Week after week, month after month, I have been using this space to publicly discuss the troubling activities and actions of my former tribe: The Republican Party. Privately, I have also been talking to that tribe’s members. And I must report that it is worse than you think. They have moved from denial to desperation to the point at which some really do not care.
When I first read a recent headline—“This New Poll Shows Democrats Could Actually Have A Shot At Winning The House In 2014”—I thought maybe the Democrats might spare the Republicans further embarrassment, and get them out of the way, by soundly defeating them. But I must advise you: Do not hold your breath waiting for Democrats to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives! Or obtain the supermajority of the U.S. Senate that is needed to control Congress. These new poll numbers are generic. In the 2012 election, millions more voted for Democrats in the House than for Republicans, but Republicans have fixed House Congressional districts so that it does not matter. Since 2010, they have been busy successfully gerrymandering districts and, in the process, disenfranchising millions of Democrats.
In fact, they are currently working to further change the election laws wherever they can, in order to make it difficult for likely Democrats to vote. In short, the Republicans are operating in the tradition of Richard Nixon, the godfather of dirty and abusive Republican politics. Nixon’s ugly legacy lives on, as his party is openly abusing power for political purposes in a fashion that would make him proud. A few more examples will make the point, not that it will change the Republicans’ minds, for please understand: These people are shameless.
The Latest GOP Efforts to Disenfranchise Voters Who Likely Would Vote for Democrats
With some amazement, I have been reading of the GOP’s newest (and ongoing) efforts to disenfranchise voters who are not likely to support them. I found an excellent updated summary by Ari Berman of The Nation, who always does an excellent job of reporting on this subject. As Berman notes, “The continued push to restrict the right to vote reveals the extent to which conservative power remains deeply embedded in the states, thanks to the 2010 election and subsequent aggressive gerrymandering by GOP state legislatures to protect their majorities.”
Here are Berman’s findings for the current 2013 efforts, which fall into distinct categories: (1) States where the GOP seeks to require government-issued photo identification to vote: AR, CT, IA, IL, MA, MY, MO, NE, NV, NJ, NM, NY, NC, OK, VA, WA, WV, WY. (2) States where the GOP seeks to restrict voter registration drives: IL, IN, MT, NM, VA. (3) States where the GOP is seeking to ban election-day voter registration: CA, MN, MT, NE. (4) States where the GOP wants to require proof of citizenship to register to vote: MA, MO, NV, OK, OR, SC, TX, VA. (5) States where the GOP seeks to purge voter rolls: CO, IN, NM, TX, VA. (6) States where the GOP seeks to reduce early voting: AZ, IN, SC, TX, WI; and (7) the state where the GOP seeks to disenfranchise former felons: VA.
Another effort by Republicans is focused on reviving the 2011-2012 effort to rig the Electoral College so that a GOP presidential candidate might lose a statewide popular vote but still win electoral votes from gerrymandered GOP Congressional districts. This revived effort has been most noticeable in Pennsylvania, where the state senate’s GOP leader has been pushing such a plan. Former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has been tracking this and keeping voters aware of this scheme, and so far he has thwarted it.
Clearly, there is a nationwide GOP push to continue to try to rig the system. To say that it is disingenuous is too kind. It would be more accurate to say it is downright un-American, because these people have forgotten, if they ever knew, the basics of our democracy.
The GOP Has Forgotten the Basics of American Democracy
Without getting overly philosophical or unduly rhetorical about it (when actually a rip of profanity would best fit the bill), the Republicans undertaking to rig the system forget that civilized life works best—and maybe only works—when everyone plays by the rules. For the rules to work, of course, they must also protect the rights of the minority – as our rules do. No one has all the right answers and tyranny by a majority is possible. Those who disagree with the majority must be able to make their case to change the rules, and they often succeed. As the GOP has increasingly become a minority party, no one has denied it access to the Internet, print publications or Fox News. To the contrary, their views are well known.
Our democratic system works because our rules emanate from our elected representatives who are sent to Washington to legislate, as well as from courts that interpret both the written rules and those unwritten precepts of decency and fairness that have evolved from our collective efforts to live together in a manner than works for everyone, sometimes called the common law. Needless to say, we have a Constitution that created our federal government to deal with national problems (a confederation of states did not work). The Constitution further established fundamental standards for nationwide application (e.g., freedom of speech, religion, etc.), which largely apply as well to our smaller political units, typically established by constitutions or charters adopted by the people: states, counties, districts, cities, towns, villages, and neighborhoods—thus becoming national standards. But Republicans now reject all the existing rules, and the foundational documents, which they are busy reinterpreting to meet their needs, largely because they are not getting their way and have been unable to impose their standards on everyone.
No case in point is more glaring than their renewed efforts at disenfranchisement. For nothing has been more fundamental to our self-governing system than the ever-expanding consent of the governed. The American trend has been to extend the voting franchise to more and more Americans, including African-Americans (in the 15th Amendment), women (in the 19th Amendment) and young people who are old enough to fight to protect the nation (in the 26th Amendment). In addition, for years there were efforts to make voting easier, and laws to encourage voter participation. Of late, though, the GOP wants to reverse that trend, because increasing numbers of Americans are rejecting their programs and policies that serve the few, particularly the special interests, rather than the many.
In short, Republicans are increasingly at odds with the basics tenets of American government. As a minority party, they insist on blocking the will of the majority. Rather than expanding the voting franchise, they seek to shrink, if not disenfranchise, those who are not likely to vote as Republicans would wish, and to make it unpleasant and difficult to cast a vote. But they are doing more than playing corrupting and exclusionary politics; they are attacking government itself, in a manner that is disrupting the American economy, in their desire to impose their ideologically driven, simplistic solutions to complex problems to which they really do not have answers. This is a dangerous undertaking.
Republicans’ Anti-Government And Spending Attacks Are Creating New Problems
Again, let us not forget the basic realities of our world. Today, our governing systems serve a population of over 313 million Americans. While different levels of government—federal, state, and local—have distinguishable responsibilities, the nation’s founders stated well the general tasks of government: to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. Obviously, to meet these broad responsibilities it costs money, so taxes are absolutely necessary.
And, not without reason, Republicans are concerned about the growth in government during the last century. So are Democrats. It is not an unreasonable concern, although the last GOP president, George W. Bush, was a fiscal disaster, who is largely responsible for America’s current financial problems. Nonetheless, Republicans are insisting on draconian spending cuts—via the so-called sequester, with its unreasonable across-the-board spending reductions—that may well send our recovering economy slowly but steadily back into a recession, at worst, and at best, will further delay unemployed Americans from finding jobs. I have been unable to find a well-regarded economist who believes that “the sequester” is a good solution to anything.
When I have spoken with several Republicans privately, I have found that they are not concerned about the sequester, or the refusal of Republicans to raise revenue with new taxes. One told me that he believed the average voter was too dumb to blame the problems on Republicans, and rather, with GOP help, would likely blame President Obama, which is their plan. What if it hurts our economic recovery? Well, another Republican told me that they could deal with that problem quickly if necessary, but they do not want Obama getting credit, so it will have to get dire before any action will be taken. Then they can appear to have saved us all from an Obama disaster. Did they really understand the problem of what was driving government spending? Honest answer from three knowledgeable Republicans: No.
In truth, neither Republicans nor economists fully and truly understand the rise in government services and spending. For example, well-credentialed economists have looked for explanations beyond the fact that there are simply more people, not to mention more Americans voting for elected officials to whom the officials then must be responsive. Notwithstanding the lack of understanding, Republicans have long been pushing a solution first articulated by Ronald Reagan in his 1981 Inaugural Address: “Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” This flawed rhetoric is now GOP policy.
Over time, the GOP’s attacks on legitimacy of government have morphed into an effort to abolish as many taxes as possible, for without taxes government cannot survive or function. Thus, since the 1990s, the GOP has resisted all new taxes, and sought to cut existing taxes. Has this helped? I have searched and searched to determine what, if any, good has come from the GOP war on government and taxes. I can find none. But I did note that since the GOP started attacking government and taxes, the standard of living for Americans has steadily declined. (See, for example, here and here.) I am not an economist, but when the Republicans cannot point to any true benefit, but only theoretical claimed good, from their policies, it is telling.
To the contrary, the GOP’s endless war on government and taxes is troubling and destructive. Particularly since, during the same period, there has been a conspicuous decline in economic benefit for all average Americans.
We should all hope that more people become aware of the desperate efforts by GOP-controlled states to disenfranchise voters, and demand that it end. I am mystified why more of those in the national media do not call out the GOP’s abuses of its power in obstructing government, making gridlock the Washington norm, and do so before they cause irreparable harm. Meanwhile I will keep pounding my small drum both publicly and privately, for while I am no Chicken Little, only a concerned realist, I do understand these people. I have concluded that many of us are wired differently in our propensity to actually care about the well-being of others, and not simply because it might be good business to do so, but I also know that, in the end, democracy will not work without widespread human decency, so we all need to find as much of it as we can locate.