The Republicans and Democrats do seem to want all Americans to get out and vote this November – Republicans want to toss Obama out on his ear and Democrats want to keep him sitting pretty – but in late September they face an uphill battle. Political junkies and policy wonks might be listening to what they’re saying, and others who have told that they should be frightened about losing their Social Security and Medicare, or those who have been told that they should be frightened that the wrong sort of people are receiving Social Security and Medicare and other government goodies, those freeloaders who didn’t work for that stuff and thus earn it, who also look funny and talk funny. No one else is paying attention. No one seems particularly frightened.
The Republicans have also been saying that everyone should be far beyond frightened by the national debt and by the haunting notion that America may become Greece – but that may be a fool’s errand. Few follow such things, and fewer can work out the key differences between the national debt and the nation’s net deficit, and its subset, the trade deficit, and the implications of each in regard to structural inflation and the strength of the dollar in relation to the value of fixed assets, and why long-term bond yields for the last two years show no one else in the world is worried about any of it at all. A strong dollar does sound kind of neat – it sounds quite patriotic – but a weak dollar allows others around the world to buy much more of our stuff, which is good and gooses our economy. On the other hand, when the value of the dollar falls in relation to other currencies… well, then those sitting on lots of cash lose out big time. Their hoards of dollars are worth less and less each day and thus the choice seems to be between encouraging growth and protecting the value of the assets you have. It seems you can’t have both.
It’s complicated, and because it is most voters just tune out. The deficit hawks, all Republican, make their pitch, over and over – stop spending right now – but most folks are already sure the government spends far too much, and certainly borrows far too much to do it, but are just as sure that what the government spends on them is just fine and the government really shouldn’t stop any of that stuff. This must drive Republicans to tears. Their argument, that we should stop all spending now, may not drive anyone to the polls, because the Republicans have to keep saying just what they won’t stop spending on – your Social Security, your Medicare, your being about to deduct mortgage interest on your house, or fixing that bridge you cross every day or that school your kid attends, the one that needs a new roof. And they will never cut a dime in military spending – they’ll increase it, even of the Pentagon doesn’t even want any of the new gizmos. They have to say that – they’re patriots. So the list of exceptions grows and grows and after a while folks stop listening. It’s just politicians talking, and it’s also still early. November seems a long way off, as does Greece.
That doesn’t mean they won’t stop talking, and this Sunday’s shows showed that – in the evening CBS offered dueling interviews with Romney and Obama on 60 Minutes – where nothing new was said. Romney said his campaign was going just fine and it didn’t need a reboot or any such thing, and no one should pay attention to the polls. Obama said that his biggest disappointment was that he and his crew haven’t changed the tone in Washington as much as he would have liked. Yawn. It wasn’t much of a catch and on NBC the Ravens were playing the Patriots. That was more interesting, even if you don’t care much about football at all. On the other hand, down in Florida, Paul Ryan did tell Florida seniors that Obamacare includes actual Death Panels – the government really will kill granny when they deem her old and useless. Somewhere Sarah Palin was smiling. And also on Sunday the Romney campaign pulled his wife from all appearances – Ann had ripped other Republicans for criticizing Mitt, saying this was hard and if they thought they could do better they should try it, if they thought they were so smart. The campaign seems to have decided defensive angry whining wasn’t the way to go. They gave her a time-out.
That was interesting, as were the morning shows. Prachi Gupta at salon.com watched those so you didn’t have to:
On “Face the Nation,” conservative op-ed writer and Romney critic Peggy Noonan said Republicans thanked her for her critical column in private: “I will tell you, Bob, it was very interesting. There was a lot of formal official and public blowback from the Romney campaign, from Romney surrogates, et cetera. What was interesting to me, however, was that privately, the constant communication I got was, thank you for saying that they need help at the Romney campaign, they need to be woken up, and that they need to raise their game.”
Elsewhere there was the New York Times’ David Brooks:
“Mitt Romney does not have the passion for the stuff he’s talking about,” Brooks said. “He’s a problem solver. I think he’s a non-ideological person running in an extremely ideological age, and he’s faking it. So if I were him, I’d go to what he’s been for the last several decades of his life: be a PowerPoint guy. Say ‘I’m making a sales pitch to the country here are the four things I’m going to reform. You don’t have to love me but I’m going to do these four things for you.’ And so I’d do a much more wonky and detailed thing than he’s done so far.”
And there was the advice for the Romney Team from the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol:
“They need to focus on the next four years,” he said. “If this election is just about the last four years, that’s a muddy verdict. Bush was president during the financial meltdown. The Obama team has turned that around pretty well. The Clinton speech at the convention was very important in that way – how horrible was it four years ago.”
“Romney has got to make it a referendum on the choice of the next four years, and explain what Obama would do over the next four years that would be bad for the country, and what he would do that would be good for the country.”
The editor of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall, finds that interesting:
So, the new message is: Barack Obama’s did reasonably well in his first term but don’t vote for him again. Because it will be awful. That’s a challenging sell.
Of course, Kristol is saying the argument should be made on ideological grounds, to raise the contest to a choice between ideologies. But this is almost never how an incumbent president gets turned out of office, regardless of which ideologies are in play.
Kristol may not want to go there:
I think it’s basically a waste of time to indulge this – the argument about whether this is basically a center-right or center-left country. But on the key policy questions this campaign has turned on – tax fairness, social insurance (Medicare/Social Security) and foreign policy – Romney’s positions are not very popular. That’s why up until now – wisely – he’s generally not wanted to talk about them. And on top of that, I see little evidence the public has an appetite for an ideologue of any variety.
All the suggestions amount to getting Romney to run against Obama on really the worst possible footing. We had a referendum on Obama, first. But that didn’t take. That’s been followed by a referendum on Romney, which the Obama campaign managed to engineer and which has gone terribly for Romney. So now to the get conversation off Romney, who’s unpopular, the Romney campaign must make it a referendum on conservative ideology which in key respects is not popular. And all this while the country’s objective economic condition remains feeble and should give a challenger more than enough to work with.
Marshall argues that Romney bet it all on the premise that four years of unemployment over eight percent would be enough to drive Obama out of office. Now it’s clear that’s not so, and Romney “simply had no Plan B.” It’s as simple as that.
But there always was a Plan B. It just wasn’t a plan to drive voters to the polls:
The combined effects of voter roll purges, demands for proof of citizenship and photo identification requirements in several states may hinder at least 10 million Hispanic citizens who seek to vote this fall, civil rights advocates warn in a new report.
Hispanic voters are considered pivotal to the presidential election this November, and are being heavily courted by both Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. If they turn out in large numbers, Hispanics could sway the outcome in several swing states.
In an analysis based on government data, civil rights group The Advancement Project identified legal barriers that could deter voter registration and participation among eligible Hispanics. In some of those states, the group’s researchers said, the number of voter-eligible Latino citizens potentially blocked by those barriers exceeds the margin of victory in the 2008 election.
“Like African Americans, Latinos have experienced decreased access and correspondingly lower levels of voter registration and participation than non-Hispanic whites,” said the report, which was being released Monday.
That was the big story Sunday – these are eligible citizens who will lose their right to vote. That’s a Plan B and also explains another Sunday talker, Ann Coulter on ABC’s This Week with this bit of political theory:
“I think what – the way liberals have treated blacks like children and many of their policies have been harmful to blacks, at least they got the beneficiary group right… There is the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws. We don’t owe the homeless. We don’t owe feminists. We don’t owe women who are desirous of having abortions, but that’s – or – or gays who want to get married to one another. That’s what civil rights have become for much of the left… I think civil rights are for blacks… What have we done to the immigrants? We owe black people something. We have a legacy of slavery. Immigrants haven’t even been in this country.”
We owe Hispanics nothing – an interesting theory – and thus keeping them from voting is no big deal. That’s a Plan B and there’s not all that much new about it:
In the 1964 presidential elections, a young political operative named Bill guarded a largely African-American polling place in South Phoenix, Arizona like a bull mastiff. Bill was a legal whiz who knew the ins and outs of voting law and insisted that every obscure provision be applied, no matter what. He even made those who spoke accented English interpret parts of the constitution to prove that they understood it. The lines were long, people fought, got tired or had to go to work, and many of them left without voting. It was a notorious episode long remembered in Phoenix political circles.
It turned out that it was part of a Republican Party strategy known as “Operation Eagle Eye”, and “Bill” was future Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist. He was confronted with his intimidation tactics in his confirmation hearings years later, and characterized his behaviour as simple arbitration of polling place disputes. In doing so, he set a standard for GOP dishonesty and obfuscation surrounding voting rights that continues to this day.
There’s nothing new here. If you can’t drive voters TO the polls you drive them AWAY from the polls. There always was a Plan B. It’s just that people are beginning to notice it in full operation now, as in the new essay by Elizabeth Drew in the New York Review of Books, Voting Wrongs – and Drew doesn’t like what she sees:
Having covered Watergate and the impeachment of Richard Nixon, and more recently written a biography of Nixon, I believe that the wrongdoing we are seeing in this election is more menacing even than what went on then. During Watergate… the president and his aides attempted to interfere with the nominating process of the opposition party. But the current voting rights issue is even more serious: it’s a coordinated attempt by a political party to fix the result of a presidential election by restricting the opportunities of members of the opposition party’s constituency – most notably blacks – to exercise a Constitutional right.
This is the worst thing that has happened to our democratic election system since the late nineteenth century, when legislatures in southern states systematically negated the voting rights blacks had won in the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Is it that bad? Andrew Cohen in the Atlantic reminds us of a few things:
On March 15, 1965, in the heat of the moment for what would become known as the Voting Rights Act, just eight days after a young John Lewis had his skull cracked by a lawman on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just a few hours after President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress on civil rights, Republican Senator Everett Dirksen issued his own weekly radio and television report to his Illinois constituents.
At the time, Sen. Dirksen was the ranking Republican member of a Senate Judiciary Committee controlled by James Eastland, the racist Democratic senator from Mississippi, the man who had called the ominous disappearance in his state of civil rights workers Schwerner, Cheney, and Goodman “a publicity stunt.” Of the need for federal legislation to protect the rights of minority voters, Sen. Dirksen, the Senate Minority Leader, said this:
“There has to be a real remedy. There has to be something durable and worthwhile. This cannot go on forever, this denial of the right to vote by ruses and devices and tests and whatever the mind can contrive to either make it very difficult or to make it impossible to vote…. All this is then by way of saying that the job of freedom in all its glorious aspects never seems to be quite consummated. Freedom and its attributes, the right of a free citizen to vote is somehow a battle that is never quite fully won in any time or generation and so now the torch is lighted for us and the mantel falls on our shoulders to carry on where those before us left off.”
The measure, as everyone now knows, passed into law.
Those days are long gone:
On the one hand the conservative Court reached out (in Citizens United) to make it easier for corporate interests, and special interests, to play a role in elections and the result this cycle has been dismaying and obvious. In the name of hoary first amendment principles, granted for the first time to corporations, the richest and most powerful interests in America have been given even more power to influence the outcome of elections. Anyone with a television or a computer or a mailbox, anyone living in a swing state, knows this is so.
On the other hand, while corporate power over elections has increased, GOP lawmakers have enacted a new generation of state voter laws to make it harder for individuals to play a role in elections. And not all individuals, mind you, but those American citizens, those registered voters, who are most likely to have the fewest resources or the best access to the machinery of politics. These voter laws aren’t about requiring voters to prove who they are when they vote– voters already have to do that. They are about further dividing elections into “haves” and “have-nots” by requiring people who can’t afford cars, for example, to get certain kinds of ID.
This is a massive shift in voting power:
The people who are tripping over each other to defend the election rights of corporate interests, or special interests, the folks who say there should be more money as “speech” in elections, are the very same people who say that they must protect the integrity of the vote. They say they must root out even the type of “voter fraud” they concede they cannot find by making the old and the infirm, minorities and students, bear the burden of traveling to state offices to pay for new identification cards they have never before needed.
Hell, just the corporations vote. The rest of us can watch football. That seems to be Plan B, and Robert Stein, the former Chairman of the American Society of Magazine Editors, gets colorful:
The Tea Party’s blatant effort to suppress minority voting is fascism with a straight face, after eight states pass Voter ID laws requiring a state-approved document with photograph to register or vote, identification that an estimated 11 percent or over 21 million of American citizens, mostly minority members and poor people, don’t have.
Name-calling might not help here – some might just call it cleverness – but there is John Lewis, the congressman who was with Martin Luther King on that “Bloody Sunday” in 1965 with the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery:
I am surprised, shocked and deeply disappointed that there isn’t more public protest or condemnation of what has happened in America. People are not being beaten and trampled by horses or tear-gassed – people are not being shot and killed. The obstructions are not as obvious, but the effect of what state legislatures and party officials are doing will damage the integrity of our political process for generations to come, if it is not corrected.
As Stein notes, six months after that march, Lyndon Johnson signed a landmark civil rights law, and Stein wonders if the Republicans can undo it this year. Maybe they can. Andrew Cohen sees them working on it:
“Don’t boo, vote,” President Barack Obama has taken to saying during his speeches when he hears his audience reacting to mention of his Republican opponents. What, then, is the Republican response to that message? After ginning up these state laws designed to prevent people from voting – but only people without cars, or students, or the elderly or ill, or anyone else who can’t afford an ID they’ve never before needed – how does the GOP now pivot and tell the nation: we want you to vote!?
But were Republicans in Tampa pressed to talk about what was happening to their restrictive voter laws in the world beyond the convention? Hardly. The GOP, remember, proudly adopted these measures last week as part of its platform. The party owns these discriminatory laws now…
They formalized Plan B, and Heather Parton (Digby) explains it this way:
In the United States, there has always been tension about the franchise, going all the way back to the beginning of the Republic. Aristocrats were afraid of it for the simple reason that it would mean the government might have to represent and defend people whose interests interfere with their own interests: to maintain their wealth and pass it down to their heirs.
Whenever you give the vote to poor people and others who need government’s protections against the predations of privilege, you are endangering that arrangement – and the privileged fight back. Conservatives are traditionally their soldiers in that battle.
But over time, the United States progressed to the point where people began to believe strongly that every American has a fundamental right to vote (in spite of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s insistence that no such thing exists). Extending the franchise to every American citizen (subject, of course, to the vagaries of residence and criminal status) was one of the great American democratic accomplishments of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, for every two steps forward we apparently must take a step back, and conservatives have been able to leverage racial resentment and a sort of perverted populism to help their wealthy benefactors keep their money.
Oh heck – everyone knows that. That’s why a whole lot of people don’t even bother to vote. What’s the point? Those who want to keep their money will – they’ll scare you into voting the right way, at least for them – Plan A – or make it damned hard for you to vote at all, if you’re likely to vote the wrong way – Plan B. Each time Obama uses the word “redistribution” it scares the crap out of them, and they failed to use Plan B last time.
They won’t make the same mistake again. And now, this time without the actual war hero and the red-hot hockey mom, it’s the only alternative with a dork like Romney and his buff boy-toy. And if Obama wins again, which seems more likely every day, you don’t even want to know their Plan C. Let’s assume there isn’t one. We don’t need another civil war.