This election season, the HBO television channel is running the movie “Recount,” which is supposedly about the six weeks of the 2000 election where we did not know who won the presidency.
Actually it seems more like an old fashioned cowboy and Indians movie and the good guys are the Al Gore campaign. Recount is fiction to motivate the troops, a paid political ad in a movie’s cloak.
Propaganda movies are nothing new. During World War II, the U.S. government produced patriotic feel-good propaganda. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, all professed to major doses of propaganda with some election fraud thrown in for good measure. Reel propaganda is always believed by some, and often fully accepted by the next generation which grows up with no alternatives.
The current range of American movies, “documentaries” and “news shows” is more insidious and harder to defeat than the old government-created kind. Today’s pieces do not come from one source – a government that can be unelected, overthrown or discredited – but from many well-funded sources over time. Once we exported American culture; now Michael Moore and Oliver Stone export complaints about America and anti-Americanism itself.
Not a fan of liberal revisionist history, I never planned to watch Recount. When Kevin Spacey dismissed the portrayal of Katherine Harris with a comment that history bore out Laura Dern’s (Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III) portrayal, I was peaked enough to relive those adrenalin-filled six weeks.
The Florida secretary of state Katherine Harris was out of her element at the beginning of the recount and recovered quickly. Many males admitted to mad crushes on her, and asked why she was depicted a la Palin in the press at the time. In an effort to once more vilify a decent person and a good congresswoman, the movie portrays Harris as a clown.
When we met in 2002, Harris reminded me of the young Elizabeth Dole we interviewed for the 1984 Women in Power documentary that was shown to more than 17 million viewers.
Mrs. Dole, looking immaculate as always in a solid blue suit, was the only interviewee who chatted directly with the staff. “Do I look alright to you?” she began, disarming us amiably. Katherine had that same virtue, grace and charm.
In Recount, the legal challenge is depicted as a last-minute surprise where Gore couldn’t even get lawyers. In reality, the Democratic National Committee deployed thousands of attorneys all across the states prior to the elections just waiting for the state that would be chosen to recount.
The movie depicts at length Gore’s Supreme Court arguments, but not the law Ted Olson used to sway seven judges out of nine on behalf of George W. Bush.
Actual newsreels prove the infamous hallway incident is pure fiction; no Bush volunteers kicked the man carrying the blank ballot, or ripped it from his suit. I have talked to the men who were there.
During these weeks, my friends and I took leaves of absence from paid work and lived off of savings, buying trips to Florida to miss Thanksgiving with daughters and sons and help democracy. In the movie, Bush was organized and well funded, while the Democratic protesters are supposedly only the local downtrodden caring about their vote.
It isn’t true.
Outraged voters across the country witnessed the dirty politics that suppressed conservative votes: recruiters in nursing homes voting Alzheimer’s patients; cops surrounding Republican polling places to scare off voters; government workers organizing voter turnout on paid public time.
I was asked “Why were my polling places filled with out-of-state license plates?” “Why were homeless people cashing multiple $5.00 checks all election day in my northern Florida liquor store?” We wrote what we could verify, posting it on citizen web sites when the press ignored us.
After the Supreme Court decision, the Bush team put the word out this test of the Constitution was over, that complaints were not good sportsmanship. The Republican National Committee would collect our instances of voter fraud and see what could be done. Nothing was done; no one was prosecuted, and yes, voter fraud is a crime.
But the real untold story happened in Washington during those six weeks when the nation’s attention was focused elsewhere. Numerous Clinton administration political appointees were gifted with lifelong federal career positions: a typical Clinton entry-level appointee became an overnight $150,000 manager. New Bush agency heads’ senior staff were former Clinton appointees with no background in their supposed expertise.
Those scary crimes America won’t see in a movie.
Donna Wiesner Keene is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, CEO of BrainTrain, and held positions in the Reagan, Bush and Bush administrations.