"Recount" brings it back home in Sunshine State
Mitch Perry about almost 6 years ago
HBO's much anticipated (at least amongst political junkies, at least) "Recount" aired over the Memorial Day weekend.
The film has garnered mostly positive reviews. The biggest critics have been those who served on Al Gore's campaign team who come out looking well, rather lame.
Specifically, Warren Christopher (former Secretary of State for Bill Clinton, among other gigs on his CV) and Gore campaign chairman Bill Daley. "Chris", as he's referred to by friend and foe, looks regal in his double breasted suits, but he and Daley are depicted as preferring NOT to engage in any potential down and dirty political tactics. Tactics that "Recount" shows the Bush team, led by "the velvet hammer" James A. Baker, has no problem with (the film shows him saying, "we'll get killed in the op-eds", and follows with, "Until this is over, I don't want to see a copy of the New York Times unless it's to wrap garbage." Which incidentally, he denies he ever said.)
The film's screenwriter used several different sources, including Jeffrey Toobin's compelling 2002 narrative, "Too Close To Call".
It's all fascinating and entertaining, and, well, depending on your political perspective, perhaps a bit sad as well.
Who knows how different our world might be if President Gore was just finishing his 2nd term in office. Then again, maybe it would have been a Republican who defeated him in '04 (John McCain?) who knows?
But the central thesis of "Recount" is that the Dems were not prepared to play hardball with Baker, Ben Ginsberg, and the rest of the Bush-Cheney team. That seems somewhat accurate.
As a new reporter working here in Florida at the time (I moved to Tampa in April of 2000), what struck me was, the lack of activism in the streets. Granted, I came from covering events in Berkeley, California, perhaps the preiminent protest capital of the country.
But to the extent that there were protests, they were led by Bush partisans. I'm not just referring to the so-called "Brooks Brothers" protest of the Miami Dade County canvassing Board (which as "Recount" shows, completely intimidated the lawful recounting of votes in that critical county).
No, I'm referring to what I saw in front of the Palm Beach County Government building in West Palm Beach, 3 days after the election.
It was Veterans Day, so the building was closed, but there were dozens of people protesting. And what I remember is Congressman Robert Wexler, in fear for his life, fleeing an angry mob accosting him after he finished doing a live interview with Greta Van Susteren (then with CNN).
Wexler ultimately had to escape into a trailer of CNN, or another TV crew's production facility. It seemed absurd, but it wasn't. As "Recount" shows, when Jesse Jackson took to the streets, Bill Daley speaks with some others who wanted him to knock it off. Later I recall that Jackson and some others (including Code Pink's Medea Benjamin, who hadn't created that group yet) were similarly forced to escape from angry counter protestors.
There have been some notable actions of protest in Florida over the years. Not a lot, but protests against the Martin Lee Anderson verdict last year comes to mind. Before I came here in 2000, the protest in Tallahassee against Jeb Bush's One Florida plan made national news.
But I've always contended that part of the problem (other than apathy, which is a fact in some parts), is the intense weather here. You have to be dedicated to get out and walk for blocks on end to bring attention to a cause that enough people deem is worth it.
Come to think of it, I'm reminded of a demonstration held in Tampa nearly 3 years ago, on a blisteringly hot July day. That's when over a thousand people marched in protest against the Hillsborough County Commission's infamous vote against gay pride (little g, little p in former Commissioner Ronda Storms famous words).
Look, the action was in the court room during those memorable 36 days, as "Recount" depicts. But can you imagine if a similar scenario did play out in other cities in this country, would people be so passive? Particularly in light of what's happened with our government since?