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NOTE: This is part of a continuing online novel. Here is the Table of Contents.
Everything that came before could be countenanced. That’s the American system, folks thought. Both sides try to steal the election, and the one who does it best wins.
It’s always been that way, the pundits tried to explain. Nixon said Kennedy stole the 1960 election, and maybe he did. The old tales of “Landslide Lyndon” were trotted out. Mayor Daley’s voting dead were discussed with great seriousness, as John Fund of The Wall Street Journal and Al Gore appeared together on a PBS panel.
To which Democrats replied, Florida. And, then, Ohio. The old Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song was suddenly the most popular tune going at eDonkey.
The day after the Electoral College vote every city of any size had its own demonstration going. In Atlanta it was in Centennial Park, right under CNN’s nose. In New York it was in Rockefeller Center, across from NBC and down the street from Fox. In Portland, it was in Pioneer Square. In Boston, outside Fanueil Hall. In Raleigh, Edwards’ home town, it was on the campus of NC State, his alma mater, and there was a second demonstration at the UNC campus at Chapel Hill, where he’d gone to law school. (Duke had to make do with the Cameron Crazies holding new kinds of signs.)
In some Red States the authorities cracked down. In Oklahoma City, tear gas wafted and billy clubs were deployed to clear the monument where Tim McVeigh’s homemade bomb had once exploded. In Alabama, a march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma saw a re-enactment of Jim Clark’s attack on peaceful protest.
In Atlanta the situation was tense. The city government refused to take action. The county government lacked the resources to clear the park. And Governor Sonny Perdue was under enormous pressure to sit still, given reaction to what had happened at the Capitol the month before.
Those demonstrations that were left alone grew. Those that had been beaten back grew faster. At the University of Missouri in Columbia, students began striking against themselves, refusing to attend classes in the name of “greater democracy,” as they called it. Internet petitions at Moveon.org and Howard Dean’s Democracy for America site filled up with millions of names. Suddenly all of the old gang wanted to blog again at the Dean site, and Dean himself wondered what he should do about it.
John Kerry had not yet traveled for the opening of Congress, and was still holed-up on Nantucket Island when the trouble began. He was isolated for the first time in many years, his wife having traveled to South Africa for “her destiny”, his brother Cameron leading the protests at Fanueil Hall, his former advisors scattered to the four winds.
So he did what his heart told him to do. He called Larry King.
Now he sat in his living room, before a roaring fire he’d built himself, wearing a cable sweater rather than the brown jacket of his campaign, and facing a CNN cameraman. He’d stopped the botox injections months before. He looked again like an old basset hound.
But his voice was clear, and surprising direct, at least to those who had bought into the Bush campaign line that he only knew the point of his speech until it fell on him.
“We have a mechanism at hand, Larry,” he said. “The Senate can appoint a Special Committee to investigate these charges, just as it did during Watergate. It should be a truly bipartisan panel, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. It should be chaired by someone with a reputation for bi-partisan fairness, such as Senator Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, or James Jeffords, who technically has no party at all although he now caucuses with our side of the aisle.
“They would have a budget sufficient to the task. Their meetings would be open to the public. They would deliver a report at a date certain, say May 1. They would take a good, close look at the charges, they would interview witnesses, and then we the people would know what we should do.”
“What if the President doesn’t go along with this?” King asked.
Kerry looked directly at the camera, since that was where his interviewer was. For once, he was effective. “The President must do this,” he said. “We have too much real work to do for him to do otherwise. We still have far more than 40 Democrats in the Senate, Larry. I don’t want to ask them to halt all business, but the pressure to do that will become unbearable if we don’t hear from the President on this, now.”
“What would you do if you had gotten the 286 electoral votes, and these charges were made against you?” King asked.
“I would have to do this,” Kerry said with a wry smile, “because the Republicans would still hold a majority in both Houses.”
“What about your former running mate, John Edwards?” King asked. “He hasn’t been heard from since this started. There are reports he’s being held at Ft. Myers, unable to see an attorney or even his wife. Vice President-designate Karl Rove called him a terrorist on this very network. Those are serious charges.”
“John Edwards is not a terrorist,” Kerry said with a laugh, “and Karl Rove knows that. I think he just lost his temper a little bit, which I can forgive. But you’re right. John was doing nothing more than what his rights as an American allow him to do, and what his conscience dictated he do. For the President to try and turn him into a martyr at this stage is a mistake. He should be released immediately.”
“What if this committee says the election was stolen? Would you become President?”
Kerry shook his head ruefully. “It’s not that simple, Larry,” he said. “Once the President is inaugurated, he’s the President, right or wrong. If he were impeached and convicted, of course, the 25th Amendment would apply. I would not expect the Senate to confirm Mr. Rove if his accession is being questioned, so the office would pass to the House speaker, Dennis Hastert. He might then appoint a Vice President and resign in turn. But that’s a long, long way away, Larry. A long way away.
“Let’s take this one step at a time. Let’s follow the law and the precedents. Let’s investigate the charges, dispose of the charges, and see where that leads.”
“If the President agreed to this, what would you tell the demonstrators?”
“I would tell them to go home and trust the system, Larry. America has stood for over 200 years, through Civil War, through great Depressions, through Vietnam and Watergate. We can survive this, if we remain committed to justice and to seeing justice done.”
“Thank you, Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts. Next up on Larry King Live, here in studio, Jennifer Garner will talk about her new hit movie “Elektra.”