The Republicans are doing a dirty election trick of theirs that they always hope nobody remembers from the time before. Whenever things get dicey, the elitists among them try to disenfranchise key groups of voters that they fear will vote for the other side. It's true that the Democratic Party has blots on its record too (glaring example: Southern Democrat attacks on voting rights for blacks). But over all, the Democratic Party has more consistently stood up for voting rights for the little guy. Whereas the Republicans, now and then, deliberately throw the country into a violent national struggle over who gets to vote.
In 1776, when the U.S. declared its independence, the elitists among our founders were in hog heaven, because they got to write the first state constitutions. So they made sure that all voters were white property-owning male Protestants. But through the 1800s and into the 1900s, as our nation grew more diverse and needful of democratic process, the elitists had to be dragged kicking and screaming, step by agonizing step, towards universal suffrage. They had to [gasp] let Catholics, Jews and assorted other non-Christians vote. Then they had to give the vote to [arrgh] women, and [shudder] native American tribes, and [horrors] people who didn't pay property taxes. And finally... finally [omg] they had to let black people vote.
Traditionally, the Democrats are includist, not elitist. They tend to do the opposite -- register lots of new Dem voters, instead of tit for tat and knocking Republican voters off the rolls.
Today, in the dreariest of history repeating itself, the elitists see that their take on the 2008 campaign issues is not endearing them to many Americans. So they've gone to the dirty tricks again. Their loyal apparatchiks are out there in various states, quietly undermining whole blocs of Democratic voters by removing names from the voter rolls. People whose homes are in foreclosure, homeless people, recently registered voters, and people who don't have easy access to their born-in-the-U.S. information, are among those who are getting a shocking surprise when they get to the polls.
Two distinguished investigative reporters, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Greg Palast, have teamed up for a story that everyone should read. Titled "Block the Vote," it is available at Rolling Stone online. The story details how the 2002 Help Americans Vote Act (HAVA) is being subverted by Republicans in order to hinder, not help. RFK Jr., nephew of Senator Ted Kennedy, has spent the last couple of years reporting on vote finagling by the elitist establishment.
Roosevelt vs. Hoover
No wonder the Republicans have an elephant for their party emblem -- they never forget. They can't forget that they see themselves as the privileged few. They remember that voter disenfranchisement is a tried-and-true strategy. They remember the times that it has been a powerful weapon. And they always believe with all their might that the strategy has an extra-good chance of working during an economic crisis.
The last time of crisis when Republicans tried to rob voters blind was during the Great Depression -- when the country was torn in two politically, as it is now.
During the 1932 campaign and the fierce race between Franklin Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover, the same brand of elitist Republicans got busy with denying the vote to poor people and jobless people who were likely to vote Democratic. They had already started with blacks, by demanding payment of poll taxes that were too steep for most. Next, some Republican state committees started invoking the so-called "pauper laws," hold-overs from the 19th century that barred you from voting if you didn't pay property taxes. The committees insisted that "states' rights" gave states the right to limit suffrage any way they pleased.
But the Republican attacks on suffrage backfired. Americans were in no mood to put up with them. The appeal of Roosevelt's message was too strong -- "relief, recovery and reform." (Sound familiar?) FDR was elected in 1932, 1936, 1940, and 1944. But the Republicans didn't let up. After FDR launched his programs of government relief, the elitists worked at actually expanding the reach of pauper laws, aiming to disenfranchise jobless Democrats who were getting government relief.
In short, the Republicans targeted the Democratic vote for sabotage -- just like today. To top it off, the party kept accusing FDR of being a "socialist" and a "communist," like they're doing to Obama today. But the voters kept FDR in office for a record number of terms, through World War II.
With the war over and the nation embarked on post-war prosperity, the government finally was compelled to deal with the festering old suffrage problems for blacks. Poll taxes, literacy tests, etc. were axed by the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Will Americans See the Trick?
Today, as one of those Americans who paid attention in history class, I wonder about the Republican Party's long and relentless dedication to vote-murdering.
It's nothing the elitists should be proud of...but they are proud, in an spooky kind of way. All you have to do is listen to McCain and Palin talk about the "real America." Of course, you won't see either candidate saying openly that they support the voter-bashing by their own party. But in their hearts, the elitists always believe that they're being "real Americans" when they narrow the access to suffrage, when they deny people the opportunity to vote for "un-American" candidates like Obama.
So I wonder -- with a shiver down my spine -- if American voters are going to see through the dirty trick this time, the way they did in the 1930s. Are they going to see through the "socialist" and "terrorist" name-calling? Will enough of them remember that we've been at this fatal crossroads before?
Are voters going to see the ACORN "scandal" for what it is -- a red herring? It's a variant on the usual Republican strategy of attacking votes, but in my opinion it aims to divert media attention away from the Republican sabotage of voter lists. Their goal is to attack the Democrat voter-registration habit, alleging that fraudulent registrations were gotten by ACORN, and that Obama is somehow personally responsible. The scandal was launched shortly before the election, in hopes that Obama couldn't repair his image till it's too late. And so far, the plotters are getting their media drama -- mainstream news media have been all over this story for two weeks.
But now the Republicans have to prove all their allegations. So far, in New Mexico, all the voters alleged to be fraudulent ACORN registrations have been verified as legitimate by state election authorities. On October 17, Obama's campaign demanded that the ACORN investigation be taken away from the FBI and put in the hands of a special prosecutor. They asked that the inquiry "include a review of any involvement by Justice Dept. and White House officials in supporting the McCain-Palin campaign [and RNC's] systematic development and dissemination of unsupported, spurious allegations of vote fraud."
Other Elephant attacks on voter rolls have already gone the route in court. And so far the Republicans aren't doing too well. Today they got clobbered in the key state of Ohio, as the U.S. Supreme Court threw out their lawsuit attempting to cut tens of thousands of new registrations off the rolls. In Montana the other day, the executive director of the Montana Republican Party was forced to resign after a foiled attempt to challenge 6000 Democratic voters.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula snapped, "The timing of these challenges is so transparent that it defies common sense to believe the purpose is anything but political chicanery."
However, both campaigns have assembled task forces of lawyers. After November 4, the country might still be trapped in a snarl of extreme "Court TV" dramas, as more legal issues around votes are thrashed out. We might not have a new President and Vice President right away.
Room for Hope
I wonder if it occurs to the elitists, this time, that they might do deadly damage to this country that they say they love so much? The country is bigger, more diverse, more populous, more tense and explosive than it was in the Thirties. As the voter crowds get more intense in the next two weeks, the outrage of people who find they can't vote in this all-important election might result in civil disturbances.
But once again, we've been there, done that. The 1930s were jarred by strikes and disturbances, with the National Guard called here and there. Yet somehow we managed to get through the Thirties without becoming a dictatorship -- indeed, we pulled ourselves together enough to help our Allies smash a couple of dictatorships in Europe and Asia.
I hope that this pathological Republican attack on voting rights will fail in 2008 -- as it failed in the 1930s. Let's hope that citizen outrage over a problematical election doesn't lead to troops clanking through the streets. Hopefully it will lead where it led in the Thirties -- to a Democratic administration that keeps its promises of change, that eases the distress of our neediest people.
I also hope that the victorious Democrats will launch an election reform. HAVA needs to get all the elitist-friendly bugs taken out of it. We should get rid of the electoral college, because it's a relic of Old World elitism. Our broad suffrage for a huge population needs to supported by voting technology that makes the process accurate and trustworthy for millions of people. We need to make sure that any ID requirement we adopt doesn't put legitimate voters in jeopardy. The 80-year-old Mississippi lady whose birth certificate can't be located by the state office of vital statistics, but who voted in every Presidential election since God was a pup, should be grandfathered in. There should be an agency or program or nonprofit that helps these problem cases get their paperwork in order.
The Democrats had better make damn sure they re-secure and protect our voting rights. Because the lesson of history is -- we can't trust the Republicans to do it.
Indeed -- the Republicans are making our country a sorry example for the rest of the world. While the United States still pretends to be a world leader and exporter of democracy, right now we can't run our own elections in a democratic manner.
A good backgrounder book to read:
The Right to Vote, by Alexander Keyssar