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The good, the bad and the ugly liars of 2004: A recap

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Elsewhere in this issue, some of us have contributions written after the election results came in. This was written before, however. Voter registration nationally was estimated to be up about 3 percent compared to four years ago. But turnout should be up by at least twice that much--adding another 12 million voters or more to the 2000 total of 105.6 million. If so, then John Kerry is the president-elect by at least 3 million votes. How'd it come out? Before I toss my 2004 election notes in the drawer:

The Best: Gay rights took a huge step forward. The Republicans failed to push their anti-gay marriage amendment through either house of Congress. True, 11 states were voting on anti-gay measures yesterday, and they represent a pause in the progress. But even George W. Bush was saying, by the end, that the states should allow civil unions. Did you miss it? "I don't think we should deny people rights to a civil union, a legal arrangement, if that's what a state wants to do," Bush said in an interview on ABC's Good Morning, America. Think where gay equality was two years ago, when Howard Dean was the radical who signed Vermont's civil-union law.

Next Best: Public campaign financing. It worked in the state judicial races. So said the 12 candidates who used it (out of 16) in their runs for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals seats, according to Common Cause N.C. executive director Bob Phillips. They included conservatives like John Tyson, who told CCNC: "This is better than what we had."

Not Good: Speaking of what we had, Gov. Mike Easley raised 89 percent of his money from donors who gave him $1,000 or more, according to Democracy North Carolina's research director Bob Hall, and just 1 percent from donors who gave $100 or less. In other words, little people, step aside and watch the big boys do it. Would public financing help? It sure couldn't hurt.

The Bad: Republican Senate candidate Richard Burr voted against tying the tobacco buyout to FDA regulation of the addictive substance, though doing so dropped the buyout total from $12 billion to $10 billion. Then Democratic candidate Erskine Bowles rushed to Washington to say, me too, me too. As Arizona Sen. John McCain said: "Disgraceful." And from Public Campaign: "A realistic opportunity to regulate tobacco may not come again for a long time"--with tragic public health consequences.

The Worst: Four years later, voting is still a mess. People think they've been registered to vote, but they were signed up by crypto-Republicans who trashed their forms if they checked "Democrat." State election officials are still partisan and act like it. (See: Ohio. And, of course, Florida again.) Voting machines don't give you a receipt, or leave a paper trail that can be recounted. Just trust us, says the guy who sells them--and is leading the Bush re-election campaign in, yes, Ohio.) And we're gonna teach the Iraqis about voting?

Don't Forget: We need instant runoff voting in the primaries, same-day voter registration (like Wisconsin and Minnesota), and every election precinct should be open all day on the Saturday before Election Day as well as on the Tuesday itself. Let's act like we want people to vote.

Did anybody running for any office run on any issue this year? Oh, I know, education. We're for it, and if you elect me, we're sure gonna have lots of education. And teachers. But cops, too, don't mistake what I'm saying now. And God Bless America in every breakfast cereal.

The country is polarized, and partisans are getting their information more and more from each other and from the Internet. That leaves TV and radio ads as a means of communication with the undecideds--a very small voting bloc that, by and large, knows little and cares less. Hence, the mindlessly negative crap we're forced to endure, with rare exceptions:

Best Ad: There were only two contenders that I saw, anyway. Bev Perdue's chicken-cluckers spot was at least funny, and the sheer running of it showed she's got guts. (Maybe someday we'll forget about her "Coal Miner's Daughter" embroideries.) David Price's "big brother goes to college" ad was nice, but in his congressional district, Price could have run video of his hairline and still won.

Worst Ad: Leaving aside the vast number that were just stupid, I was especially offended by the Richard Burr spot that, for a day, had me believing that the very well-regarded Winston-Salem Journal had sided with him in his exchange with Erskine Bowles over breast cancer. Burr's spot said the Journal had called Bowles' ads "extremely misleading." That was a lie. As the Journal quickly reported, it had never said any such thing, merely quoted a Republican official as saying it.

Dishonorable Mention: To Erskine Bowles, who at first wouldn't say what party he was in, then told us he was "a different kind of Democrat"--you know, one with personal integrity and a good marriage. Really building up the party, guy.

Also Bad: All the gay-bashing stuff Republican Billy Creech was running in his campaign against Congressman Bob Etheridge. A complete waste of his money, given that Etheridge (unfortunately) voted for the anti-gay marriage amendment and (fortunately) is about as straight as they come--as our friend David Mills, at the Common Sense Foundation, points out.

Not Fatal: Until we saw Fred Smith in his own pro-Republican ads, we thought the Johnston County senator would be a contender in '08. But, hey, he's got four years to make people forget. (See, above, how Bev did it.)

Not Helpful: You're 15 points ahead and you're still hammering Patrick Ballantine for promising state employees a decent raise? What's your lame-duck platform, Gov. Easley?

What About Poland? The funniest moment of the '04 campaign had to be when Kerry accused Bush of invading Iraq with only the Brits and Aussies at our side, and Bush shot back: "He forgot about Poland!"

Kerry never quite said he wouldn't have invaded. He didn't have to. He did make it clear that using military force must be a last resort--after diplomacy has been exhausted, and used only in the face of an imminent threat to our national security unless undertaken with international support. Bush's reckless invasion so clearly failed that test that Kerry never had to say whether, with a broader coalition, he, too, would have attacked to overthrow Saddam Hussein's murderous regime--WMDs or no.

That question remains for our next president, and future ones. What is the world supposed to do with its tyrants?

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