Dangerous Dance

Ominous storm clouds threaten to trample the Constitution and turn our republic into a theocracy.

For the roughly 735,000 Arizonans and 56 million Americans who got trampled by the November 2 election, the challenge now is to follow in the footsteps of the Boston Red Sox.

This is not the time to give up in despair after Senator John Kerry's narrow defeat. It's time to rethink strategy and renew our determination to wrest this country back from the increasingly intolerant religious right.

Despite what the Republican party is spewing, 51 percent of the popular vote to 48 percent does not a mandate make. This is not like when Ronald Reagan whipped Jimmy Carter, much less like when Richard Nixon demolished George McGovern.

Despite the disappointment and ensuing depression sweeping nearly half the nation's voting public, the stakes are too high to surrender. Ominous storm clouds threaten to destroy the First Amendment guarantee of separation of church and state and transform this republic into a theocracy.

The drift in this direction is well under way.

We only need to look to our neighbor to the north, Utah. Dominated by the Mormon Church, a fanatical religion that has no problem with theocracy, the state gave George W. Bush his strongest backing with 71 percent of the vote.

Bush's reelection is a clear signal that the merger of God and politics in America is continuing its dangerous dance. And as separation of church and state erodes, other constitutional guarantees are also being diminished.

Dissent is no longer a normal discourse welcomed as a sign of political vibrancy. It is now met with the threat of arrest.

Reports abounded during the election season about storm troopers removing anyone so much as wearing a Kerry button to a Bush political rally. Such intolerance has permeated politics at the local level to the point that I can't even approach Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in a public space to ask a question without being accosted by his deputies for being a "threat" to the sheriff's safety.

So much for freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble.

Not only is the First Amendment under attack, the cornerstone of American democracy, our rule of law, is also under fire.

The religious right wants the rule of God to be the ultimate constitutional authority.

Groups like Focus on the Family Action, a Christian advocacy group, are attacking Senator Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who won reelection last week, after Specter said he would oppose "pro-life" judges getting appointed to the Supreme Court.

"The senator would be wise to study all the exit polls coming out of Tuesday's election, which show unmistakably that moral values were the No. 1 thing voters considered at the polls," says Focus on the Family Action founder James Dobson.

"The people who put President Bush back in the White House and expanded the Republican majority in the Senate weren't voting for a party -- they were voting for candidates who share their pro-family values."

Well, there were enough such voters to put Bush over the hump, but how much of a mandate does Bush really have for a so-called family-values agenda when enough of his supporters agree with Specter -- along with practically all of Senator Kerry's?

One thing is clear, however. The religious right has no tolerance for political dissent -- even from a Republican.

It's not too surprising that religious radicals like Dobson are swaggering about with such threatening outbursts. After all, Bush the moralist has been saying he's taking direction from God as he proceeds in the Middle East. His jihad to impose "freedom" on complex societies that worship God differently has dragged us into a war we cannot win unless we kill millions.

As Kerry repeatedly pointed out, Bush's attack on Iraq had nothing to do with tracking down terrorists who struck the United States.

And what about these evil terrorists?

First, I know that September 11 was horrible, but let's put it into perspective. Some guy hiding in a cave managed to get a few fanatics to hijack airliners and crash into three buildings and into the ground in Pennsylvania, killing a few thousand Americans.

It's shocking, despicable, and something we must never forget.

But this "attack" is more akin to a crime than a declaration of war. It in no way rises to the level of Hitler's Third Reich invasion of Poland or the Japanese air and sea attack on Pearl Harbor.

There's no doubt that we must be vigilant in guarding against terrorism. I'd like to see Osama bin Laden strung up from a lamppost in New York City.

Yet, frankly, I feel more threatened by the constitutional terrorists at home than I do from the ones over there.

The national reelection hinged on religious extremists such as Dobson, who cited morality as the most important factor in their decision to vote for Bush.

Forget about the unpopular war in Iraq. Forget about the surging national debt. Forget about the ban on stem-cell research. Forget about Halliburton's obscene wartime profits and Enron's corrupt collapse. Forget about the lack of medical care and insurance. Forget about Social Security's imminent failure. Forget about millions of lost jobs. Forget about the 1,100 and counting dead loved ones coming back to our shores in shameful silence, their flagged-draped coffins edited from our view.

Even Republicans widely admitted that Kerry destroyed Bush in the debates. But the president's IQ means nothing to voters steeped in fear and whipped into an intolerant religious fervor where guns are great, gays are evil, and family values -- whatever the hell that actually means today -- rule.

Bush was seen by enough Americans as a more moral leader than Kerry, and that's what mattered.

Such obsessive dedication to a relative concept like morality in making secular political decisions is a chilling indication that America is engulfed in its own fundamentalist religious revolution that threatens the foundation of the republic.

Fundamentalism is a powerful force, regardless of which religion is at its epicenter. It turns whatever good there is about religion into a fanatical political force that tramples civil liberties.

What power did Kerry have citing facts detrimental to the president uncovered by the likes of the New York Times, when the president claimed to be getting his moral direction from God?

Shouldn't America take a lesson from the Ayatollah Khomeini, who swept the U.S.-backed Shah of Iran out of power in 1979 with a mere wave of his hand? Khomeini unleashed a politicized Islamic fundamentalism that continues to sweep through the Middle East, fueling irrational hatred for the West.

But rather than attempting to understand and defuse Islamic fundamentalism, America is responding with its own religious Crusade to stamp out perceived evildoers, not only abroad but here at home.

With a sword in one hand, and cash in the other, Bush has masterfully exploited the fanatic Holy Rollers in this country with his "faith-based initiatives" -- which pour tax dollars into select churches in violation of our constitutional separation of church and state.

Terrifying as the steady drift to the religious right is, the game is far from over. Bush may have gotten more votes than his Democratic opponent this time, but his win is still marginal. The Democratic party as well as tens of millions of independents remain a powerful force in this country. Democrats and their independent supporters must immediately make it clear they have no intention of rolling over to the Republicans.

Any calls to "just get along" so that we can "heal" the nation are ridiculous. Where are the leaders who are willing to trumpet: "The hell with extending a hand to the other side!"?

Do you think Republicans would be taking the same stance if the tables were reversed?

No way! They would still be operating from the playbook of chief Bush political strategist Karl Rove. Attack, attack, attack!

Bush is headed for another term because of Rove's go-for-the-throat approach -- along with his striving to make Dubya appeal to dimwitted heartland values.

What Rove did was based on strategy, and a willingness to hit below the belt. To stand up and fight. To figure out a way to win.

Kerry and the Democrats preached to those converted to the causes the party holds dear -- people like myself who seldom, if ever, vote Republican.

Rove and the Republicans spoke not only to the GOP's political base but to those on the fence who could be moved more by their hatred of legal abortion and the concept of gay marriage than by the fact that the Bush administration has failed at home economically and abroad with its idiotic, unwinnable war.

One thing the Democrats could have done was hammer on Dubya's cowardly avoidance of the Vietnam War. Instead, they let Rove & Company get away with its spin that war hero Kerry was somehow a disgrace because he returned home and courageously renounced our country's misguided war in Southeast Asia.

Rove told brilliant lies, and the Democrats must stop short of that. But, please, no more "Kumbaya" candidates! Change the party's theme song to "Street Fighting Man" -- because politics is the same blood sport it was when the protest movement was in its heyday. When cities were on fire.

Democrats have been extremely slow learners. They must take a cue from the balls-out Rove before the midterm elections in 2006 -- or the religious right will be ruling our lives in the Theocratic States of America.


Yet another scandal is quietly sweeping the Maricopa County Elections Department, this time involving none other than Outlaw Joe Arpaio.

The cash-strapped elections office under director Karen Osborne has relied on the sheriff to supply inmate slave labor to handle more than a million early ballots that have been requested by voters since 1998. More than 500,000 were mailed out for the November 2 general election.

Inmates are used to stuff ballots and instructions into envelopes that are mailed to voters. Osborne says the program, called STRIPES, worked without a hitch -- until late last month.

That's when reports of tampering with early ballots began to surface. Osborne says only one ballot was "marked up" by an inmate prior to stuffing it an envelope. But STRIPES inmates tell me multiple ballots were fouled.

The sheriff's office has begun "major investigations" into ballot tampering, according to an October 28 e-mail from an MCSO employee to the Maricopa County Adult Probation Department. Probation department records state that inmates Ryan C. Carter and Nicholas Frappier have admitted to ballot tampering.

Naturally, the sheriff's office has refused to comment.

It's clear that Arpaio is livid that any attention has been brought to this troubling arrangement that allows the sheriff's office to play a central role in the preparation of early ballots.

Arpaio collected 55,000 early votes in the September primary compared to challenger Dan Saban's 36,000. The 91,000 early votes cast in the sheriff's race greatly exceeded the total early votes cast in all other countywide races.

The assessor's, recorder's and treasurer's races each received about 78,000 early votes. The hotly contested county attorney's race attracted only 79,000 early votes. Popular U.S. Senator John McCain picked up only 80,000 early votes running unopposed.

It's curious that the sheriff's race would attract so much more attention.

The 45 inmates handling the ballots had all volunteered for the sheriff's six-month ALPHA program, which provides drug and alcohol training courses and gives eligible inmates the opportunity to earn their GEDs. Successful completion of ALPHA can also lead to early release and class certificates required to meet probation.

Inmates say they were forced to work on the early ballots -- sometimes up to 12 hours at a time -- or be kicked out of ALPHA.

The day before the rest of the inmates not involved in the ballot tampering were to graduate and move forward with their lives, the ever-vengeful Arpaio kicked all of them out of ALPHA.

No early release. No certificates. No GED.

Now that's the kind of Republican we all know and love.

E-mail john.dougherty@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8445.

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