Think Mordor

Mark Crispin Miller wants us to understand a few things—mainly that the 2004 elections were marred by systematic foul play. Culpable in this plunder of democracy were acquiescent media. But what Miller really wants us to know is that the reason George W. Bush still enjoys a perch on Pennsylvania Avenue is rooted in the theocratic ideology of his Christian “base,” an allegedly insurgent movement whose guiding creed would make Machiavelli himself seem like a pussycat.

In Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They’ll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), Miller offers a catalog of purported chicanery scored by a soapbox sermon about democracy in crisis. In tone, this book makes a Louis Farrakhan speech seem prosaic. But, unlike such demagogues, or even vain pseudo-pundits, the result is a redundant spewing of interesting but inconclusive anecdotes framed under the banner of a shocking(!) revelation.

Fooled Again details a host of suspicious disparities and foul play. And Miller does not limit his salvos to the nitty-gritty of voting droids and dubious voter-registration drives. Underscoring this malfeasance is something much darker. Think Mordor: The reason Bush and company steal elections without conscience is their widespread belief that God serves as Bush’s foreign-policy adviser.

Now, there are few half-sober observers who doubt the religious right is a force to be reckoned with, but to imply, as Miller does, that evangelical Christian dominionists are the only faction of consequence within the GOP is a tough sell. So, too, are assertions that the media ignored stories less flattering to the president during the run-up to Election Day. Examples cited include the number of Republicans who refused to endorse Bush and the dozens of newspapers who reversed their endorsement of him four years earlier to push John Kerry (or no one at all). The idea that these stories were “buried” is questionable, especially without any sort of quantitative backup.

Earlier this month, Miller confessed to Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman that Kerry told him he believes the election was stolen. According to Miller, who gave the senator a copy of his book at a fund-raiser, Kerry said he couldn’t push the issue, as it would appear like sour grapes. Kerry aides denied this conversation ever took place.

On the same radio program, Mark Hertsgaard, who investigated Miller’s work in the liberal Mother Jones, politely dismantled many instances of electoral chicanery that Miller deploys as smoking guns. More recently, Farhad Manjoo, whose reporting Miller cites throughout Fooled Again, came out against Miller’s embellishments in the equally liberal

Miller dismissed Hertsgaard’s critique as “pedantic over-analysis” that misses the point. The problem is that Miller’s larger point is largely unsubstantiated. Surely there’s a case to be made against touch-screen voting machines controlled by corporations openly committed to the victory of a particular candidate. Obviously there is an argument to be made for broader electoral reform. Even Vanity Fair’s Christopher Hitchens, a journalist about as predictable as a drunken tornado and as unlikely as anyone to throw in his lot with tinfoil-hat types, has waxed skeptical about the irregularities at Ohio’s polls.

Sadly, Fooled Again does us no good on the substantiation front. Not unlike that of the theocrats he detests, Miller’s own febrile certitude throws his credibility into question. Members of the “Bush = Hitler” crowd surely will delight in a fresh dump of conspiratorial ammo, but if anyone outside the cathedral of ultra-left orthodoxy can make it through these pages without perpetual winces, well, that would be shocking.