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People lining up to vote

People lining up to vote early in Columbus, Ohio yesterday - Slate Magazine

When I first started to understand the two party system I felt a natural affinity with the more progressive party, the party of civil rights, the party of ending the war. But, except for the segregationists, who seemed a sort of regional / historical aberration, I could understand the rightness of the other party. The Republicans I saw as Chamber of Commerce types, law and order types, work hard and follow the rules and there’s no door that will remain closed to you types. They weren’t my heroes, these bluff crew-cut men who knew how to make things work, the mayors, sheriffs, bank managers and accountants, but I understood something about why they were needed, that you can’t run a country with just San Francisco and freedom riders and folk music, that scissors won’t work without two blades set in opposition to one another. And they seemed the standard bearers for the rule of law, for fair play, for taking your chances and then taking your lumps or reaping your rewards depending on how smart, lucky, hard-working or right you were.

I’m not sure now how true that was then: there’s a lot to be said about that, but it’s not today’s topic. Today’s topic is what seems like an abandonment of the principle of a good clean fight and may the best man win and the triumph of something that’s a lot more like there’s no rules in a knife fight.

I remember a few instances when an internal alarm went off warning that we’d crossed a line. One was when I first heard a Republican operative (Karl Rove?) speak contemptuously of the Democrats running a “reality-based” campaign, meaning that getting mired in bringing up the lack of real-world justification in John Kerry’s war record for the swift-boat attacks might win the approval of those who cared and noticed, but it was overall a loser’s move, much harder work, and those making such a move would inevitably fall farther and farther behind as the next non-reality-based ploy was put out there, and the one after that.

Another watershed moment was Bush v. Gore, a Supreme Court decision so execrable it wasn’t even signed. I remember an actual feeling of vertigo at realizing that what seemed like our last defense against corrupt partisanship had slipped beneath the waves.

I don’t think it’s my romantic naivete that ascribes this campaign and the last two years as a time when more and more lines have been crossed which I’d thought would never be crossed. I saw Romney’s campaign described as a post-truth campaign, maybe the first. To not check the sources before repeating a story from a right wing blog that says Jeep is planning to move all its jobs to China is one thing. To produce and air TV ads repeating the claim after it’s been proved to be false is quite another. And Obama removed the work requirement from welfare. And on and on. And there’s something seriously wrong when cataloging all Romney’s mendacity week after week is a little noticed activity on the fringes of the mainstream media. (See Steve Benen’s compilations at MaddowBlog.com).

But what’s got me today is the voter suppression schemes. I want to believe there was a time when a sense of shame would have stopped such programs, when cynicism had not yet advanced so far. I guess at some level there’s a justification that the end of saving the Republic from new and brazen evil warrants any and all means. I believe that most of the political professionals believe nothing of the kind, but see their mandate as winning at any cost, just as a version of the corporate mandate demands the pursuit of profit at any cost.

In case you haven’t heard, there have been Republican efforts in a number of states to make voting harder, including laws requiring ID to vote, the elimination or curtailment of early voting, the official flyers that “accidentally” informed Spanish-speaking voters to vote on November 8th, two days after the election, billboards in minority neighborhoods strongly suggesting ID was required when it was not and highlighting severe penalties for “voter fraud,” the purges, eight or nine hour waits to vote in democratic-leaning urban polling places in Ohio and Florida, and so on and so on. And let’s not even mention that the biggest investors in the company that owns the company that supplies the voting machines to Ohio are Mitt, Ann, and Tagg Romney and a posse of ex-Bain employees.

There’s something particularly unsavory about the Republican Secretary of State for the State of Ohio appealing all the way to the US Supreme Court the decision blocking his attempt to curtail early voting. It’s acknowledged by pretty much everyone that lower turnouts favor Republican voters, and that restrictions on early voting have much more of an effect on Democratic voters than Republicans. So here is a public servant desperately trying to reduce turnout. What possible argument can be made that there’s a compelling state interest in reducing the opportunities for voting? The Supreme Court refused to hear the case. And the head of the Pennsylvania Republican party reported to fellow Republincan:  passage of the voter ID law which “is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania: Done.”

This hijacking of what is meant to be a non-partisan public duty to administer elections fairly is completely shameless and sad. The strange hush and lack of strong feeling surrounding these attempts is disheartening and is another reason I fear for our democracy.  These people are playing a long game, and acclimating us to each new outrage leads eventually to a political system unrecognizably transformed. Or, it makes me hopeful that we’ve taken another step toward the last line we need to cross before reasonable citizens will finally become sufficiently outraged to demand something different, and keep demanding it until it comes to pass.

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