This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document.
– Mike Lofgren, former GOP Congressional staffer
After two and a quarter centuries of progress which saw expansion of the franchise from land-owning white men to blacks, women and eighteen year-olds, many conservatives have decided they have had quite enough “more perfect union,” thank you, and have accelerated their efforts to shrink participation in democratic elections.
In recent days, American Thinker posted “Registering the Poor to Vote is Un-American,” by Matthew Vadum, reflecting conservative concerns about too many of “those people” participating in government of the people, by the people, and for the people. But American Thinker‘s title says it all:
Registering [the poor] to vote is like handing out burglary tools to criminals. It is profoundly antisocial and un-American to empower the nonproductive segments of the population to destroy the country — which is precisely why Barack Obama zealously supports registering welfare recipients to vote.
Encouraging those who burden society to participate in elections isn’t about helping the poor. It’s about helping the poor to help themselves to others’ money. It’s about raw so-called social justice. It’s about moving America ever farther away from the small-government ideals of the Founding Fathers.
The comments section is a trove of anti-democratic sentiment: “I believe that the vote should be limited to people that own property or a business”; “One person one vote is a recipe for political suicide and the Communist’s dream”; “Unless you pay taxes, you should not be permitted to vote”; “We should not only purge welfare slackers and other un-Americans from the voter rolls — including anyone who is unemployed and therefore not a producer, but voting should be proportional depending on net worth or taxes paid”; etc. Such patriots think their views echo the beliefs of the founders. But then, so does owning other human beings.
Thus, efforts by liberal groups and Democrats to make voting easier are met by the right with legislative hurdles that make it harder to participate. Ari Berman’s Rolling Stone piece, The GOP War on Voting, elaborates on GOP vote suppression efforts:
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots … In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
In a lengthy Truthout commentary, “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” longtime congressional staffer, Mike Lofgren, provides insider background on the vote suppression effort and details his reasons for leaving his staff job. There is rottenness in both parties, he explains, and Democrats seeking “centrism” may have brought working people NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and permanent most-favored-nation status for China that helped erode the middle class. “But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way,” writes Lofgren. “The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy,” on the Republican side, something Beltway pundits are slow to recognize and/or too cowed to say publicly.
“It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.”
Oft-repeated sentiments from prominent Republicans (and their media mouthpieces) about who are and who are not “real Americans” underpin the effort to keep their fellow Americans from voting. Republicans have spent 30 years demonizing their neighbors: from Ronald Reagan’s welfare queens, to Muslims and gays, immigrants and intellectuals, to people living in what Americans once proudly considered the cultural melting pots of its largest cities. To anyone, writes Lofgren, “who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base.” More recently, the enemies list has expanded to include school teachers, public employees, and the nearly half of Americans who — according to carefully parsed propaganda — pay “no taxes.”
Most of the GOP elite probably do not believe all the “paranoid claptrap,” says Lofgren, but that doesn’t keep them from feeding “the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink.” Even as the economy shrinks, the conservative message machine has so assiduously widened its citizenship exclusion zone that paranoid patriots may soon find themselves cut off and surrounded in what the founders’ War Department dubbed “Indian country.”
Lofgren, who spent most of that same 30 years working for the GOP on Capitol Hill, now finds himself exiled among the lessers. He concludes:
This legislative assault is moving in a diametrically opposed direction to 200 years of American history, when the arrow of progress pointed toward more political participation by more citizens. Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.
You can probably guess who those people are.
As for Lofgren, he retired out of concern for the direction his party is taking America, as well as out of contempt for the “feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats” without the spine to stop them. But retiring, he admits, was also “an act of rational self-interest.” It was fine working on the payroll of an apocalyptic cult so long as its targets were union members and the private sector pensions and health benefits of those people . But once the GOP turned its “decades-long campaign of scorn” against government workers like Lofgren, it was time for him to cash out. “First they came for the communists,” as it were.
The Lofgrens of the Republican Party might long suppress any latent empathy for the struggles of Americans they were hired to serve, but money? Money they understand.
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