Books — We The People

Voting for fun and profit—a cartoon history

By Lisa Parsons []

We the People: A Call to Take Back America, by Thom Hartmann, illustrated by Neil Cohn, Coreway Media, 2004, 205 pages.

Grover Norquist, Republican spokesman, has been famously quoted as saying that he doesn’t want to eliminate government, he just wants to shrink it down small enough so he can drown it in the bathtub.

I’m not sure whether he meant he would drown it the first chance he gets, or he just wants to always know that he could if he needed to, but government, in this scenario, is a potential threat. Like a pet ferret.

Thom Hartmann, businessman and teacher at Goddard College, points out, in contrast, that in the case of America, government is us. It is not an external entity, and it is not our enemy—we long ago rejected that kind of government and traded it in for self-rule.

So Grover wants to drown you in the bathtub. Or establish anarchy, maybe. Or, as Hartmann sees it, Grover wants big corporations to rule you, instead of you ruling you.

We the People is a 200-page, cartoon-style, progressive’s-eye primer on the shifting sands of American government over the past two centuries, particularly as concerns the relationship between business and government. It is also a lifeguard training manual.

After lots of discussion of how businesses are treated like persons in the legal system, and why that is bad, the authors get to the timeliest and scariest part of their story: (cue spooky music) the new touchscreen voting machines.

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

And just because Jeb Bush couldn’t possibly be so stupid as to allow something like this to happen after the whole 2000 excruciation doesn’t mean it didn’t happen: Hartmann quotes the San Jose Mercury News as reporting that in one Florida precinct in 2002 a touch screen was misaligned so that votes cast for Jeb Bush’s opponent were added to Bush’s total instead, and the number of “votes [that] were miscast before the mistake was found will never be known, because there was no paper audit.”

Then there was the 2002 Texas race in which a faulty computer chip miscounted votes, giving a landslide victory to the loser. That miscount was rectified with a new computer chip, but other suspicious votes have been accepted—no paper trail, too late. Hartmann describes another 2002 race in Texas in which a state senator won with 18,181 votes, a state rep won with 18,181 votes, and a judge won with 18,181 votes.

Hartmann and Cohn tie all this back to corporate totalitarianism; those voting machines are built by huge companies hell-bent on profit, companies which so far refuse to let anyone see the software.

Glub, glub, sputter, cough, glub glub.

It will be easy for certain folks to dismiss We The People because Janeane Garofalo endorses it and because Hartmann has also written books with dreamy titles like “The Prophet’s Way” and “ADHD Secrets of Success.” (The former earned him visits with the Pope and the Dalai Lama.) He argues that the invasion of Iraq was motivated solely by oil and that the Bush administration wants perpetual war—though he doesn’t clearly demonstrate why this conclusion is required, merely why it’s plausible. Hartmann has zero faith in George W. Bush’s motives and quite literally sees Halliburton, Enron and their cohort as the new East India Company, that government/business amalgamation you could never quite understand—the guys who got their tea dumped in Boston Harbor.

Others, however, will find the book hard to dismiss. It’s a forceful story, whose earnest cartoon narrator (a rendition of Hartmann himself) keeps you reading to see what he’ll say next. We The People draws on wide-ranging, sometimes loosely-connected sources (from Grover Cleveland to Isaac Asimov) and brings in topics from everywhere (The Book of Revelation, The Matrix). Hartmann and Cohn have taken complex topics and sculpted them into readability.

Thom Hartmann hosts a talk radio show on a satellite network. He’ll be signing copies of his other recent book, What Would Jefferson Do?, at locations in Vermont this fall. Recent articles he’s written include “Republicans: Please Take Back Your Party” and “Conservatives Target Testicles.”

- Lisa Parsons

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH