As the election looms, my fingers remain crossed that the Department of Homeland Security will raise the terror alert — and not for the obvious reasons. While the administration may fear that al Qaeda will attack our country in an attempt to sway the elections, the American electorate should be more fearful of how the administration itself will influence the democratic process. Could there be a more dangerous terrorist threat than one that comes from the very people who have sworn to protect us against such dangers?
Unfortunately, intimidating minority voters does not rank at the top of the list of dangers that warrant raising the threat level from yellow to orange. In no way do I seek to undermine the very real and dangerous threat of al Qaeda, a group that still desires to subvert democracy through violent tactics. But does it not seem problematic that our very own political leaders may subvert democracy by depriving millions of minorities of their guaranteed right to vote?
It happened in 2000, and it could happen again this year. On Monday the Kerry campaign cried foul, suggesting that the Bush-Cheney campaign is, through intimidation, trying to make it more difficult for minorities to register to vote. During a rally in Cleveland, Ohio, Kerry told a predominantly African-American audience that “in battleground states across the country, we’re hearing stories of how people are trying to make it harder to file for additional time, or how they’re making it harder to even register.”
Unfortunately, no proof exists and the Bush-Cheney campaign vehemently denies such charges, but history speaks for itself. It would not be surprising at all to learn that such suppression is actively being pursued, and it would definitely not be shocking to see the disenfranchisement of minorities across the United States — and specifically in swing states — on Nov. 2. Why not, through intimidation and fear, distort the democratic process if it guarantees re-election? After all, if you can distort the War on Terror by turning it into the War in Iraq, why not continue the trend and distort democracy by upsetting one of the most fundamental bases of the aforementioned principle: free elections? Can’t you just see the wheels turning in Bush’s head? Distortion seems to be a perpetual solution to the administration’s problems when failure is just around the corner. If it worked in the official “too close to call” state of Florida in 2000, why not see if it works in all the swing states in this election?
Bush’s incessant banter about the need to reclaim our American values and Cheney’s affirmation in Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate that “freedom for all” does in fact mean freedom for all seems hypocritical. The ability and right to participate in the democratic process, I would think, is one such important American value. Freedom for all stipulates that those guaranteed the right to vote are free to do so without fear or intimidation. Still, minority voters greatly fear, and rightly so, that their voices may be stifled come November. No one needs Michael Moore’s film to remind them that this was indeed the case in 2000. So, in a time when it seems as if the administration will change the meaning of anything (i.e. Osama Bin Laden becomes Saddam Hussein) to keep itself in power, the Bush brand of democracy may supplant the true democracy Americans expect during the electoral process.
For that matter, what is democracy to the Bush administration? Is it the same brand of democracy that it seeks to bring to Iraq? Last week’s Time Magazine had an article about a secret plan involving a proposed C.I.A. operation to help elect Bush-favored candidates in Iraq. Once again, the real concept of democracy seems to have evaded Bush and his administration, but then again, if you already have a distorted idea of what American democracy should look like, it only holds true that this would be exported elsewhere.
We should not support the propagation of this distorted view of democracy. If we truly believe ourselves to be the world’s democratic leader, it goes without saying that we should allow all eligible citizens to voice their opinions in the ballot box here or abroad without outside influence. But we cannot preach what we do not practice. We must regain our credibility as true upholders of this democratic value, and then we will be able to see free elections throughout the world — especially in developing democracies like Iraq.
The Bush administration shouldn’t be so worried about terrorists influencing this year’s election; instead, it should refocus its fears inward. In this light, the 2004 election no longer seems to be a battle to choose between the lesser of two evils. What could be more evil than the country that is supposedly the leader of democracy trying to disrupt the electoral process here and abroad? When our own government has no qualms about it, who needs al Qaeda?
Alicia Washington is a senior in Trumbull College. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.