With less than two weeks left in the presidential race, fears are a-flying in lefty circles. Will they actually let Barack Obama win? Will Diebold steal the election and give it to John McCain instead? Will martial law be declared so George Bush can be self-appointed to a third term? Will conservative thugs at polling places suppress minority turnout in the very swing states where the minority vote could really make the difference for the Democratic ticket? Is this shit I'm reading in Rolling Stone about voter-purging true? Because it's terrifying. Hold me!
HOLD ON. Yes, assessing the relative merits of the various strains of liberal election-paranoia is a tricky business. After all, during the last eight years we've seen several liberal fever-dreams turn into reality (see, for example, Florida Recount 2000 and Iraq War 2003–present). Still, some of the alarm about Election 2008 seems a bit much.
"There'll be tampering with voting machines in key states, just enough to swing it to McCain," begins a baroque, every-major-fear-encompassing scenario submitted to Slog (The Stranger's blog) by a commenter named Chip, who continues: "As the exit polls show Obama leading but tallies don't match, FOX News will repeat GOP talking points about how surprising it is that the Bradley effect is playing such a significant role in the elections. Massive riots will engulf Seattle, S.F., NYC, and D.C.; they will be suppressed violently by the U.S. Army. Bush will declare martial law. Obama will be shot by a lone gunman. McCain will valiantly die while trying to save him. Palin anoints Dick Cheney to the empty VP slot."
The threat of all of that happening, exactly as described, is quite minimal (alert level: green or even sea-foam). Same for commenter Kat's feared scenario: "Honestly, I've been saying from the beginning, I'll just be surprised if we don't wake up November 5 and Cheney is president."
Your paranoia is, of course, your own. So accept, reject, and/or ratchet up your interior angst as you like—you will anyway—but if you want to recalibrate your terror levels, consider the following reality check:
FEAR: From Slog commenter Mac: "A week before the election, Todd Palin is going to run over Osama bin Laden with his snowmobile in the mountainous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan."
FACT: Sarah Palin didn't have a passport until July of 2007. Therefore, the likelihood that Todd Palin has a passport, knows where the Pakistan-Afghanistan border is, and is on his way there right now is extremely low. (Although it's true that the likelihood of him being able to run a man over with a snowmobile is quite high.)
THREAT LEVEL: Subgreen.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Repeat this mantra: "My life has become a made-for-TV movie, which at least means it should end shortly."
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FEAR: Take it away, Slog commenter Anonymous: "There's a rumor I heard from my parents that one of Hillary [Clinton]'s people is suing, trying to prove that Obama was born in Kenya (that he's not a natural-born citizen), that he gave up his U.S. citizenship when he lived in Indonesia, and never got it back."
FACT: True, the Constitution says one must be a "natural-born" U.S. citizen to be president. True, too, according to credible news reports, that a die-hard Hillary Clinton supporter named Philip J. Berg has filed suit in federal court in Pennsylvania alleging that Barack Obama is not a natural-born U.S. citizen and is, in fact, a citizen of Indonesia. But the Obama campaign long ago provided copies of his birth certificate to the media, and images of said certificate are readily available online (not accompanied by images of the actual natural birth, but it's the paperwork that counts). Obama was born in Hawaii on August 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m. And guess who wasn't born in the USA? John McCain. He was born in the Panama Canal Zone. (But on a U.S. military base, which was, technically, U.S. territory.)
THREAT LEVEL: Green.
Don't worry your pretty little head about this one.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: If Obama actually is kicked out of the presidential race and deported by the INS—well, there's no way Hillary was born in Indonesia.
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FEAR: From Slog commenter Daisy: "Bush has already given himself the power to stop the election. In May 2007, Bush issued National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51/HSPD 20. This directive suspends constitutional government and instates martial law in the case of a 'catastrophic emergency'..."
FACT: Yes, the directive was issued—for the stated purpose of dealing with terrorist attacks and such, not for the stated purpose of canceling inconvenient elections.
THREAT LEVEL: Blue.
For martial law to work, the public and the military has to, en masse, accept the situation. It would be a very ballsy outgoing Republican president who would roll the dice on trying to declare martial law just because a fellow Republican was defeated in the presidential race (and do this in the absence of a real terrorist attack). We aren't in Burma. Calm down.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: This is one of those elegantly designed fears that relies on a presumed motivation that can't be disproved. Really, no one except George W. Bush knows whether he's eagerly awaiting the chance to abuse the above-mentioned directive on Election Day. If you think you know his motivations and plans, and you're truly terrified, move to Canada, seek therapy, or hang around for a couple weeks and see if your ESP is really as powerful as you believe.
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FEAR: Often rooted in a familiarity with the work of voting rights activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and/or investigative journalist Greg Palast, and even more often rooted in the duo's report in the current issue of Rolling Stone, this fear posits the following: A massive Republican plan to erect barriers to Democratic registration, purge Democratic voters from voting rolls in swing states, and challenge legitimate Democratic voters at polling places around the country will result in a loss of Democratic votes large enough to swing the election to John McCain.
FACT: Elections can be won this way, and some people will do anything to win. But, as Kennedy and Palast note in their Rolling Stone report, this type of chicanery only succeeds in a relatively tight election.
THREAT LEVEL: Yellow.
This election may not be tight. Thus, it may turn out that even if the Kennedy/Palast fears are realized it won't matter. McCain will still lose to the Obama tsunami. And, as Dahlia Lithwick has noted on Slate.com, fears about this type of election-stealing are often overblown. "For the most part, modern polling-place election-stealing has just not been pervasive or systematic," she writes. She also uses the word "boogeyman."
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: As the PSAs in the New York subway say, "If you see something, say something." Vigilance!
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FEAR: Nothing is real; at least, none of these polls are real—NONE OF THEM. They may say that Obama is ahead of McCain in most of the big, important swing states, but they are being warped by the Bradley effect!
FACT: The only indisputable fact when it comes to the Bradley effect—the phenomenon of voters telling pollsters one thing about a black candidate and then doing quite another thing in the polling booth—is that no one has any idea how it will play out in this election. As you may have heard, there has never, ever, in the history of United States history been an African American on the presidential ballot. So, you know, who knows? If you wanted to conduct an experiment on how the Bradley effect works on a national level, you would create this election and issue your findings after Election Day. Stay tuned! (However, to ease your fears: Considerable evidence indicates that the Bradley effect is a relic of the past, and that the bigger effect on this election may be the so-called reverse Bradley effect, in which white voters in conservative places understate their support for Obama.)
THREAT LEVEL: Yellow.
Could be a problem, could not be a problem. Nothing to do but call undecided voters and sing "Ebony and Ivory."
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Remember that while rioting may be alluring, proximity to riots is thought by most medical professionals to increase your likelihood of physical injury.
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FEAR: The government will stage a fake terrorist attack—the "Bush nukes San Francisco" scenario, as Slog commenter toasterhedgehog describes it—and the blame will fall on Muslim terrorists. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden will release a video praising Barack Obama as his Muslim brother. And maybe there will be some martial law involved, too.
FACT: If you believe this is likely, then it's doubtful anyone can argue with you. So let's assume—and this is not saying it's a valid assumption—but let's assume, just for the hell of it, that this does, in fact, happen. Then the alert level would be...
THREAT LEVEL: Orange.
Prepare to depart country.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Slap self to make sure it isn't a nightmare, and then slap self again for not having fled country sooner.
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FEAR: This report, from West Virginia's Charleston Gazette and published October 18, ends up becoming what happens everywhere, to everyone, on Election Day: "Virginia Matheney and Calvin Thomas said touch-screen machines in the county clerk's office in Ripley kept switching their votes from Democratic to Republican candidates. 'When I touched the screen for Barack Obama, the check mark moved from his box to the box indicating a vote for John McCain,' said Matheney, who lives in Kenna."
FACT: This happens sometimes with touch-screen voting machines, but election officials say it's less statistically significant to the outcome of any election than human error.
THREAT LEVEL: Red.
If this happens to you, and everyone around you, and a bunch of zombie-eyed poll workers in Halliburton Windbreakers tell you there's nothing to be done, never fear, etc., then yes, something is very, very wrong.
IN CASE OF EMERGENCY: Freak the fuck out.