The cri de coeur of the Tea Party crowd has always been that they want their country back, although they’d refuse to use that French term – but it was a cry from the heart nonetheless, sometimes expressed with a sob, to elicit sympathy, so everyone would share their deep sadness about what America had become, and sometimes a matter of seething anger. They WOULD take their country back, and taxes would be low again, and nothing would be regulated, and the states would decide everything and the federal government would wither away and finally be gone, except for the military and the folks who run Social Security and Medicare. Those who wanted their country back were predominately older, so they saw Social Security and Medicare as something that was theirs by right – they had paid in so those ought to receive a pay out, regularly, like clockwork. They had the right to the benefits of both programs. They were entitled to those benefits, although they would never call them entitlements.
Entitlements were absurd – those were welfare and unemployment checks each week and disability benefits and all the rest. Folks may have paid for those things with all those deductions from their paychecks year after year after year, and such programs might have been created by legislation passed fair and square by the elected representatives of the people, but those programs were not like Social Security and Medicare. Those provided benefits to the wrong sort of people, the people who were out of work, or who had never worked due to unfortunate circumstances, or because of their moral failings. Those were not hard-working Real Americans. Ronald Reagan talked of welfare queens, others talked of young black bucks living large on the public’s dime, driving Cadillacs, and that resurfaced as part of the argument about the country they wanted back. The argument against Obamacare was, at its core, about the wrong sort of people getting health insurance, the ones who need help buying it. People should pay their own way. That’s how it worked with Social Security and Medicare after all. They were drawing a distinction. Others saw a distinction without a difference. They didn’t.
That’s why Paul Ryan came up with a fantastic plan – we have to force poor people, and those black folks, to shape up, with a customized government-approved plan for each person, to be a better person, and fine them heavily if they don’t meet the specific milestones in the plan. All they need is a kind of “life coach” to help them become adequate human beings. Ryan’s plan, which seemed to be to fund Ayn Rand mentors to teach all of them the right attitude about work, so we’d have to spend no money on any of them ever again, went nowhere, but then it was more of a thought-piece than a real plan. Hiring all those life-coaches would cost a fortune. Hiring and training and keeping tabs on all those coaches, and monitoring the program, to make sure it was running smoothly and not wasting money on expensive useless conferences and fancy office furniture, and carefully tracking its success, would create a vast bureaucracy. No one wants another vast bureaucracy, a new federal Department of Right Attitude. The idea is to shrink government, not expand it.
The whole idea wasn’t thought out, but Ryan was just trying to be bold and get to the basic problem. Poor people are ruining America, sucking up money and resources and draining hard-working American taxpayers dry. Something must be done about them. We can’t shoot them all – too messy and hard to explain to the rest of the world – and turning them all into Ayn Rand libertarians really is impractical. It might not even work. For some reason they might resent being told what they’re supposed to think and how they’re supposed to act at all times. Some people just don’t know what’s good for them. Tell someone they have to be just like you, or pay a fine, and even if being just like you is obviously good for them, they’ll dig in their heels. What can you do with people like that?
The answer is political. These people vote for candidates who promise to maintain and enhance the wrong sort of entitlement program, or create new ones like Obamacare, so that raises a fundamental question. Should the poor be allowed to vote?
Asking that question seems absurd. They have the right to vote. No politician would suggest they shouldn’t have that right, because our history has been one of expanding the right to vote, to those who didn’t hold property, to blacks, the former slaves, and then even to women. We agreed all citizens should have the right to vote. There’s no going back, but if Ryan’s plan won’t work, some might toy with the idea – maybe not here in America yet, but it is an idea.
Peter Beinart has noted that the idea has been floated overseas:
If Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters succeed in booting C. Y. Leung from power, the city’s unelected chief executive should consider coming to the United States…
In an interview Monday with The New York Times and other foreign newspapers, Leung explained that Beijing cannot permit the direct election of Hong Kong’s leaders because doing so would empower “the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.” Leung instead defended the current plan to have a committee of roughly 1,200 eminent citizens vet potential contenders because doing so, in the Times’ words, “would insulate candidates from popular pressure to create a welfare state, and would allow the city government to follow more business-friendly policies.”
Leung was ridiculed for that – that’s not how democracies work – but Beinart notes that Leung was just too blunt. Our Republicans have been sort of saying the same thing, and it really is part of our history:
Start with Mitt Romney. In 2012, at a fundraiser with ultra-wealthy donors, the Republican nominee famously denigrated the “47 percent” of Americans who “believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing” – to a welfare state. Because these self-appointed “victims” were voting in order to get things from government, Romney argued, their motives were inferior to the potential Romney voters who “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
In distinguishing between Americans whose economic independence permits them to make reasoned political choices and those who because of their poverty cannot, Romney was channeling a hoary American tradition. In 1776, John Adams argued that men (let alone women) “who are wholly destitute of Property” were “too dependent upon other Men to have a Will of their own.” In 1800, only three states allowed property-less white men to vote. For most of the 20th century, southern states imposed “poll taxes” that effectively barred not only African Americans from voting but some poor whites as well.
Conservatives are traditional folks, in love with the tried and true old ways of doing things, so this did snowball:
Romney didn’t suggest that the 47 percent be denied the right to vote, of course. But other Republicans have flirted with the idea. In 2010, Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips observed that “The Founding Fathers put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote… and one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community.”
In 2011, Iowa Representative Steve King made a similar observation, noting approvingly, “There was a time in American history when you had to be a male property owner in order to vote. The reason for that was, because [the Founding Fathers] wanted the people who voted – that set the public policy that decided on the taxes and the spending – to have some skin in the game. Now we have data out there that shows that 47 percent of American households don’t pay taxes… But many of them are voting. And when they vote, they vote for more government benefits.” In 2012, Florida House candidate Ted Yoho remarked, “I’ve had some radical ideas about voting and it’s probably not a good time to tell them, but you used to have to be a property owner to vote.” Yoho went on to win the election.
This is in the air, but there is a need to be a bit more subtle:
Most prominent Republicans would never propose that poor people be denied the franchise. But they support policies that do just that. When GOP legislatures make it harder to vote – either by restricting early voting, limiting the hours that polls remain open, requiring voter identification or disenfranchising ex-felons – the press usually focuses on the disproportionate impact on racial minorities and Democrats. But the most profound impact may be on the poor.
Ah, the Republicans were never really after the black and brown and yellow folks. They were out to do something about the real problem, all those poor people ruining America, and the evidence is clear:
Voter-identification laws, in particular, act as new form of poll tax. After Texas passed its voter-ID law, a study found that Texans who earned less than $20,000 per year were more than 10 times more likely to lack the necessary identification than Texans who earned more than $150,000. On the surface, this discrepancy might seem possible to remedy, since courts have generally demanded that the states that require voter identification provide some form of ID for free. But there’s a catch. Acquiring that free ID requires showing another form of identification – and those cost money. In the states with voter-ID laws, notes a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, “Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax – outlawed during the civil rights era – cost $10.64 in current dollars.”
To make matters worse, roughly half a million people without access to a car live more than 10 miles from the nearest office that regularly issues IDs. And the states that require IDs, which just happen to be mostly in the south, also just happen to have some of the worst public transportation in the country.
Not surprisingly, a 2007 study by researchers at Washington University and Cal Tech found that “registered voters with low levels of educational attainment or lower levels of income are less likely to vote the more restrictive the voter identification regime.” Barring former felons from voting has an even more dramatic impact on the poor, since almost half of state prison inmates earned less than $10,000 in the year before their incarceration.
There you have it. There’s no way to change their hearts and minds, the Platonic ideal that Paul Ryan dreamed of. Do what’s practical and cheap. The wrong sort of entitlement programs, benefiting the wrong sort of people, will go away, either way. This is the easier way.
The National Review’s Rich Lowry says it’s not like that at all:
When the Supreme Court over the weekend rejected a petition to stop a Texas voter ID law from going into effect for the midterms, the left commenced its wailing and gnashing of teeth.
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the law “purposely discriminatory,” and everyone piled in behind her with denunciations of the Lone Star State’s blatant racism.
For the left, voter ID is tantamount to a poll tax. It is meant to suppress minority voters and is a last-gasp, unconstitutional scheme by the Republican Party to save itself by decisively shaping the electorate to its advantage.
If all of this is true, the nation is awash in neo-segregationist election rules.
It’s not like that at all:
Where you come down on this issue really depends on whether you think it’s reasonable to require the minimal effort to establish your identity of producing an ID at the ballot box or not.
Slate’s Jamelle Bouie pushes back:
Fair enough. That’s a reasonable sentiment. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, Republicans and other voter ID supporters don’t want to make it harder for more vulnerable voters to cast a ballot – although that’s the practical outcome of an ID requirement – they just want to secure the process and protect the integrity of the vote.
But this doesn’t explain the Republican-led push to end or limit same-day registration (condemned by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as a “trick“) and early and weekend voting, procedures used most by minorities, black Americans in particular. Nor does it explain an incredible effort just uncovered by Al Jazeera America that could shift the direction of the midterm elections.
That would be this report in which Bouie finds this:
Specifically, officials have a master list of 6.9 million suspected “potential double voters.” And in Virginia, Georgia, and Washington the lists are “heavily over-weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel, and Kim,” all common to Democratic-leaning minority groups.
The process for checking those names, a computer program called Crosscheck – touted by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a vocal supporter for voter identification – is incredibly inaccurate. “The actual lists,” notes Al Jazeera America, “show that not only are middle names mismatched, and suffix discrepancies ignored, even conflicting birthdates are disregarded. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores any Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected.”
Given the tight races in Georgia and other battleground states, even a small number of false positives could turn the tide of an election, giving a strong advantage to Republican candidates for statewide and congressional offices.
This is nonsense:
Yes, voting officials have to prune the rolls of deceased or inactive voters. The question is whether they’re taking the narrowest route and trying to avoid mistakes. They aren’t; compared with other voter lists Crosscheck is incredibly broad with a strong bias toward removing people from the rolls. And the means for verifying voter identity – sending postcards to addresses on file – puts the burden of proof on individual voters and is almost designed to take people off the rolls; with false positives and duplicate names, there’s no guarantee that anyone gets their verification card, to say nothing of voters who have moved or don’t have a permanent address.
Whether Republican officials are trying to nudge the electorate in the GOP’s favor is almost beside the point – since, intentions aside, that’s what’s happened. And when you take this out of its isolation chamber and put it in context – a world where Republicans want voter identification and reduced early voting and stiffer registration laws – it looks like a pattern of deliberate suppression, where some officials prune voter rolls with lists of minorities while others make it harder to vote altogether.
Well, they caught and neutered the poor, using the assumption the poor are mostly minorities, didn’t they? Given their growing demographic problems, that’s killing two birds with one stone. Bouie, who foolishly decided to be born black, sees the racial component, and the effort to eliminate the Democratic vote:
Conservatives across the country are working to weaken voting laws and put new barriers to the ballot box. And in every case, Democratic constituencies are those most affected – which is why it’s hard to take pro-ID arguments – like Rich Lowry’s – in good faith.
Liberal and Democratic claims of voter suppression aren’t just about voter identification, they’re about the package of policies and techniques that burden voters and shrink the electorate in the process. Indeed, it’s worse than this. Voter ID advocates insist that their reasonable moves are intended to protect the integrity of the process and the sanctity of the vote, but the reality is that their policies have created confusion and chaos for hundreds of thousands of voters. Put another way, there’s not a serious Republican effort to expand the electorate and bring new people into the process. But there is a major one to do the opposite. And it hasn’t popped up in response to threats to the sanctity of the vote – even conservatives are beginning to acknowledge there isn’t much voter fraud – it’s emerged in a world where electorates are increasingly filled with people who don’t support Republicans.
It’s brazen, it’s indefensible, and it needs to end.
Sure, but who’s going to end it? This Supreme Court won’t. Let the states sort it out, or let Congress pass a new version of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which they declared hopelessly out-of-date last summer. It’s not their problem. And some people will now vote for Republicans for a change, because they’re so clever. They not only know what they want, unlike cautious and careful Obama, they know exactly how to get what they want. You have to admire that.
This solves the problem Paul Ryan couldn’t solve. Tell someone they have to be just like you, and even if being just like you is obviously good for them, they’ll dig in their heels. What can you do with people like that? You can marginalize them, or you can be even bolder, as Jonathan Chait explains:
The Obama era has seen a resurgence of conservative constitutional fetishism – the belief that the Constitution not only requires the Republican domestic agenda, but is figuratively or even literally divine. Fox News columnist and television personality Dr. Keith Ablow has taken this premise and applied it toward American foreign policy. The result is a remarkable column calling for what he calls “American Jihad.”
The column from this psychiatrist, a regular on Fox News is here – and rather amazing – as Chait explains:
Ablow’s argument, at least conceptually, is extremely simple. The United States, like Al Qaeda, has a sacred document: “Our Constitution is a sacred document that better defines and preserves the liberty and autonomy of human beings than the charter of any other nation on earth.”
Therefore, every person on Earth should enjoy its blessings: “An American jihad would embrace the correct belief that if every nation on earth were governed by freely elected leaders and by our Constitution, the world would be a far better place.”
Note that Ablow is not merely endorsing a civilizational war between the West and radical Islam, as extreme hawks are wont to do. He is endorsing a campaign of conquest aimed at literally every other country on Earth. Ablow is not satisfied with bringing democracy to those who don’t enjoy it. He proposes to bring the American Constitution to every country, even democratic ones.
Ablow does say this:
We would urge our leaders, after their service in the U.S. Senate and Congress, to seek dual citizenship in other nations, like France and Italy and Sweden and Argentina and Brazil and Germany, and work to influence those nations to adopt laws very much like our own. We might even fund our leaders’ campaigns for office in these other nations.
The trouble here is that the citizens of some of these democracies have constitutions and parliamentary systems of their own that they regard with some fondness. Are they going to like the idea of Americans moving there, seeking citizenship, and working to change their Constitutions to make them like ours? Would the people of (to take one of his examples) France really vote for an American candidate who was funded by the American government for the purpose of imposing the American Constitution upon France?
They too might dig in their heels, and Chait suspects Ablow knows it:
Ablow may not have total confidence in this plan, either, which would explain his proposal to “double the budgets of the CIA and our Special Forces” and “seek to fund an international mercenary force for good.” That kind of sounds a little bit like terrorism. But it’s okay because, Ablow writes, “we have a God-given right to intervene – because we have been to the mountaintop of freedom, and we have seen the Promised Land spanning the globe.” It’s not terrorism if God is telling you to do it.
Well, if America is exceptional, this is our duty. Ablow does mention Manifest Destiny several times – the doctrine that we used to justify killing all the Native Americans, the Indians, the Redskins, the savages, and extending the United States all the way out here to Hollywood and Venice Beach. Abraham Lincoln thought that doctrine was horseshit, but what did he know? It worked. Maybe next Ablow will suggest shooting all the poor, who are also ruining America. It’s the same sort of thing. And it’s bold. But just who is ruining America here?