On Tuesday night, November 6, 2012, my campaign manager, James Genovese, turned to me after studying the returns in our congressional district, and told me that I had lost the election.
It was time to call my opponent, Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr., whom I had battled the previous few months, and concede.
I reached him on his cell, congratulated him graciously on his victory, and went to address assembled supporters and friends.
It was, arguably, my best speech of the race. And I offered it, believe it or not, with a full and content heart. In the speech, I bowed to the majesty of the democratic system. I said that the people had spoken, and Pascrell had won a decisive victory. I said that Pascrell would now be my congressman. I said that we Americans are the luckiest people in the world, able to speak our minds, voice our views, run for elective office, and then have the privilege of accepting the will of the people with a grateful heart. I cracked a few jokes and tried to make the somber crowd laugh.
Was I fooling myself? I had just been defeated in my first run for office. What was I so happy about?
I was happy because I had contributed to the strength of democratic institutions, first by running for office and then by acceding to and embracing the voice of the people without reservation. I had lost — but the people had won.
That’s why I have to respectfully take issue with the nominee of the same party under whose banner I ran, when he said that this November’s election may be rigged.
Speaking at a rally on Monday, August 1, in Columbus, Ohio, Republican nominee Donald Trump said, “I’m afraid the election’s going to be rigged. I have to be honest.”
I have appreciated Trump’s candor throughout the campaign. But casting aspersions on the integrity of the American voting system is dangerous.
People have to have faith in democratic institutions. If someone runs for office and wins, then they have every right to feel giddy because they are the people’s choice. And if they lose, they must bow to the will of the people and salute the majesty of democracy. The only exception to this rule is when there is undeniable, verifiable, and demonstrable proof of election tampering or voter irregularities.
I have no idea who is going to win the presidential election this November. Hillary Clinton’s support for the Iran nuclear agreement, and her claims that she is its ultimate architect, are downright scary. Will she continue President Obama’s extremely dangerous policy of handing over billions of dollars to Iran so it can kill innocent people the world over? Will she continue Obama’s policy of overlooking Iran’s open contempt and violations of the agreement as it pursues nuclear weapons technology, as was recently confirmed by even German government intelligence?
Likewise, Donald Trump has said many things that I have publicly and vociferously protested, like his call for a temporary ban on Muslims or his recent criticisms of a Gold Star mother whose son died heroically in Iraq.
But whether it is Trump or Hillary who prevails, it’s the American people who have to win, through the preservation and protection of democratic institutions. And that begins with candidates accepting that American democracy works and cannot be called into question without proof.
To be sure, Bernie Sanders turned out to be right in calling the Democratic primaries rigged, at least in part, once it was revealed that the DNC was in Hillary’s corner all along. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC chairperson, had made the DNC into an arm of the Clinton campaign. Only after embarrassing the party, and distracting from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, which I attended, was Wasserman Schultz forced to resign the chair.
I long have said that politicians who lack conviction in one important area will show they have no conviction in other areas as well. Debbie Wasserman Schultz demonstrated with her support for the Iran deal that she would do anything — including selling out the security of her people — for political gain.
Of all the people to have betrayed Israel and the Jewish people over the Iran deal, Debbie Wasserman Schultz was near the top. She always had traded on her Jewish identity to gain currency in politics and had massive Jewish financial support.
Her support of the Iran deal, amid Iran’s near daily genocidal incitement against her people, was treacherous. Worse was when she went on CNN to cry crocodile tears about how torn up she was about her support for the deal. Tears mean nothing. Action is everything. It’s now clear that she also betrayed her power as DNC chair to stay close to the presumptive nominee.
So abuses of the system do occur. But there is no reason to believe that American voting is itself rigged and saying so without proof undermines the confidence in our institutions.
This does not mean that American democracy is perfect. Far from it. What I learned from my Congressional run is that it’s nearly impossible to unseat an incumbent officeholder. Amid serious corruption allegations, guys like Charlie Rangel have been in Congress since the battle of Yorktown. And severe Israel critic Senator Patrick Leahy has been in the Senate since the Dead Sea first got sick. (OK, that’s an old joke.)
Our congressional districts are gerrymandered to the point where, for the most part, they guarantee either a Republican or a Democratic victory. Few districts are competitive, which explains why every two years about 90 percent of incumbents retain their seats.
Even more troubling is the continued imperfection of the Electoral College, which all but guarantees that only a few states actually choose the next president. We call them “battleground” or “swing states,” which makes residents of Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania mighty important and citizens of New Jersey and New York almost irrelevant in presidential voting. If our country had real willpower we would get rid of the Electoral College once and for all and allow this country’s chief magistrate to be chosen by a straightforward vote of all the people, rather than Pennsylvania and Virginia.
But be that as it may, what we cannot do is allege that the votes themselves even in these states is rigged, that the American democratic system is corrupt, that voting in this country is rigged, forcing a potential showdown after an election between a chosen president and the disgruntled supporters of a defeated candidate.