You call this a free election?

The international community sends watchdogs to monitor foreign elections -- that's just what America needs in 2000.

By Christopher Hitchens
Published November 3, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Some things may be true even if Pat Buchanan says them: The inescapable fact is that the 2000 presidential election has so far been a rigged affair, bearing more resemblance to a plebiscite in some banana republic than to anything recognizable as a democratic contest.

The entry of Buchanan as a supposed "insurgent" presidential candidate is itself part of the prearrangement and manipulation. Here we have a loyal Beltway veteran, grown like a mold on the dank sponge of the national security state, and well-known to the powers that be as someone absolutely reliable. He's already shown himself quite willing to play the game of slush funds and matching funds. There's your designated dissident. Just for fun, why not set him up against Donald Trump for the Reform Party nomination, so that even the supposed outsider faction can replicate the only allowable division in American politics -- that between machine-produced clones on the one hand and nutball narcissistic tycoons on the other.

A genuine foe of oligarchy like Ronnie Dugger, co-chair of the organization Alliance for Democracy, with his reasoned case for the public financing of campaigns, really does seem like a quixotic loony to our consensual press. (And since he doesn't manifest any obvious nostalgia for, say, the Third Reich, he doesn't even count as a colorful character for style section purposes.)

The brave volunteers of Public Campaign and the Alliance for Democracy took their protest to the Capitol steps recently, but the Washington Post ignored the rally, where the largest groups of attendees were high-school students not yet inured to cynicism and not yet old enough to vote. The defeat of the rather tepid McCain-Feingold initiative in the Senate, which was the proximate cause of the protest, also marked the eclipse of any remaining hope for a fair or open race next year.

The fix is in: The special interests will pretend to have an election, and you, if you choose, can pretend to vote in it. The only recourse I can see is an appeal to the international community and the United Nations, to send accredited observers to monitor the process.

The United States loves nothing better than to certify other countries' ballots as "free and fair," so there can hardly be any principled objection to a delegation of monitors, from democratic nations, taking up position, pens in hand, as America makes its "choice." Indeed, given the awful power of the U.S. president and Congress over the affairs of other nations, it's surprising that this hasn't been suggested already.

Here are some of the questions that the U.N. and international monitors would have to consider before validating the 2000 election:

1) Has there already been the open purchase of votes, as seemed to be the acknowledged case in the Iowa straw poll?

2) Has there already been the open purchase of candidates, as is implied by the immense (and, in point of the source of donations) largely secret fund amassed by Texas Gov. George W. Bush?

3) Are there restrictions placed on the entry of third-party or independent candidates? Have these restrictions been imposed by a collusion of the existing parties?

4) Are there impediments to the placing of minority parties on ballots?

5) Are there impediments to voter registration?

6) Is access to the media fairly apportioned as between candidates and parties, irrespective of wealth?

7) Do the laws barring convicted felons from voting constitute discrimination against any minority group?

8) Does the allotment of federal matching funds constitute a subsidy to a duopoly?

These questions are not exhaustive. I have not, for example, included the misgivings felt by some experts about the reliability or integrity of the voting machines that are used to count and register ballots. Nor have I space to discuss the flagrant disenfranchisement of voters in the nation's capital -- a grotesque anomaly that seems on the face of it to be decidedly racist in both cause and effect. Conditions vary from state to state, so that question No. 7 for example would need to be measured differently according to local conditions.

But it's already clear that self-policing is not enough in most jurisdictions. It's also clear that the American mass media -- chief recipient of the largesse raised and spent by candidates -- has simply abdicated its watchdog role in the election process.

Some elements of the deficit of democracy in this country should have been put to the test long ago. The Supreme Court ought to have heard arguments about whether campaign donations constitute common-law bribery, and there is no reason not to ventilate the question of the Electoral College, with its inbuilt bias against urban and minority voters. However, these and other options are unlikely to be exercised unless the entire system is challenged in a thoroughgoing way. A monitoring force from the international community seems to me to provide the best chance for such an alteration in perspective. What is needed, therefore, is an appeal from a large group of respected Americans for such a monitoring force to be brought into being.

We have less than a year to refuse the front-loaded, bought-and-paid-for pseudo-election that is being prepared for us. Already, the primary process has been short-circuited, and it looks as if the presidential "debates" will be rigged as they were last time, by the same unelected and unaccountable corporate interests.

All those interested in signing an appeal for inspection, and for the verifying and certifying of an open political process, should contact Public Campaign at 1320 19th St NW, Suite M1, Washington DC 20036.

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is a regular contributor to Vanity Fair, the Nation and Salon News.

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