motion.

Of course, even if the motion gets a senator’s signature and is ruled to be in order, the Republican congressional majority is sure to block a full-scale investigation and instead simply certify Bush’s election. Still, the challenge would mark a new determination among the Democrats to fight the Republicans over principles of democracy.

The motion also presents John Kerry with a difficult political and ethical choice. He basically would have three options: He could join the demand for a full investigation and risk being dubbed a “sore loser”; he could choose to sit silently while Cheney pounds his gavel; or he could stay away from the session altogether. One Kerry adviser told me the senator may be traveling outside the country on Jan. 6.

Political ‘Viability’

Since Election Day, most of Kerry’s political advisers have been counseling him to accept defeat gracefully and protect his “political viability,” possibly with an eye toward another run for the presidency in 2008. By contrast, many rank-and-file Democrats have demanded that Kerry and other national Democratic leaders dig in and fight.

To many of these grassroots Democrats, Kerry should have ignored the advice of the professionals even before the election and waged a more aggressive campaign against Bush. These Democrats have complained that Kerry’s political advisers, such as consultant Bob Shrum, staged a Democratic National Convention in July 2004 that tried so hard to be positive that it largely avoided telling the American people why a second Bush term would be a national disaster. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Campaign 2004’s Jedi Mind Tricks.”]

Kerry’s advisers also turned a deaf ear to early warnings about the political damage that could be inflicted on Kerry by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, a pro-Bush group that accused Kerry of lying about his war record and faking his wounds. Kerry’s advisers didn’t believe the mainstream news media would give the accusations much credibility and then were shocked when CNN and other mainstream outlets pushed the allegations. [For more on the Swift boat case, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bushes Play the ‘Traitor’ Card” and “Reality on the Ballot.”]

Instead of responding in kind – by hammering Bush’s contradictory accounts about how he ducked service in the Texas Air National Guard – the Kerry campaign sought the high ground, even urging pro-Kerry groups to mute their criticism of Bush’s National Guard record. [For more on Bush’s National Guard contradictions, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush the ‘Infallible.’”]

For his part, Bush refused to specifically denounce the attacks on Kerry’s patriotism and indeed presided over a Republican convention where some delegates wore Purple Heart band-aids to mock Kerry’s war wounds. Kerry’s negatives soared as Bush built a double-digit cushion that helped him absorb opinion-poll blows that followed his stumbling performances in the three presidential debates.

Bush’s ‘Late Vote’

Then, for a few hours on Election Day, Kerry’s advisers thought their finessing strategy had worked. Exit polls showed Kerry winning by about a three-percentage-point margin nationwide and carrying almost all the battleground states. Kerry’s advisers informed him that he would likely be the next President of the United States.

At the White House, Republican advisers also broke the news to Bush about Kerry’s impending victory. Bush’s political guru Karl Rove was one of the few optimists, reportedly assuring Bush that his vote “would come in late.”

And, indeed, as the “official” results rolled in, Bush took the lead nationally and was awarded six of the battleground states that had appeared headed for Kerry’s column. By the end of the tally, Bush had amassed a record total of more than 61 million votes and had registered about a three-percentage-point win over Kerry. [See Consortiumnews.com “Election 2004’s Myths & Mysteries.”]

Though Ohio’s 20 electoral votes could have tipped the Electoral College to Kerry – and rank-and-file Democrats already were howling about voting irregularities there – Kerry’s political advisers concluded that Bush’s Ohio margin, then around 136,000, could not be erased by the provisional and absentee ballots yet to be counted.

So Kerry agreed to concede on Nov. 3 while still vowing to fight for the principle that all the outstanding votes must be counted. But Kerry’s concession effectively prevented any thorough examination of voting irregularities in Ohio and across the country.

Two small parties – the Greens and Libertarians – filed for a recount in Ohio, but Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell slow-rolled the process on the grounds there was no compelling need for speed. Blackwell, a co-chairman of the state’s Bush-Cheney campaign, refused to permit any recounting until an official tally was certified on Dec. 6, more than a month after the election. By then, Bush’s lead had dwindled to about 119,000 votes.

Blackwell next held off the start of a limited recount until Dec. 13, the day the Electoral College met to formalize Bush’s victory. The delayed recount was limited to a three-per-cent sampling of Ohio precincts, amounting to little more than a re-tabulation of the count, with Bush’s total shaved to about 118,500 votes. Tens of thousands of rejected ballots were never examined to determine whether they actually did record preferences for president.

Reasons to Challenge

In perhaps the most comprehensive coverage of Ohio’s flawed election and problems in the recount, the Columbus (Ohio) Free Press described “10 preliminary reasons why the Bush vote does not compute, and why Congress must investigate rather than certify the Electoral College.”

The Free Press reported that in Ohio and other key states, the Bush campaign appears to have followed a “do-everything” strategy to suppress the vote in Democratic precincts, including providing inadequate numbers of voting machines that forced long lines and caused many voters with children or other duties to give up and not vote.

The Free Press also reported that more than 106,000 Ohio ballots were left unexamined, mostly for supposedly not registering a choice for president, again predominantly in Democratic precincts. Meanwhile, the Free Press said voting in pro-Bush precincts appears to have been exaggerated, at times exceeding 100 percent of the registered voters.

“Crucial flaws in the national vote count, most importantly in Ohio, New Mexico and Florida, indicate John Kerry was most likely the actual winner on Nov. 2, as reported in national exit polls,” according to the Free Press article by Bob Fitrakis, Steve Rosenfeld and Harvey Wasserman. “At very least, the widespread tampering with how the election was conducted, and how Ohio's votes were counted and re-counted, has compromised this nation's historic commitment to free and fair elections.” [Free Press, Jan. 3, 2005] 

Nationwide, many rank-and-file Democrats remain angry over what they see as a Bush campaign that relied on dirty tricks, voter suppression, vote tampering and stonewalling of recount demands. Indeed, a large number of Democrats appear convinced that Bush stole a second presidential election on Nov. 2.

I’ve spoken to or exchanged e-mails with many Democrats from a variety of backgrounds who even believe that the Republicans now have in place electronic means for rigging elections. A surprising number of these Democrats knew details about this controversy although it has received little attention in the major news media.

They know, for instance, that Ohio-based Diebold, with more than 75,000 electronic voting stations operating across the United States, is headed by Walden O’Dell, a major Bush fundraiser who announced that he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes for the president.” [See a Plain Dealer article about O’Dell’s statement, Sept. 16, 2003, posted at Diebold’s Web site.]

Political Chasm

Because of a wave of these Democratic e-mails in the days after the Nov. 2 election, I wrote a story about the technological feasibility of computer tampering. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Evidence of a Second Bush Coup?”] We also have run stories about the anomalies in voting patterns in traditional Democratic precincts in south Florida and elsewhere [see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s ‘Incredible’ Vote Tallies.”], as well as stories contrasting the major U.S. news media’s outrage over electoral problems in Ukraine with ridicule heaped on U.S. citizens challenging the Nov. 2 election here. [See “Big Media’s Democracy Double Standards.”]

Whatever the truth about systematic vote rigging, it’s now clear that the growing suspicions represent another threat to Democrats in the future. Many rank-and-file Democrats now believe that national elections are being rendered meaningless, with a Republican victor preordained through computer hacking, so why vote?

A chasm also seems to be opening between the Democratic base and the Democratic professionals in Washington over how to deal with today’s Republican-dominated government. With the Jan. 6 congressional session looming, many rank-and-file Democrats want to escalate the fight with Republicans over democracy in the United States, while the Democratic professionals seem ready to move on to other issues.

This division represents a political risk, too, for John Kerry. While his Washington advisers may have assured the senator that his future political “viability” is best protected by him playing the part of “good loser,” many Democrats want him to stand with members of the Congressional Black Caucus in demanding a full investigation of the Nov. 2 election even if he gets called a “sore loser” for doing so.

For many in the Democratic base, it may be Kerry’s last chance to show that he meant what he said when he challenged the Bush dirty tricksters to “bring it on.”


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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