Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Equivalence or Dangling Chads in Ukraine II

There is this argument out there that what is happening in Ukraine is a lot like what happened in the US elections. You see this posted on websites like Le Sabot in the comments section by disappointed Kerry supporters looking for another forum in which to make their single point. But you also see it in supposedly serious major US periodicals. Here’s one for example. (Bush is a hypocrite for talking about the fraud in the Ukrainian election and not talking about the fraud in his own house, so to speak.) And it is not limited to the left. There is some indication that the right is also making the same sort of comparison.

It all boils down to the statement, “That is like what happened here in the last election.” What happened in the Ukrainian election to these people is the same thing they feel happened in the US election. But let me say this so that no one can misunderstand. What has happened here in the Ukraine to hijack the election was not like anything you feel might have happened in the US. Sure you can put certain things into categories and say that that is like what happened here. Like violence, for instance: “Supporters of the opposition candidate were beaten in Ukraine and some of them landed in the hospital.” “Oh, that is like what happened here. A guy was punched in line in Poughkeepsie.” But it is the sheer amount of what has happened here, the magnitude of it, that makes it not only a matter of degree, but also a matter of kind. Some things can happen in such magnitudes and to such extremes as to be of a different kind altogether, separable into its own category. That is the point here. It is the magnitude of it and how extreme it has been that makes it something that is in a different universe from anything these people think might have happened in the US.

I think a lot of these articles and comments stem from a feeling that if you accept the idea that the situation in Ukraine was orders of magnitude beyond what they feel went on in the US, then that diminishes what they feel happened. In other words, to accept what happened in some way downplays what they feel happened in the US. To downplay it in that way tends to minimize the grievance that these people have held. If you have been licking the wounds of your grievance for days and weeks on end and, for some, for maybe even years, to have someone come up and say that it is really nothing at all is not going to go over well. You can’t say that the world has tilted on its axis because of something done and have it have any significance if someone comes along and says that there is other action in other spheres that has set the universe on edge. It sweeps away the concerns that they beleived really offended the universe as something petty and completely unworthy. It is tough to let go of something like this.

But that is exactly what I am saying and what the fellow at Le Sabot has been saying, and he has been holding down the fort on this for awhile. Any concerns that any of you have had about the US elections are really petty compared to what went on in Ukraine. If this offends you and serves to “marginalize” you and to minimize your grievance, that is tough. Your grievance was trivial in the first place when compared to what a real grievance looks like. And the Ukrainian people have a real grievance and have had one for over a decade, if you count the democratic period only. But it extends back for decades to the Soviet period and for centuries beyond that. (It really is all one and the same and they are trying to throw it off once and for all.) This is real grievance.

To me all of this talk of equivalence is like an indulged girl off to college who is depressed about the state of the world because, when her dad bought her a new car, he didn’t buy her the deluxe edition. This is terribly, terribly retro, I know. But the figure—the metaphor—is a good one.

There might be some who still insist on making a case for equivalence, though. OK, have at it but let me set the bar:

If you tell me that there were bands of thugs in masks with clubs beating up supporters of a candidate so that they had to be hospitalized and this not one time but a number of times, we can talk equivalence. (One beating took place with a camera rolling. They got pictures of the car the thugs used and even the faces of some of them--they will never be prosecuted. But they didn’t care and having it on video made it certain others would see what would happen.)

If you tell me that you found tens of thousands of dead persons, or possibly hundreds of thousands or millions of them, on the voting rolls in the US, then we can talk about equivalence.

If you tell me that you found busloads of people traveling from polling place to polling place casting multiple votes—on one bus as many as 70 votes per passenger—then we can talk equivalence.

If you tell me that you found that word went out to public employees--federal, state, county and city employees-- that they had to vote for a particular candidate or risk being fired, then we can talk equivalence.

If you tell me that absentee ballots were passed out at factories and other work places and a demand was made to fill them out on the spot and that a blank ballot was to be returned in its place or the employee would be fired, then we can talk equivalence.

And these are just some of the things that took place to rig the election.

The point is that there is no equivalence.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great reporting and thorough trouncing of the "equivalency" article, which is just kind of lazy and uninformed, IMHO. I posted a link to you on dailykos.com:



Greg D said...

Actually, it appears to be pretty routine for the Democrats to take van loads of people around cities to vote multiple times.

Of course, you won't see the people on Kos complaining about that. :-)

Greg D said...

Come to think of it, we also have Unions that steal workers money and spend it on political campaigns (it's against the law to use manditory union dues for political expenditures. The unions do it anyway, and so far they've gotten away with it). But that, again, is the Democrats.

Then there's fraudulent voter registration. In Ohio this year there were over 20,000 "newly registered voters" who gave bad addresses (that was in one county). The Republicans wanted to have those registrations invalidated. The Democrats fought against it, and won.

I could go on, but I'd hate to give your thugs any ideas they haven't come up with on their own. :-(

Anonymous said...

I've been trying to bring attention to the Ukrainian electoral crisis here in the U.S., and I thank you for your post. It's obviously just human nature to compare events to ones that one is familiar with, so you've got to cut the Americans some slack, I think. Most of them have no direct knowledge of what real corruption is like. And there is some validity to the claim that Bush is on shaky ground in commenting on the Ukrainian situation, because there is ample evidence of funny business going on over here. But as you say, it is not really possible to fairly compare the two as equivalent, because even the worst electoral corruption here doesn't approach the severity of what you're describing.

I have posted on this a number of times, and the point I try to make is that the situation is serious, but in the best view, the Ukrainian people must learn to overlook their differences in favour of a strong and unified Ukraine, or be willing to settle for two smaller Ukraines, less able to weather the political forces from within and without.

Scott W. Clark said...

Point taken.

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