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“Letting The Right People Vote”: Control And Power Through Voter Suppression

For some years, the Republican party has tried to convince Americans that they have put their ugly legacy on issues of race behind them, that Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” and Willie Horton have no relationship to the GOP of today. They call themselves the “party of Lincoln,” hoping people will forget that the Republican and Democratic parties were very different in 1864 than they are today. (Consider: If the likes of John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and the rest of the leading lights of the GOP had been alive 150 years ago, which side would they have been on? The answer seems pretty obvious.) Sometimes, they may even go as far as the National Review did recently, publishing an unintentionally hilarious cover article claiming that Republicans are the real civil-rights heroes, because the Democratic party was once home to white Southern segregationists, so there! Never mind that those folks, like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, eventually found their rightful home in the Republican party, as part of the realignment process that gave us the parties of today.

The protestations would be a little more convincing if every election—every election, without fail—didn’t see Republicans searching for new ways to exploit white racial animus and, more importantly, keep minorities from voting. This year’s election will be no different; Republicans are working harder than ever to make sure that if you’re not their kind of person, you will find voting as difficult as possible. That doesn’t mean that deep in their hearts Republicans are racists. It isn’t about hate. It’s about power.

This isn’t anything new. The history of voting in America is one of vicious battles over who would be able to cast ballots, battles that go well beyond the passage of the 15th and 19th Amendments, which extended voting rights to blacks and women, respectively. For decades, dozens of states had “pauper exclusions” on their books preventing poor people from voting. In some cases that meant that only property owners were allowed to vote; in other cases, going on any form of public assistance meant giving up your franchise. Incredibly, these laws were not finally repealed in most places until the 1960s. As Alexander Keyssar detailed in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, classes of people with power have always sought to restrict the ability of those without power to vote:

They did so both to defend their own interests and because their beliefs and prejudices led them to view others as something less than responsible or worthy citizens. Most men did not want to enfranchise women until the twentieth century; most whites did not want to enfranchise blacks or other racial minorities in their own states; the native-born often were resistant to granting suffrage to immigrants; the wealthy at times sought to deny political citizenship to the poor; established community residents preferred to fence out new arrivals. There is nothing peculiarly American or particularly surprising about these patterns; those who possess political power commonly are reluctant to share it, and they have easily developed or embraced ideas that justify and legitimize that reluctance.

At various times in their histories, both political parties have sought partisan advantage in keeping certain people from the polls. But it has been some time since the Democratic party had a means by which to exclude whole classes of people from voting. The most reliable Republican voters today are groups like older white men. Even the most creative legislator would have a tough time coming up with some way to take away their voting rights.

But the reliably Democratic groups—blacks, Hispanics, poor people, young people—are easier to go after. You don’t have to stop all of them from voting, just enough to make a difference. And few things work better than voter ID laws, since those who don’t have such an ID are so much more likely to be the kind of people who vote Democratic. The fact that people impersonating other people at the polls is so rare as to be almost non-existent matters not at all. Write a voter ID law, and the cruder methods of keeping minorities from voting become less necessary. You don’t have to spend as much time distributing flyers in black neighborhoods threatening people with prosecution if they go to the wrong polling place, or mailing notices to voters claiming that if they have any unpaid parking tickets they won’t be allowed to vote, or posting signs around the neighborhood saying that the election has been moved to Wednesday.

All those things have happened may times before. But after their success in taking control of state legislatures in 2010, Republicans decided that kind of thing was for amateurs. You don’t need election day shenanigans if you’ve passed a law disenfranchising the right people. Minorities may be at the core of these efforts, but it isn’t just about them. Young people, college students, ex-felons, anyone who might be more likely to vote Democratic has been targeted by eager Republican legislators elected in the 2010 sweep. A dozen states with Republican legislatures have erected new barriers to voting since 2010. These barriers include voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting and same-day registration, and laws barring all ex-felons from voting. And no state’s Republicans have moved as aggressively as Florida, which has a bit of a history with this sort of thing.

You may have forgotten it by now, but the razor-thin margin of the 2000 presidential race there had its roots well before election day, when governor Jeb Bush and Secretary of State Katherine Harris assembled a list of people who were allegedly ex-felons and should therefore lose their voting rights. It turned out that thousands of them weren’t ex-felons at all, but just had names that resembled someone who had committed a felony. But too bad – they lost the right to vote anyway. In the last few years, Florida has passed an ID law, and passed a law imposing absurdly onerous requirements on those who register voters (voter registration is always a part of liberal and Democratic organizing campaigns). They also restricted early voting, most importantly by eliminating early voting on the Sunday before the election. Why that Sunday? Well, many black churches were organizing “Souls to the Polls” voting drives after church on that day. The Republicans solved that problem. And most recently, the government of Republican governor Rick Scott told local boards of elections to purge tens of thousands of people from the voter rolls, on the grounds that they might not be citizens. Many Florida citizens have already gotten threatening letters from the government, telling them they had 30 days to prove their citizenship or lose the right to vote.

Many of these plainly partisan moves are under legal challenge, but our system unfortunately allows much of what Republicans are trying to do. For instance, when the 2000 election controversy revealed the miasma of corruption and incompetence that was the Florida election system, many people were amazed that the Secretary of State, the person in charge of running the election, could be allowed to serve as state co-chair of one of the competing presidential campaigns. The idea that Bush co-chair Katherine Harris was an objective arbiter of election rules and processes was beyond absurd; it was like going to a Yankees-Red Sox game and learning that the home-plate umpire was also the Yankees’ batting coach. But that’s perfectly fine in America; you might remember that four years later, the Secretary of State in Ohio, Ken Blackwell (the state co-chair for the Bush-Cheney campaign) responded to a successful Democratic registration campaign by issuing a decree that any registration form not printed on heavy card stock would be declared invalid (his order was overturned by a court). And just recently the Arizona Secretary of State, Ken Bennett, declared that he might not allow Barack Obama on the state’s ballot, since he wasn’t convinced Obama was actually born in the United States. Bennett, who eventually backed off his birtherism, is–you guessed it–the state co-chair of the Romney campaign.

Few things are more absurd than to hear Republicans claim that in enacting restrictive voting laws, they are motivated not a whit by partisanship, but only by their deep and abiding concern for the integrity of the ballot. The Republicans who swept into office at all levels in 2010 had a policy agenda, to do things like restrict reproductive rights, roll back environmental and consumer regulations, and cut taxes. But their political agenda, designed to increase the chances that they will retain power, got nearly as much of their attention. And few things can more effectively ensure that you’ll retain power than making it harder for the wrong kind of people to vote.

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 4, 2012

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Mitt Romney Enjoys Your Pain”: Normal People Don’t Smile About Unemployment

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s reaction to high unemployment is creepy.

During an interview with CBS reporter Jan Crawford last week, Romney smirked as he mentioned that unemployment has remained above 8 percent for 39 months. Then, as the interview ended, he smirked again after saying President Obama had hoped the Recovery Act would reduce joblessness to 6 percent by now.

Romney is loving high unemployment. Just like the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives that has repeatedly blocked President Obama’s proposals to increase hiring, Romney believes high joblessness is good for the GOP. It’s one thing for a politician to know in his heart of hearts that a calamity for the country may help him achieve his ambitions. It’s another to be so callous as to beam about it on TV.

The nation’s sustained high unemployment disheartens any normal human being. Friday’s report that only 69,000 jobs were created in May was troubling — that is, to anyone who has ever been laid off or had a friend or relative or neighbor who lost a job. They know the feelings of fear, depression and guilt that accompany job loss. They’ve experienced the suffering as job applications are rejected, bills pile up and foreclosure is threatened. Normal people don’t smile about high unemployment; they cringe.

Romney contends he’s the fella to fix those unemployment numbers. But his record as CEO of Bain Capital and governor of Massachusetts provides little evidence of that. The focus of Bain was never job creation. It was money making. And if making money meant destroying jobs, that’s what Bain did.

An analysis by the Wall Street Journal of the companies Bain bought in the 15 years Romney ran it found that 22 percent went bankrupt or closed within eight years. That’s untold thousands of workers who lost their jobs and untold thousands of Bain creditors who endured losses because of bad Bain business practices.

Romney has frequently contended Bain created 100,000 jobs while he led it. The Washington Post fact checker awarded that claim three Pinocchios. After Republican rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry chanted, “show us the jobs,” Romney lowered the number. Kinda significantly. Down to tens of thousands of jobs. Finally, Romney cut the figure even further, releasing a campaign video saying he’d created “thousands of jobs.”

If “thousands” is true, that’s good. But, frankly, “thousands” over 15 years is hardly a bragging point for a candidate who contends his private sector experience will enable him to create the millions of jobs the nation needs.

Romney’s job generation as governor of Massachusetts doesn’t instill much confidence in his ability to perform on the national level either. Massachusetts added 45,800 jobs in the four years he was governor. While that’s positive, it occurred during a time of economic expansion nationally, not during the grave recession President Obama inherited.

In addition, Massachusetts’ net jobs growth declined to 1.4 percent during Romney’s governorship, significantly lower than the 5.8 percent growth in the rest of the nation. In fact, Massachusetts dropped to 47th for job growth during Romney’s reign, far lower than during his predecessor’s time.

Romney claimed at one point during the campaign that he was unemployed, and laughed about it. But this quarter billionaire doesn’t have a clue what it’s like to really be jobless or desperate. This is the silver-spoon son of a car company executive, a man who attended exclusive private schools, a man who handed his own son $10 million to help start his business, a man who has a car elevator in his $9 million California beach house.

This is a candidate who mocked NASCAR fans for wearing cheap rain slickers while his wife wears $1,000 silk t-shirts. This is an owner of three homes valued at a total of $20 million who opposed helping underwater homeowners, saying the foreclosure crisis should “run its course and hit bottom.”

This is a man who actually said he likes to fire people. Not hire people. Fire people. Here’s what he said:

“I like being able to fire people who provide services to me.”

The slow jobs growth in May is not surprising, frankly, considering the economic contraction occurring in Europe and even in China. In the 17-nation Eurozone, unemployment now has risen to a record 11 percent, far higher than in the United States where Obama’s Recovery Act prevented the country from falling off the cliff into another Great Depression.

Unlike the United States and China, both of which invested in stimulus, Europe chose austerity. Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Great Britain now are suffering economic contraction and distress caused by austerity.

That’s what Romney and the Republicans propose for America. Austerity. Job contraction. Recession. Suffering.

It’s not true what Romney says about Americans. They aren’t jealous of his wealth. They don’t care that he and his wife ride $100,000 horses. They just want to be able to afford a rocking horse for their kid. They don’t care about the Romneys’ vacations in France. They just want to be able to save enough to get the kids a season pass to the municipal pool.

They don’t, however, want their country run by a guy who can’t conceive what it’s like to be unemployed and has made no effort to find out. They don’t want to be led by a guy who likes firing people. They don’t want a president who finds enjoyment in high unemployment.


BY: Leo W. Gerard, The Huffington Post, June 4, 2012

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“We’ve Heard it All Before”: Hey Mitt, You Can’t Cry For Teacher When You Started The Fight

The latest attack from the Obama campaign takes aim on Romney’s rhetoric and record in Massachusetts.

The latest Obama campaign ad—which will air mainly in swing states—continues the attack on Mitt Romney’s record in Massachusetts:

This attack goes directly to the heart of Romney’s presidential campaign. The Republican nominee has based his entire on argument on the claim that—by dint of his business experience—he is uniquely qualified to lead the country into a more robust recovery. Indeed, private sector experience has totemic properties in Romney’s narrative; Obama is a failure because he’s “never met a payroll” and “doesn’t understand the economy,” while Romney sees business as the most important qualification a president can have.

But, with a quote from Romney’s gubernatorial campaign—“I know how jobs are created”—the Obama campaign raises a basic question: When Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts he used his business experience as proof he could create jobs for Massachusetts, instead, he led the state to the bottom of the pack for job creation. Now, running for president, he’s using the same arguments. Why should we expect different results this time? This is a play on the familiar trope of the businessperson who talks more than they deliver, and it could be an effective assault on Romney’s perceived competence, especially if paired with continued attacks on Bain Capital.

The Romney campaign has had an interesting and familiar response to this attack. As Pema Levy points out at Talking Points Memo, the Romney team correctly hits Obama for neglecting the extent to which the former governor inherited a bad situation. Here’s Ed Gillespie, a surrogate for the Romney campaign:

“This is what they’re doing, Chris,” Gillespie said. “You take the first year, which is a low base year when the governor came in and took office, because it was 50th in job creation out of all of the states, dead last … and they’re averaging out over the four years. So, they are bringing down the gains of his fourth year in office, which shows the real impact of his policies and diluting it with the first year in office.”

This is exactly what the Romney campaign is doing with regards to Obama’s economic record. By blaming Obama for job losses that occurred before his policies passed or took effect, the Romney team is able to say that the United States lost jobs under his tenure. But if you count from when Obama’s policies took effect, then you end up with more than two years of private sector job growth.

This situation is similar to the one that developed last year, when the Romney team hammered Obama with a deeply misleading ad that took the president’s words out of context. When Democrats responded with their own set of context-free attacks, the Romney campaign cried foul. In other words, if the Romney campaign insists on using misleading attacks, then it has to expect that the same treatment in response. You can’t cry for teacher when you’re the one who started the fight.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, June 4, 2012

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Movement Determined To Right A Wrong”: Wisconsin Gives Progressives Something To Build On

On Tuesday, all eyes will be watching to see whether Wisconsin voters will keep labor-bashing right-winger Scott Walker (R) in the governor’s mansion. But win or lose, the real story is the 15 months of people power leading up to this day. The real lesson lies in more than a year of progressive organizing, petitioning, canvassing and campaigning for the cause. The real result is a progressive movement that is deeper and broader than before.

When Walker’s opponents needed 540,208 signatures to trigger the recall election, Wisconsin’s progressives responded by collecting more than a million. They filled 152,000 pages — weighty evidence of the power of a group of people determined to right a wrong.

And the effects have rippled outward. The sight of 70,000 protesters — teachers, firefighters, nurses, students, parents with children – occupying the Wisconsin State Capitol in February 2011 ignited activists around the country. Just as the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt motivated people around the world, including in Wisconsin, the occupation of the Madison statehouse helped inspire the occupation of Wall Street a few months later.

Let me state the obvious: I want the recall to succeed. A victory for Democrat Tom Barrett would not only create an opportunity to roll back Walker’s worst anti-labor, budget-slashing measures, but would also send a clear message to those who are masquerading as deficit hawks around the country: We’ve had it with starve-the-beast politics. We’re done with leaders whose idea of austerity is to cut education, health care and vital public services in order to give more tax breaks to their millionaire friends.

Walker’s GOP legislature, like so many Republican statehouses around the country, has pursued a “divide and conquer” strategy, as Walker himself admitted to a billionaire donor. His legislative efforts, backed up by the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the extremist, corporate-funded group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), are meant to cripple labor unions and disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

Make no mistake — Walker knows his recall has the potential to be a resounding progressive victory. That’s why he’s raised $31 million to stay in office, compared with $4 million raised by his opponent. Two-thirds of Walker’s money has come from outside Wisconsin, and his donor list reads like a list of Who’s Who of America’s Billionaires. Sheldon Adelson — Gingrich’s Daddy Warbucks — and Amway founder Richard DeVos have each given Walker $250,000. And remember the “Swift boat” ads against Kerry? Houston home builder Bob Perry, who backed that smear campaign, wrote Walker checks totaling $500,000. As the recall fight comes to an end, this record amount of money from ultraconservative outsiders has kept Walker alive.

Money in politics is nothing new. In 1816, Thomas Jefferson lamented that corporations that “challenge our government to a trial of strength” were undermining the will of the people. But the battle lines have radically shifted. Ever since the Citizens United ruling welcomed unrestricted corporate money into our elections, the interests of the 99 percent have been badly outmatched by anonymously sourced dollars.

Indeed, we are witnessing the first major battle between astronomical numbers of people and astronomical amounts of money.

As I write this, Walker leads in the polls, and if progressive turnout is merely ordinary, he will likely win. On the other hand, if we see the same groundswell today as on the days that led to this one, Walker can be defeated. Yet, big as this election is, it is only the first test of the progressive response to an electoral landscape overrun with money from corporations and wealthy individuals.

By attacking labor unions, flooding Wisconsin with outside cash and trying to cleanse the electorate of people who don’t look, earn or think like him, Walker has taken aim at more than a single campaign cycle or a series of policies; his real targets are the pillars of American progressivism itself. With the Romney campaign gearing up, and super PACs taking to the national airwaves, we face an unprecedented, well-funded assault on our basic values.

But progressives aren’t backing down. They’re just getting started.

So when the results come in, reflect on the vast organizing effort that brought Wisconsin to this moment — and imagine where it still has the potential to go. Elections are over in a matter of hours, but movements are made of weeks, months and years. The Declaration of Sentiments was issued at Seneca Falls in 1848, yet women did not gain the right to vote until seven decades later. The Civil War ended with a Union victory in 1865, yet the Voting Rights Act was not passed until a century later. Auto workers held the historic Flint sit-down strike in 1936-37, yet the fight for a fair, unionized workforce persists 75 years later.

And in the last 15 months, Wisconsin’s progressives have shown us that the battle against bankrolled austerity can be bravely waged by an army of dedicated people committed to protecting working families. They’ve reminded us that good organizing is our only chance to withstand the blitzkrieg of corporate funded advertising — and better yet, leave a lasting mark. Their movement, with thousands of new Wisconsin activists mobilized, energized and educated, can be permanent — and it can keep growing.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, June 4, 2012


June 5, 2012 Posted by | Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Service To The Nation”: Obama Has The Right And Duty To Highlight Romney’s Record

Has the Obama Campaign Gone Too Negative?

Your question presumes “negative campaigns” are a problem. Like everything else they can go too far, but negative campaigning began with the very first elections. In ancient Rome, Cicero railed against his opponents for incest with a sister, debauchery with actors, thuggery with gladiators, not to mention child molestation with boys so young they were “almost in their parents’ laps.” In our first presidential election, Thomas Jefferson’s opponents argued that if he were elected, “Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced…” In our more genteel times, such attacks would be far out of bounds.

Negative campaigning happens because it works. It works in part because negative information is useful. We naturally look for the negative. When an employer rummages through a pile of resumes, she is looking for the easy disqualification, the reason to discard a few candidates. Unlike their more pleasant, positive counterparts, negative ads tend to include at least one verifiable fact. While positive ads often feature a candidate, jacket slung over a shoulder, mouthing platitudes in the company of an adoring family, negative ads describe votes cast, positions taken, failed efforts, and values forsaken.

Our brains are wired to weigh this kind of information heavily. Decades of research in psychology demonstrates that negative information is processed more quickly and more deeply than positive information, providing a biological basis for negative campaigns. They conform to human nature.

So-called negative campaigning isn’t all bad—and sometimes it’s both fair and necessary. The natural state of an election involving an incumbent president is to be a referendum on that incumbent—an up or down vote on the individual occupying the Oval Office. That’s not only unfair to the president, its unhealthy for the country. Elections actually confront us with choices, choices between two different individuals with different histories, different philosophies, different values, and different platforms. Voters should think of the campaign as a choice.

Bringing former Gov. Mitt Romney’s faults to the fore helps the American people see this election as the choice it is. That’s both good for the president and good for the country. As long as the blows aren’t below the belt and focus on what former Governor Romney has done, what he believes, and what he will do, there is nothing at all untoward about the tack taken by the president’s campaign. In fact, it’s a service to the nation.

June 5, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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