"Recount" And Rewriting Reality, With Poisoned, Calculated Rhetoric For June

RF Kennedy Life Magazine Cover
Laura Dern as Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris in "Recount"; the real Katherine Harris; New York senator and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton; the late Robert F. Kennedy, former New York senator, who was tragically assassinated almost 40 years ago on June 5, 1968.  (Dern photo: HBO Films; Harris photo: uncredited; Clinton photo: New York Times; Kennedy photo: Life Magazine)

By Omar P.L. Moore/May 24, 2008

As "Recount" unfolds on HBO this holiday weekend in May and continues throughout the month of June, the intersection of fiction and reality in politics in the United States becomes more timely and interesting. 

"Recount", directed by "Austin Powers" helmer Jay Roach, is a thrilling political drama about the 2000 U.S. presidential election in Florida and the ensuing 36 days of the fight to recount votes in the fiercely-contested election between then-Texas governor George W. Bush and vice-president Al Gore and features riveting performances by Tom Wilkinson, Ed Begley, Jr., Denis Leary, Laura Dern and Kevin Spacey.  Some of the real-life participants in the Florida fiasco of eight years ago have complained about the inaccuracies of the events portrayed in Mr. Roach's film.

In an age where American beauty in domestic politics has forever been a contradiction in terms, "Recount", or at least the reality of the Florida recount of 2000 has recently been invoked -- crudely and cynically so -- by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a shrewd and astute politician for whom the bloom on the rose has sadly faded ever since October 2002 (voting to invade Iraq) and now turned into a decrepit and spiteful weed that refuses to shrink.  New York's junior senator recently invoked the recount of 2000 as she sought to seat delegates from both the Florida and Michigan primaries, which were held prematurely this year in disobeying the rules of the Democratic National Committee.  "Let's not let some rules disenfranchise -- particularly Florida that's had enough of disenfranchisement, thank you," the New York Times quoted the senator as saying in a May 21 blog story.  The senator's declaration appears especially dishonest in light of the fact that last October she said on a New Hampshire radio station program called "The Exchange" with host Laura Knoy the following regarding Michigan and by implication Florida: "It's clear this election they're having is not going to count for anything."  (You can listen to the senator say this here, at 24 minutes and 42 seconds in.)
If Senator Clinton was clear about this in October 2007, then why has this truism become anything but clear now?  During the same radio program she also said that "I'm going to win the nomination, and then I'm going to win in November 2008, because we're going to bring more people to vote for us . . . ".  At the time, the senator expected to be in the ascendancy in several months, her nomination a fait accompli as the Democratic candidate.  The invocation of Florida, where many voters were disenfranchised systematically -- and the attempt to link it by implication to her chief rival are fundamentally dishonest.  (It is worth noting that Senator Clinton left her name on the ballot in Michigan, when all of the other candidates at the time took their names off in accordance with the DNC rules.)
Months later, after her bold predictions of last October on the radio, the tide has changed much to Senator Clinton's chagrin.  Back then she had expected to coast to the finish line in these Democratic presidential primaries and for months prior to the primaries was billed by the U.S. mainstream news media as the Democratic Party's front-running candidate.  Now with May 31 as the date for meeting with the DNC Rules Committee in an attempt to restructure (or rewrite the rules) in order to apportion and seat all delegates from Florida and Michigan and thus try to put Senator Clinton within striking distance of the actual Democratic front-running candidate Senator Barack Obama, who is carefully and politely tip-toeing around the Big Apple senator while discreetly selecting a running mate in order to position himself against Republican nominee John McCain.  
In something of a "Recount"-redux, it was the Republican Florida government, under its governor Charlie Crist, whom in 2007 signed legislation to move up the Democratic presidential primary in Florida earlier in the calendar ahead of the date that the DNC had scheduled it for, thereby prompting and entertaining the disenfranchisement of voting Democrats in the state, albeit much less dramatically and calculatingly than the Florida governorship of Jeb Bush in 1998, when Florida's secretary of state Katherine Harris helped co-ordinate a $4.3 million state government payment to Data Base Technologies, which in that year began a computer program that helped over the next two years to purge at minimum 20,000 and at maximum 100,000 legally registered eligible voters off the rolls in the state beginning that year, setting up the apparatus that would be complete in time for November 2000, when Mr. Bush's eldest brother would eventually become the 43rd president of the United States.
As for seeking to become the 44th president of the United States, Senator Clinton has the unmitigated right to keep running until the end (June 3), to continue energetically and passionately engaging voters -- that is what democracy in America and anywhere else is supposed to be all about.  What democracy isn't about, however, is pretending that the rules set by her own political party don't exist, or that those rules can be changed midstream when the change could possibly serve to personally accentuate one's own political position.  (It is wise to note that several news organizations have performed calculus that in virtually every scenario the New York senator finishes in second place.  While the Philadelphia Inquirer, nestled in a state that voted heavily for Senator Clinton last month, had recently projected otherwise, any attempts to entertain what the current U.S. president has coined "fuzzy math" -- which seems to have severely afflicted the junior senator and not her 71-year-old good friend Senator McCain, will prove futile, even in the eyes of those who did not take trigonometry or indulge in rocket science.)

Why does any of this have any thing to do with "Recount" or with the Florida 2000 events that left Al Gore high and dry?

Well, for one, this adulterated Clinton saga could be made into a movie all by itself.

And consider the following: the specter of the New York senator's unusual campaign strategy against a fellow party candidate regarding calls to make every vote count in Florida for the current presidential primaries truly rings hollow, for Senator Clinton and her outgoing husband, president Bill Clinton were nowhere to be found in 2000 when Mr. Clinton's vice president for eight years, Mr. Gore, was mired in the muck of a very messy and agonizing 36 days in the very same state in November and December 2000. 

In fairness to the Clintons, Mr. Gore shunned then-president Clinton's advice and counsel when he ran for president eight years ago, foolishly choosing to turn his back on two terms of economic prosperity, balanced budgets, deficit reductions and eschewing the then well-respected Mr. Clinton because of a sex scandal which only increased his ratings and public popularity.  Even so, the Clintons' decision to leave him out in the cold during the decisive and critical aftermath of the presidential campaign betrays the current climate where senator Clinton herself is concerned.  She was barely audible in the late fall and early wintertime of the 2000 discontent.  Neither she nor her husband were calling for every vote to count.  They both largely stayed out of the way.  Besides, both were busy removing furniture and shifting their residence from the White House to New York, where Hillary Clinton had just won election to the U.S. Senate on November 7, 2000, the very same night as the Gore-Bush fiasco.  (This writer had voted for Senator Clinton in 2000, and she was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.) 
And in 2004 when supporters of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry cried foul over the findings of manipulation and vote spoilage in Ohio that year, the Clintons, powerful and established Democratic politicians who endorsed Senator Kerry's campaign, were also missing in action on the night of November 2 as well as November 3, 2004.  And just last year, in 2007, there wasn't a great deal of concern from the Clintons about voter disenfranchisement when the rules regarding Florida and Michigan were set.

Still, the idea that Mrs. Clinton, the former First Lady, would only now call for the examination of Florida, particularly when she did not express concern about the lay of the Sunshine state when she agreed with the DNC rules in 2007, seems to fly in the face of both reason and logic and support political expediency.  Senator Clinton had chosen to ignore the realities of how this might look not only to Obama supporters including this writer, but also to some of her own supporters, as well as neutral observers.  Some will say that despite Senator Clinton's aggressive campaigning she is harming and jeopardizing her party's chances of winning in November in the general election against Republican senator John McCain.  Can anyone remember a campaign in American history where someone, whether Republican or Democrat, suggested that the opposition campaign and their own campaign were both better than the fellow rival campaigner in their own party, in quite the following way?  I have a lifetime of experience that I will bring to the White House.  I know Senator McCain has a lifetime of experience to bring to the White House.  And Senator Obama has a speech he gave in 2002.  Those words were spoken by Senator Clinton in February of this year.

Experience isn't everything.  Judgment, wisdom, demeanor, temperament and statesmanship (or stateswomanship) are also crucial components.  Throughout these last 16 months, the most objective observers (and partisan supporters) would do well to compare the three candidates for president side-by-side, and how they have conducted themselves throughout this long, grueling slog of a primary campaign season.  Senators McCain and Clinton have had the experience of voting for the invasion of a country that many lesser experience people, namely those in the general public around the world (some 5 to 15 million people worldwide protested against war in Iraq in February 2003, about a month before it would begin) at the time knew hadn't possessed weapons of mass destruction.  Senator McCain has the experience of voting against additional money for Hurricane Katrina survivors and for people all along the Gulf Coast and the southern U.S. who were affected by the hurricane that killed thousands in 2005.  Last month, Senator McCain made a stop in New Orleans decrying the Bush Administration's tepid response to the 2005 hurricane. 

In fact, in late August of 2005 while people were drowning in the southern U.S. during Hurricane Katrina, Senator McCain and the president were eating cake in Arizona on the senator's birthday.  And just in time for the Memorial Day holiday Senator McCain, a Vietnam veteran had previously voted against giving additional monies to U.S. veteran soldiers and earlier in the week was the only senator out of the 100 member-senate who didn't vote on a bill to give G.I.s additional money and unemployment benefits.  (The bill passed 77 votes for to 22 against.  CNN in its subsequent Sunday discussion, conveniently forgot to mention that McCain was not present to vote for the provision.)  How has Senator McCain behaved?  He has lost his temper when confronted with allegations of stories in The New York Times (unsubstantiated stories) about an alleged affair with a lobbyist, and has engaged in rhetoric like "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran", a hideous attempt at a humorous variation on The Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" song.  And Senator Clinton has talked about the need to "obliterate Iran".  She has also lied about her experience in Bosnia under sniper fire.  How has Senator Obama behaved regarding Reverend Wright?  Did he lose his temper?  How has he handled all of the things thrown his way?

Recent reports had been circulating that Senator Clinton's husband, if not herself, was trying to position her for a vice presidential spot on Mr. Obama's ticket.  Can one imagine a scenario where if Senator Obama were number two in the political sweepstakes and had lost (instead of won) twelve consecutive primaries and caucuses how much media venom and rightful if not righteous anger from Senator Clinton's supporters would be injected and inveighed against the senator from Illinois if he dared to have the temerity to arrogantly (by implication and practice) believe that he should be entitled to be the vice-presidential nominee on Ms. Clinton's ticket? 

But this is precisely what Senator Clinton's surrogates are asking for.  (Yesterday, Senator Clinton vehemently declared that she has not been seeking the nomination in any way, shape or form.)

Senator Obama, who will be the Democratic presidential nominee when all is said and done after June 3, has the right to pick which ever nominee for vice president that he chooses, and needs no strong-arming from the Clintons or anybody else, when it comes to whom he'll pick as his running mate.  

During the HBO film "Recount", Tom Feeney, the Florida State Party chair, played by Antoni Carone, says, "According to the Electoral Count Act of 1877, if an election's not resolved by December 12 then the state legislators can decide who to award their state's electoral votes to."  Bob Balaban's Ben Ginsburg, governor Bush's chief counsel during the 2000 campaign, says,  "Wait a minute.  The Florida legislature can award its 25 electoral votes no matter what the results of the recount?"

"We're calling it the nuclear bomb option," says Mac Stipansky, a Bush political stealth operative and Republican lobbyist played by Bruce McGill.

As Tom Petty sings during the closing credits of "Recount", the senator from New York "won't back down", nuclear bombs be damned.


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