It is time for progressives and all supporters of democracy to act. The political crisis in this country demands action of every type from the study of history, particularly the Hayes/Tilden election, to demonstrations in the streets. As everyone has heard a thousand times, a crisis is the simultaneous presentation of danger and opportunity.
It is literally true that the history of the 21st century will be defined by what happens in the next 6 to 12 months. For all the tired use of clichés, nevertheless, it is true that those who refuse to learn from history are condemned to repeat it. Even the New York Times, that bastion of power representing a certain section of the ruling class in the world, took the time to analyze the Hayes/Tilden election. The New York Times, however, took the most conservative possible interpretation of that constitutional crisis. After cursory discussion of the election and Florida’s crucial role, the New York Times (11/12/00) stated: “That gave Hayes 185 electoral votes and left Tilden with 184.
The incensed Democrats threatened retaliation. They said they would engage in a filibuster that would prevent the completion of the electoral count until Inauguration Day came and there was no president. They vowed to congest the streets of Washington and prevent Hayes from being inaugurated. Democrats organized armed bands and, threatening ‘Tilden or blood’, said they would physically put Tilden in the White House. There was real fear that war would break out.
Then something happened. Historians disagree on exactly what it was. Some believe that a compromise was reached at a hotel meeting between emissaries of the two parties. At that meeting, a deal was supposedly brokered that, among other things, stipulated that if Hayes became president, he would remove the remaining federal troops stationed in the South, effectively ending Reconstruction, a matter of great importance to the Southern states. That did in fact happen, but whether it was a formal quid pro quo linked to Hayes’s assumption of office is unclear.” (Emphasis added)
The ruling class in this country is severely divided. In fact, the entire country is divided. A deal will be made to calm things down. The content and direction of that deal will be substantially affected by the strength and presence of progressives during the coming struggle. Over one-half of the voting population, who by themselves, are a conservative grouping of people, came down on the side of Al Gore. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of trade unionists, national minorities and women voted for Gore. If this election is stolen in Florida, Jeb Bush, George’s brother, who has vowed to eliminate all affirmative action in Florida, and who is an open enemy of the working class, implemented that theft.
Rick Shenkman, Tom Paine.com, has described the extent of the corruption: “As has been widely reported, there were many irregularities in Palm Beach County. Over 19,000 ballots were thrown out because voters allegedly punched holes for two candidates. And the ballot design may have led people to accidentally vote for Reform Party candidate Patrick Buchanan, who received an unusually high tally, though he neither campaigned nor advertised in the area. Buchanan himself has remarked that the votes he received in this liberal community apparently went to him unintentionally. He concludes: ‘I don’t want any votes that I did not receive and I don’t want to win any votes by mistake.’ He added: ‘It seems to me that these 3,000 votes people were talking about – most of those are probably not my vote and that may be enough to give the margin to Mr. Gore.’
Were these votes to be added to Gore’s column Gore would be the universally acknowledged winner of the election at present. That the election in Florida has been marked by numerous instances of fraud and irregularity is by now well established.
‘The NAACP chairman Julian Bond says he has collected evidence that the vote of minorities, presumably more inclined to vote for Gore than Bush, was suppressed in several places through unwholesome means. In communities outside Orlando, for instance, voters were given pencils instead of pens, which gives rise to the suspicion that their votes may possibility have been altered later. (State law requires that pens be used.) In Hillsborough County some officials apparently denied some citizens access to the polls, claiming that the race on their voter cards didn’t match state records. And in the same county, a sheriff’s deputy allegedly asked black men for identification, turning them away on the unproven grounds that they were convicted felons.’”
The ballot in Palm Beach County was illegal and the deal made by the Democratic Party in that county to accept that ballot was likewise illegal. No one has the right to make a deal to violate the law, certainly not when it comes to the right to vote, or depriving someone of the right to vote. In describing the deal made in 1876, the New York Times glossed over the arrangement that was made. In 1876, the Republican Party sold out the former slaves of the South. It cooperated in the implementation of Jim Crow segregation throughout the South. It permitted the rise of Klu Klux Klan terrorism against the Negro people. That is, that deal set the history of this country for one hundred years.
Notably, the whole concept of an electoral college instead of a popular vote was a compromise with southern states that also demanded that slaves be counted as 3/5 a person. The history of this country is governed by compromises with slaveholders, segregationists, and now reactionaries who claim the mantel of their forbearers.
It is clear that trade unionists, women and national minorities stand to lose every gain fought for during the 20th century if the progressives who fought for those gains sit on the sidelines. Many of those gains were obtained when there was a split in the ruling class. The trade union movement developed its strength during the 1930’s when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was attacked as a traitor to his class and progressives declared he was merely saving capitalism. Certainly, the Civil Rights movement’s successes depended on the fact that many powerful forces in this country wanted an end to segregation.
Admittedly, many capitalists wanted to move plants to the South to break trade union shops but that is the nature of our movement. To the credit of the union movement, they overwhelmingly supported desegregation. When a deal gets made that sets the direction of this country and therefore the world for the 21st century, that deal certainly will involve the Supreme Court where every progressive piece of legislation and every constitutional right is in jeopardy if the Scalia/Thomas type take over.
We must take the position that Al Gore and the Democratic Party do not have the right to compromise the election. The majority of voters in this country chose Al Gore, and he, as an individual, has no right to thwart their choice. The stronger the progressive presence, the better the deal that will be made. We must fight to prevent the sellout that has occurred in the past. Our principled and disciplined fight sets the basis for our own self-respect. We must provide a legal presence in Florida where the corruption and denial of the right to vote was pervasive. We must provide demonstrations in Florida to support the voters who were in favor of Al Gore. We must have demonstrations in Washington, D.C. where the deal making will go on. Anything less will allow the reactionaries to take over this country for another hundred years.
Yours in Struggle,
Ronald D. Glotta
220 Bagley, Suite 808
Detroit MI 48226-1409
[email protected] Ron Glotta is a Detroit-based