Monday, July 12, 2004

Kevin Drum considers the scenario where Bush cancels the election and declares himself dictator for life.

I don't believe that one either, but the administration now reveals that it has considered contingency plans for delaying the election in the even of a terrorist attack.

Now I'm not a member of the tin foil hat brigade, but Osama Bin Laden definitely is, as are the members of Al Qaeda in general. According to Trotsky the general theory of terrorism is that you force the government to take steps that cause it to lose the support of the people.

Judged by the Trotsky standard the Bush administration response to terrorism is a disaster. It is hard to imagine that Bin Laden was anything other than overjoied by the invasion of Iraq or that Bin Laden would seriously want to see Bush and his cronies replaced by a competent administration.

The only thing that Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri would like to see more than a second Bush second term it is the major unrest that would spread throughout the US if the federal government attempted to postpone the elections.

It is not hard to think of scenarios which might make voting difficult or impossible. A poll could not be completed fairly with a total shutdown of all the airports as happened after 9/11.

The big problem with any such plan is that as far as a large proportion of the country is concerned, the administration has exhausted their credibility. It might well make perfect sense in the immediate aftermath of an attack to delay the poll. It is difficult to see how this would be accepted by the large number of people who honestly believe that Bush stole the 2000 election.

In most countries this situation would quickly resolve itself in a peaceful fashion. In the US the existence of large stocks of firearms in private hands creates the conditions for rapid escalation. It is unfortunately only too easy to imagine circumstances in which an error prone administration would make a series of over-reactions leading to a situation where the only way to maintain civil government was to declare martial law.

The best way to avoid this situation is to start with an agreed plan for dealing with the eve of poll terrorist attack scenario. This would accept the fact that there are circumstances where it may be necessary to delay a vote in order to perform it fairly while providing safeguards against partisan advantage. The simplest such safeguard being to require the agreement of the candidates before any postponement.

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