December 22, 2000


How Can I Trust The System?

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

I guess everybody has an opinion about this last election, and I guess the closer that we get to the coronation of George W. Bush, the more difficult it will get to criticize the process. Americans treat their elections much the same way they do sports events-once the game is over-the outcome is accepted, not withstanding bad officiating, they accept the results. However, politics are not sport events and should not be treated as such. The stakes are too high.

Personally, I had no interest on the outcome. I cynically voted for a dead man because I thought that he was the best qualified. I simply could not get myself to vote for Ralph Nader. Maybe I am petty but back in 1994 many of us wanted him to make a statement on Proposition 187. People close to him told me that it wasn't his issue. Well, then maybe his candidacy was not my issue.

Al Gore sounded good toward the last, especially when it came to doing something about getting rid of the labor busting practice of "permanent replacements"that makes it almost impossible to go on strike. But, Gore blew it in his rhetoric about the military and how they deserved more money. Just the simple facts that Russia has a military budget of about $65 billion and the US over $300 billion tells me a lot. Then there is the tragedy of the Russians not being able to recover a submarine with all those kids inside it.

As for George W. Bush. My parents brought me up better than voting for a man with simple solutions, especially when they involve making the rich richer.

The fact is that the election was full of flaws that went beyond judgement calls. All those hanging chads were designed to be that way, and it was factored into the equation by the politicians. George W. said he had a secret weapon in Florida, and it went beyond his brother Jeb.

A December 3 investigative piece by the Miami Herald made an analysis of Florida's 5,885 precincts and concluded that Al Gore should have won by a slim 23,000 votes rather than Bush officially winning by 537 votes. This was pretty much in line with the election day exit polls. Some 185,000 ballots were discarded. A goodly number of these were in African American and poor urban precincts.

Sure the US Supreme Court raised the issue of due process, and violations of the Fourteenth Amendment. But, again how can I trust nine justices in black robes, who have all but scuttled the anti-discrimination laws, crippled the voting rights acts, and regularly deny that men and women about to be executed have due process.

With all this said, the thing that gets me the most upset is the reasoning of Americans who voted for Bush. Many of these characters voted for measures such as California's Proposition 209, which scuttled affirmative action. Pundits like former Secretary of State Bill Bennett and Lynne Cheney, the vice-president-elect's wife, regularly pollute the air waves, talking about merit. I guess merit does not apply to the rich whose money qualifies them. George W.

I'm sorry. President-elect George W. Bush has a resume that could not get him hired as an assistant professor at most universities. It certainly would not have qualified him to be president of a university. Prior to being elected governor of Texas six years ago, he had never been elected to office. Because his father was president, he entered business with limited capital, and made a mess out of it. He then got a baseball team, and dreamed of being the baseball commissioner (a job that the other owners did not think he was qualified).

Many counter this argument by pointing out that Ronald Reagan did not have much political experience. Come on! Look at Reagan's age, and then the governorship of California versus Texas. In Texas it is a ceremonial job. The power is in the hands of the Lieutenant Governor. Not that I liked Reagan. But the only thing that they have in common is that if both would have achieved their original dreams—Bush of becoming a baseball commissioner and Reagan of becoming a good actor—the workers and their families would have been much better for it.

Maybe I could be more tolerant if the system were more tolerant. I criticized Bill Clinton not so much because he played around. What I criticized him for was using a woman and then calling her "that woman." But, he paid the price, and so did many of us who hoped for something better.

I have to remind my students that Clinton was white but he was poor white. So, his "youthful indiscretion" could not be forgiven. I really doubt if the press would have had the courage to take on a John F. Kennedy and they sure tip toed around President-elect Bush's past.

George W. says that he did not reveal his DUI (Driving Under the Influence) because he did not want to embarrass his daughters. Well, "drunken Mexicans" as they call us do not have that luxury. Routinely, we are jailed at least overnight for DUI's. How many of us would be trusted to lead the nation?

For an educator—which I have been most of my life—it is difficult to forget the teachers who have lost their teaching credentials for being caught drunk driving, or the kids who have been kicked out of school for smoking a joint. A Chicano teenager got shot and killed a couple of years ago in Sun Valley in the San Fernando Valley for tagging.

The cowboy who murdered him did not get a day in jail. Finally it is the double standard in the media that really galls me. Normally I would say that delving into some person's family life is out of bounds. However, Laura Bush, the president- elect's wife, at the age of 17 ran a stop signal and killed another 17-year-old. The assumption is that she was speeding.

It was tragic, and under normal circumstances would not be brought up. However, others are held to other standards. Laura Bush was not held, nor was she charged for the accident. Somehow parts of the accident report are missing. And, even the tabloids played this one down— in contrast to how they treated Hillary.

I guess the lessons to be learned from the first presidential election of the new millennium is that the meaning of due process has not changed much since the 14th Amendment was passed in the 1860s. Equal protection then meant equal protection of corporations, and African-Americans, for whom the amendment was originally passed, did not qualify as persons.

Further, qualifications and merit only apply to the poor. Money automatically gives you palanca (pull) if you are rich. Lastly youthful indiscretions are only for the rich. The poor are addicts, drunks and reckless—sins that cannot be forgotten since there is no such thing as "youthful indiscretions" for the poor.

For these reasons, I am disturbed that there are Mexican Americans and other Latinos who voted for President-elect Bush. The reasoning behind the whole process that got George W. elected exudes disparate treatment, and cries out for a remedy. In the meantime, God Bless Jesse Jackson, I wish we had a Chicano counterpart.

(Acuña is a professor of Chicana/o Studies, California State University, Northridge. His books included "Anything But Mexican: Chicanos in Contemporary Los Angeles" (Verso, 1996); "Sometimes There is No Other Side: Chicanos and the Myth of Equality" (Notre Dame, 1998); Occupied America: A History of Chicanos [Longman, Dec. 1999].)

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