“… when [the natives] have been condemned to eat nothing but vegetable food for several weeks, [they] have a positive craving for meat, and will do anything to procure it.
“This craving after animal food sometimes becomes almost a disease. It is known by the name of Gouamba, and attacks both white and black men alike. …Those who suffer from it become positive wild beasts at the sight of meat, which they devour with an eagerness that is horrible to witness.”
(From John George Wood, Natural History of Man, 1874)
This particular brand of madness came to my attention in the writings of the great A.J. Liebling, who diagnosed a case of Gouamba in the overwrought media coverage of a 1946 meat shortage blamed on postwar price controls.
Alas, a virulent strain of the Gouamba has overtaken Republicans nationwide and here in Vermont. Their hunger is not for steak, but for scandal in our electoral system. During the campaign, there were frequent press releases from the Vermont Republican Party alleging some kind of skulduggery and/or fecklessness by the office of Democratic Secretary of State Jim Condos, none of which had the slightest hint of merit.
This week, the Gouamba-besotted VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley made a spectacle of himself at the site of an election recount. Indeed, according to VTDigger’s Jasper Craven, Young Jeff was so obnoxious that he was forcibly ejected from the premises.
Elsewhere, noted Gouamba-carrier Vermont Watchdog has yet another evidence-free “story” about security flaws in Vermont’s absentee balloting system. More in a moment, but first let us return to Mr. Bartley.
The scene was a recount in the race between D/P incumbent Rep. Susan Hatch Davis and Republican challenger Bob Frenier. The recount, as required by state law, is being conducted by county officials. In Davis’ telling, Bartley “yelled out” that Orange County Clerk Lisa Eastman was “bullying” a volunteer tabulator, which Eastman denied.
According to Davis, Bartley then said, “I don’t care. You are telling her what to do with that ballot.”
The clerk then asked Bartley to leave the chamber, but he refused. According to Davis, Bartley said he wasn’t leaving without a court order. The clerk eventually called a security guard, who escorted Bartley out of the building.
Bartley’s impatience stems from the inconsistency of Vermont’s recount process, which is carried out by local officials with their own interpretations of proper procedure.
Bartley has blamed this on, who else, Jim Condos. Problem is, the law doesn’t allow the Secretary of State to impose a single recount process. It’s a matter of, heh, local control — something Republicans are usually in favor of.
By statute, the Secretary of State is more clerk than czar. The office has limited powers to enforce even its own rules, let alone state law. Like it or not, Bartley’s issue is not with Condos but with those who framed our Constitution and write our laws.
Okay, now it’s time for one of our infrequent toe-dips into the journalistic fever swamp that is Vermont Watchdog. A recent emission bears the monsters-under-the-bed title “Crime expert calls for absentee voting restrictions to prevent election fraud.”
And who, pray tell, is this “crime expert”?
John Lott, “scholar” at the conservative American Enterprise Insitute and head of something called the Crime Prevention Research Center, who claims that voter fraud is commonplace. Which it’s not; the Bush Administration’s eight-year crusade against “voter fraud” produced a laughably small number of actual cases. Lott further claims that “People use absentee ballots to create lots of votes that really aren’t there.”
Personally, I blame ACORN. They supposedly don’t exist, but I just know they’re around somewhere. Maybe under the bed. I can smell ‘em.
For those unfamiliar with the esteemed Mr. Lott, he’s the “crime researcher” who’s produced studies “proving” that the more guns there are, the safer everybody is. So yeah, he’s a conservative ideologue masquerading as an impartial researcher.
The ultimate goal of Lott and Watchdog is to discredit the very popular early-voting system, which makes it much easier for people to take part. The conservative movement is generally against anything that increases access to the franchise, because they know a smaller turnout is good for them. In addition to calling for limits on early voting, Lott also advocates for voter ID laws, a favored Republican tactic.
The real fraud in our system, of course, lies in the myriad ways Republican officials have crafted to limit participation. In some states, they’ve been caught publicly crowing about their success in suppressing the vote in minority-heavy precincts and college towns. There are also the games Republican officials play with the number and location of polling places. (Those long, long lines you saw this fall? The ones that always seemed to be in big cities and Democratic strongholds? That’s not bad management; it’s deliberate voter suppression.)
But I digress. Mr. Bartley and the Watchdog have got the Gouamba, and they’ve got it bad, because they’re shut out of electoral decision-making in Vermont. They can’t impose the Republican vision of the balloting process. The best they can do is whine and cry and yell and make shit up.
And that’s what they’re doing.
Somebody get Jeff Bartley a hamburger, stat.
Postscript. If you care about the media, or simply love a masterful turn of phrase, I highly recommend “The Press,” a collection of A.J. Liebling’s essays on the media. Most were written over a half century ago, yet they remain surprisingly relevant. For example, in a 1947 piece entitled “Horsefeathers Swathed in Mink,” he chronicles an early case of the “welfare mothers with Cadillacs” meme popularized by Ronald Reagan and still regularly deployed by conservatives bemoaning the lavish benefits given to The Undeserving Poor.