It’s now June, and clearly November will never die. There was something very, very odd about hearing Abigail Thernstrom sparring with Mary Frances Berry over the Voting Rights Commission’s report on Florida. I’m no fan of Berry — whose botched handling of the KPFA situation a few years ago pretty much solidified my opinion of her as a vindictive, tin-eared authoritarian, but Thernstrom is one of the principal academic opponents of the current interpretation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I’m not a social scientist, thank goodness, or terribly well-informed about the world of sociology, but I get the impression that her work is taken fairly seriously, this scathing article notwithstanding. (Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve gets hit much harder, as his reductionist argument deserves.) But I could have plotted a graph of Thernstrom and Berry arguing — Berry is going to see systemic disenfranchisement and Thernstrom isn’t. I suspect that one could set up any number of increasingly ridiculous situations in some sort of reductio ad absurdum laboratory, and Berry would continue to see systemic disenfranchisement and Thernstrom, contrawise, wouldn’t. I have my own opinion about Florida, of course — which largely revolves around the fact that poorer counties having older equipment which rejected more votes, as well as the pigheaded ineptitude of some Florida officials — but I don’t feel that I can learn a thing from the commission’s report. That’s what happens when you get a report or decision from people who seem to have already made up their own minds; you can’t really judge the results on their merits and you need to engage in the dance of trying to parse the results for what they really mean, what their real biases were. It’s why having a multivocal press is so important — while I can’t count on IndyMedia or The Economist to be free of bias, I can count on them to have different biases.
Meanwhile, both Iran and the U.K. had elections last week. Iran resoundingly elected President Khatami, a reformer who’s been duking it out with the religious authorities who hold real power in Iran (and losing); Tony Blair thumped the (seemingly) nigh-universally loathed Conservatives in an election marred by what was, for England, terrible turnout. Both of the elections seemed to run more smoothly than what we have in America, but if the solution to voter apathy and structural breakdown is to institute a repressive theocracy, I’ll stick with what we’ve got and wish Khatami luck.