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“The Next Attack On Voting Rights”: Why Democrats Should Fight For A Constitutional Right-To-Vote Amendment

The last round of voter restrictions came after the 2010 Republican wave, when new GOP majorities passed voter identification laws and slashed ballot access in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida. Now, three months after the 2014 Republican wave, another class of state lawmakers are prepping another assault on voting rights under the same guise of “uniformity” and “ballot integrity.”

In Georgia, reports Zachary Roth for MSNBC, Republicans are pushing a bill to slash early voting from the present maximum of 21 days to 12 days. The goal, says Rep. Ed Rydners, a sponsor of the proposal, is “clarity and uniformity.” “There were complaints of some voters having more opportunities than others,” he said, “This legislation offers equal access statewide.” If cities like Atlanta want to have more voting access, said Rydners, they could open more precincts and “pay to have poll workers present.”

In Missouri, this new push comes as a constitutional amendment overturning a 2006 ruling from the state Supreme Court, which struck down voter ID as illegal under the state’s Constitution. Last Wednesday, notes Roth, the state’s House of Representatives gave “initial approval” to two measures: “One would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot asking voters to allow voter ID, and the other would implement the ID requirement, should the amendment pass.” The rationale? Voter fraud. “It’s not disenfranchising voters,” says state Sen. Will Kraus, who sponsored the amendment. “Voters who vote multiple times are diluting their vote.”

In New Hampshire, according to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, Republicans are aiming for a hat trick of voter restrictions. If signed into law, their bills would limit voter registration efforts and reduce other registration opportunities, make it harder for students to register and vote, and reduce the number of precincts open per voter, a move that would lengthen voting lines and make the process a greater chore for working people and others with difficult schedules.

Likewise, per the Brennan Center, Mississippi Republicans are pursuing a bill that would “decrease the likelihood that otherwise-eligible voters who cast provisional ballots will have their votes counted in the races for which they are eligible,” and in Indiana, lawmakers have introduced measures to end automated straight-ticket voting and “secure” absentee ballots by requiring a voter identification number. “I just think people need to take the time to learn about who they are voting for before going in rather than just pushing a button for straight party,” said Rep. Milo Smith, chair of the Indiana House Elections Committee. “I think that makes for a better election process.”

It’s always worth noting the scant evidence for these moves. In Missouri, for instance, the Brennan Center found only four cases of in-person voter fraud, for a “documented fraud rate” of 0.0003 percent. There is no problem to solve; the policy rationale for limiting registration drives or requiring photo identification—instead of a standard-issue registration card—doesn’t exist. And if it did, there’s no reason for a restrictive approach; automatic registration and free ID cards are just as effective as anything proposed by state and federal Republicans.

Politically, however, there’s a lot to gain from these laws. Every new barrier to voting makes it harder for the most marginal voters to get to the polls. And given the demographics of voting—the least frequent voters are poorer, browner, and less educated than their most frequent counterparts—it’s in the Republican Party’s interest to shrink the electorate as much as possible.

It’s the undeniable partisanship of new voter laws that explains the new “right-to-vote” plank in the platform of the Democratic National Committee. At its winter meeting last week, the DNC endorsed a constitutional amendment for the affirmative right to vote. “The Democratic Party stands for inclusion, and we know that we are all better when everyone has a voice in the democratic process. The right to vote is a moral imperative, and I am proud to support this resolution,” said DNC Vice Chair of Voter Expansion and Protection Donna Brazile in a statement.

Readers with an eye toward the Constitution might say that we already have a right to vote. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” says the 15th Amendment, ratified 145 years ago this month. There’s also the 14th Amendment, which treats the individual right to vote as sacrosanct barring crime or rebellion.

But notice the language. The 15th Amendment forbids governments from denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of identity, but it says nothing about obstacles to exercising the franchise. And while the 24th Amendment forbids poll taxes and other racialized barriers to voting, the Constitution is mum on race-neutral disenfranchisement. Put differently, the Constitution allows voter suppression as long as it doesn’t trip any of its race or gender wires.

The goal of a right-to-vote amendment is to change the dynamic and place the burden on restrictionists. In a sense, it would make the pre–Holder v. Shelby Voting Rights Act a standard for the entire country. States and localities would have to make voting as accessible as possible, with a high standard for new barriers.

And while the odds of winning a right-to-vote amendment are low—one reason Democrats should invest more effort in state elections—there’s tremendous value in mobilizing around the issue. A movement for a right-to-vote amendment could encourage laws and norms that expand participation irrespective of an amendment in that direction. Think of it as a liberal counterpart to the “personhood” amendments used to mobilize anti-abortion conservatives around smaller—but just as potent—limits to abortion rights.

Indeed, if she hasn’t, Hillary Clinton should take notice of this DNC resolution. To win in 2016, Clinton will have to repeat Obama’s performance with black Americans and other minorities. Building that enthusiasm won’t be easy, but something like a right-to-vote proposal could help her start that fire.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, February 25, 2015

February 26, 2015 Posted by | U. S. Constitution, Voter Suppression, Voting Rights Act | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We Expect A Higher Standard From The Old Guard”: Brian Williams’ Lies Are Not Equal To Those Of Fox ‘News’

There’s this speech I give my students. Distilled, it goes like this.

“Your primary asset as a journalist is not your dogged curiosity, your talent for research or your ability to make prose sing on deadline. No, your one indispensable asset is your credibility. If you are not believable, nothing else matters.”

Which brings us, inevitably, to Brian Williams. The NBC Nightly News anchor saw his career crumple like used Kleenex last week after he repeated one time too many a story he has been telling for years: how a U.S. military helicopter on which he was a passenger was shot down over Iraq in 2003.

But the man who was flight engineer on that copter said on Facebook that Williams was never on it. Instead, he was on the one trailing it. Williams apologized for conflating the two, blaming the “fog” of memory.

The incident was remarkably similar to candidate Hillary Clinton’s false 2008 claim that she came under sniper fire as First Lady during a 1996 visit to Bosnia. As it turns out, an American dignitary was shot at in Bosnia — just not Clinton. Rather, it was then-Sen. Olympia Snowe, six months before.

Then, as now, one is tempted to ascribe the lapse to false memory, that phenomenon where you recall with clarity things that never happened. Then, as now, one is hampered by the sheer drama of the events in question. A person may honestly misremember eating at a certain restaurant or seeing a given movie. But you’d think you’d be pretty clear on whether or not somebody almost killed you.

So now, people are poring over old newscasts to determine whether this is an isolated incident. A statement by Williams of seeing bodies outside his hotel during Hurricane Katrina was initially mocked, but has been found on closer inspection to be more credible than first believed.

Fans of Fox “News,” at least to judge from my email queue, are having a ball with all this. I wrote a column a few weeks back blasting Fox for its habitual, ideology-driven inaccuracy. Attacking Fox is not for the faint of heart. Its viewers (like Rush Limbaugh’s listeners) tend to take it personally, responding with such a nasty, visceral outrage that a body might think you’d blasphemed their deity rather than criticized their news outlet. I savaged CNN in this space last year and while some folks took issue, no one called me a “bleephole” or invited me to “bleep” myself. With Fox fans, that’s the salutation.

So this latest news brings a flood of email crowing over Williams’ troubles and demanding I give him equal treatment.

As I wrote in the aforementioned column, serious people do not take Fox seriously. Indeed, consider the level of angst, the sense of expectations betrayed, that has attended Williams’ failure and ask yourself: Would there be a similar outpouring if someone at Fox had told this whopper?

Unlikely.

Fox is what Fox is, but its distortions and mendacities are generally only mistaken for gospel by a stratum of the electorate already predisposed to its bizarre worldview. The rest of us like to think we can expect a higher standard from the old guard of the news media, meaning the likes of CBS, NBC and The New York Times. And usually we can.

But every time that belief is betrayed — meaning not garden variety errors of fact, but catastrophic failures of journalistic integrity — the damage is exponentially greater precisely because the level of trust is exponentially higher. Such failures feed the disaffection and cynicism of a politically polarized nation where the universally accepted fact is an endangered species.

It’s a state of affairs that makes it hard to run a country. Or to be one.

So people asking that I give Brian Williams equal treatment are missing the point. If, indeed, he lied, then his sins are not equal to Fox’s.

They are worse.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr.,  Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, February 11, 2015

February 12, 2015 Posted by | Brian Williams, Fox News, Journalism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Not A Great Sign”: Christie Sinks To Embarrassing New Low In 2016 Poll

Since shortly after the 2012 presidential election, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made it very clear that he plans to run for the White House in 2016. But according to a new survey, Republicans would rather he stay in the Garden State.

That’s the takeaway from a CBS News poll, released Sunday, which asks Americans who they would — and would not — like to see run for president.

Republicans are intrigued by several potential candidates. They agree 59 to 26 percent that Mitt Romney should launch a third presidential bid — a much warmer reception than he’s received from party insiders — and 50 to 27 percent that former Florida governor Jeb Bush should try to become the third member of his family to win the White House. Former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee also polls well, with 40 percent wanting him to run and 29 percent hoping he declines.

But Republicans are much more sour on Christie: Just 29 percent want to see him join the race, while 44 percent disagree. Only former Alaska governor Sarah Palin polls worse, with 59 percent urging her to stay out of the race and 30 percent hoping she jumps in.

Considering that Christie has been traveling the country in a highly publicized shadow campaign, while Palin has been filling her days with impeachment calls and incomprehensible rambling, that’s not a great sign.

It’s not just national Republicans who aren’t crazy about a potential Christie campaign; his own constituents don’t seem very enthused by the idea, either. A Fairleigh Dickinson University poll released last week found that 47 percent of New Jersey voters disapprove of Christie’s job performance, compared to just 39 percent who approve. Furthermore, voters agreed 53 to 32 percent that Christie is more concerned with running for president than being governor, and an overwhelming 72 percent said that Christie’s gubernatorial decisions are influenced by his presidential ambitions.

Previous polls have found likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton walloping Christie in New Jersey in a hypothetical presidential matchup.

According to the CBS poll, Democrats are much more excited for a Clinton campaign than Republicans are about Christie; 85 percent of Democrats want Clinton to run for president, while just 11 percent want her to pass on the race.

 

By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, January 19, 2015

January 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Election 2016, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Tiresome Assertions”: More Revisionist History About Clinton And Obama

I briefly mentioned Michael Gerson’s “Are Democrats Stuck in 1979?” column yesterday, but wasn’t in a big hurry to smack it down. It’s precisely Gerson’s history as the rare conservative willing on occasion to criticize his party’s extremism that probably makes this sort of claim that the other side is even more extreme inevitable.

But some editor or maybe even a history-conscious intern might have warned Gerson that choosing 1979 as the mythical apogee of Democratic liberalism was a bad idea. That’s a year in which a Democratic president began to prepare for a re-election campaign by pushing for a balanced budget and a big increase in defense spending, even as liberal icon Ted Kennedy headed for a humiliating defeat in the primaries.

In any event, here’s the tiresome assertion that really annoys me as a veteran of the New Democrat thing:

President Obama has now effectively undone everything that Clinton and the New Democrats did in the 1980s and ’90s.

Gerson’s not real specific about this claim, though I assume part of his argument would involve resuscitating the Romney-Ryan campaign’s lie that Obama had “gutted” welfare reform. But what else?

Since Gerson appears to assume that Clinton was strictly about appropriating conservative themes, I guess he cannot come to grips with the fact that the Affordable Care Act was based on the “managed competition” model that a lot of New Democrats preferred to Clinton’s own health care proposal, or that Obama’s “cap-and-trade” proposal was relentlessly and redundantly promoted by the New Democratic think tank the Progressive Policy Institute. Just about everything Obama has proposed on tax policy, education policy, infrastructure policy, trade policy and even national security policy has been right out of the Clintonian playbook. Has Gerson noticed that Obama’s not real popular with people on the left wing of the Democratic Party?

Well, never mind; I guess the Obama-the-lefty construct, threadbare as it is, was necessary for Gerson to set up the heads-we-win tails-you-lose proposition that HRC needs to move the Democratic Party to the right or accept that “the political achievements of her husband [have] been washed away.” I do believe Obama was the first Democrat since FDR to be elected twice with a majority of the popular vote; that ought to count for something.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, January 7, 2014

January 9, 2015 Posted by | Bill Clinton, Conservatives, President Obama | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Peacock Festival”: The Perilous Base-Courting Phase Of The 2016 Primaries Begins

Now that Christmas has triumphed yet again in the War on Christmas, taking place as scheduled, we can turn our attention to the presidential primaries. After all, the Iowa caucuses are only 401 days away. For quite a while yet, the candidates are going to spend their time figuring out how to bring base voters over to their side (and you should probably steel yourself for 500 or so repetitions of “It’s all about that base, ’bout that base” jokes from pundits showing they’re down with what the kids are into these days).

Here’s Anne Gearan in today’s Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for president, is working hard to shore up support among liberals in hopes of tamping down a serious challenge from the left in the battle for the 2016 nomination.

Clinton has aligned herself firmly with President Obama since the November midterms on a range of liberal-friendly issues, including immigration, climate change and opening diplomatic relations with Cuba. In an impassioned human rights speech this month, she also condemned the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation tactics and decried cases of apparent police brutality against minorities.

The recent statements suggest a concerted effort by Clinton to appeal to the Democratic Party’s most activist, liberal voters, who have often eyed her with suspicion and who would be crucial to her securing the party’s nomination.

But the positions also tie her ever more tightly to a president who remains broadly unpopular, providing new lines of attack for the many Republicans jostling to oppose her if she runs.

And here’s a story from Mark Preston of CNN:

The first votes of the 2016 campaign won’t be cast for another year but there’s already a race well underway: The Christian primary.

Republicans are actively courting white evangelical and born again Christian voters, knowing they will be crucial in early-voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is urging people to join him next month in Baton Rouge for a day of fasting, repentance and prayer focused on the future of the United States.

On the same day, another gathering will take place in Des Moines, where at least five potential GOP presidential candidates will address Iowa voters on “core principles” that include “social conservatism.”

Later in the story, Preston notes that if Christian conservatives fail to unite behind a single candidate, their power will be diluted and a more “centrist” candidate could get the nomination. Which is both true and false. That could be the series of events, but we shouldn’t be too quick to assign causality (and there are no “centrist” GOP candidates, only some with weightier résumés who the establishment thinks have a better chance of winning; the ideological differences between them are somewhere between tiny and nonexistent). The truth is that the party’s born-again/evangelical base almost never unites behind a single candidate. The only time it has happened in recent decades was in 2000, when George W. Bush easily beat a weak field of opponents.

But there’s no doubt that the courting of the base will indeed occupy much of the candidates’ time. One common but oversimplified narrative has it that they have to do so in order to win the nomination, but it will cost them in the general election. The truth, however, is that this is a much greater danger for the Republicans than the Democrats.

To see why, look at what Clinton is up to. She’s coming out strongly in support of some moves the Obama administration has made recently and talking more about things such as inequality. That will warm liberal Democrats’ hearts, but will it actually hurt her in the general election? It’s unlikely, because her position on all these issues is widely popular. Are voters going to punish her for advocating an end to the Cuba embargo, which 68 percent of Americans believe should happen? Or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which is supported by about the same number? Or some set of populist economic policies, when around two-thirds of Americans say government policies favor the wealthy? Some issues, such as police practices, may not be so clear-cut, but on the whole the things Clinton is saying now are unlikely to turn up in attack ads in October 2016.

The story isn’t quite the same on the Republican side. Christian conservatives actually have relatively few policy demands, and most of them are already covered by what any Republican president would do anyway (such as appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade). What they do demand is a demonstration of affinity and loyalty. They want to know that a candidate loves them and will be there for them throughout his time in the White House.

The danger for Republican candidates is that in the process of showing love to the base, they alienate other Americans. There’s no reason a candidate couldn’t do the former without doing the latter, if he exercised enough care. One area where it may be impossible is same-sex marriage, where the more conservative evangelical voters are still firmly opposed (though those attitudes are slowly changing), while most Americans are in favor. But what those voters mostly want is to be convinced that the candidate is one of them: that he sees the world the same way they do, loves what they love and hates what they hate. In theory, even an allegedly “centrist” candidate can accomplish that. But so often in the process of this courting, they end up looking like either panderers or extremists; that’s what happened to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

In the end, base voters in both parties want to be won over. They don’t want to go into the general election having to support a candidate they can’t stand. They may approach the courtship looking reluctant, but they’re still hoping that there will be a marriage at the end of it. And they don’t need to be convinced that their nominee is the best candidate they could ever hope for — they just want to decide that he or she is good enough. If the candidate loses, they may say afterward, “Well I never liked him anyway.” But in the meantime, getting enough of their votes in the primaries doesn’t depend on being the most religious (for the Republicans) or the most populist (for the Democrats). The question is what you do to make yourself good enough.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 26, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Base Voters, Election 2016, Presidential Primaries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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