Saturday, July 17, 2010

Trouble in River City

Anne Laurie: Conservatives Against the Franchise

I wanted to front-page commentor Kay, because I agree this is the root of a lot of the current conservative strategy:

[T]here really is a basic split between liberals and conservatives on voting.

Conservatives focus on voter fraud. Liberals focus on voter access. One presumes denial of the franchise, the other presumes exercising the franchise.

There’s no middle ground, either.

I would fully expect the Bush DOJ to try to exclude, and I would fully expect the Obama DOJ to try to include.

It goes back to (IMO, but I think the state laws conservatives pass make this abundantly clear) that conservatives don’t really believe that voting is a fundamental right. They treat it as a privilege, legally, like driving is.

They can’t say that, it’s not mainstream, so they flip the liberal argument (disenfranchisement) on access, and claim that their votes are being diluted by access, and therefore they are disenfranchised.

In any event, I think it’s a fundamental liberal-conservative battle, and there’s not going to be a compromise. I’ve read on it for years, and I’m not budging. I don’t imagine Holder is either. We are not persuaded. Not a bit.

The fraud contingent gained a lot of ground in the years after 2000, which was the opposite of what I expected, after the Bush v Gore debacle. They passed a LOT of state law that went to fraud.

The fact is, the more barriers to voting you put up, the better conservatives do. They can’t expand their vote, so they work hard to limit the opposition’s vote.

Conservatives don’t want poor people voting, non-white people voting, women or urban renters or young people voting. An ‘Originalist’ society where only white property-owning men of a certain age were allowed to weigh in would be a happy happy world for the John Robertses, John McCains, Karl Roves, Rupert Murdochs, and Glen Becks among us. The rest of us forget that bedrock at our peril.

It’s not every day I have something good to say about a Politico piece about a Bush appointee, but I consider this story important:

A scholar whom President George W. Bush appointed as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom has a reputation as a tough conservative critic of affirmative action and politically correct positions on race.

But when it comes to the investigation that the Republican-dominated commission is now conducting into the Justice Department’s handling of an alleged incident of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party — a controversy that has consumed conservative media in recent months — Thernstrom has made a dramatic break from her usual allies.

“This doesn’t have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration,” said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims “in the initial discussions” of the Panther case last year.

“My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president,” Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.

FWIW, I find this New Black Panther story much more significant than the NAACP/Teatard dust-up. The NAACP is right to condemn teatard racism because (a) condemning racism is their job and (b) there have been numerous incidents of Tea Party racism, but that debate has tended towards abstractions about what racism is and who really is in the Tea Party.

The New Black Panther Party bullshit combines the young-bucks-buying-T-bones myth with the Weathermen-living-under-Joe-Klein’s-bed myth. It’s also the kind of thing a Boehner-led House would spend hundreds of hours investigating and the kind of thing David Broder, Charles Lane, and the rest will happily pimp as an important, possibly impeachment-worthy scandal.

If Republicans get control of the House or the Senate this fall, expect the next two years to be dominated by stories like this one.

The peaceful hamlet of Mason City, Iowa, hasn't been in the headlines much since it served as the model for River City in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man." But this week, Mason City raised a real Fuhrer.

The geniuses of the North Iowa Tea Party erected a billboard in town depicting three leaders: Adolf Hitler (with swastika), Vladimir Lenin (with hammer and sickle) and Barack Obama (with 2008 campaign logo). Over Hitler were the words "National Socialism," over Lenin was "Marxist Socialism" and over Obama was "Democrat Socialism."

"Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve," the billboard informed passing motorists.

Folks, we've got trouble in River City.

The Tea Partyers eventually took the billboard down -- to hush the national uproar they provoked, not because they thought they had done something wrong. "There's going to be a lot of billboards just like this across the United States," the group's leader told the Des Moines Register.

He's probably right about that. The vile sign in Mason City was not a one-off by a fringe group. It was a logical expression of a message supported by conservative thought leaders and propagated by high-level Republican politicians.

Late last month, Thomas Sowell of the conservative Hoover Institution penned an irresponsible column likening Obama's presidency (particularly his pushing BP to set aside funds for oil-spill victims) to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Lenin in the Soviet Union.

After the column came out, Sarah Palin tweeted her followers with instructions to "Read Thomas Sowell's article." Sowell's theme -- that Obama, like Hitler and Lenin, exploits "useful idiots" who don't know much about politics -- was strikingly similar to what wound up on the Iowa billboard.

Sowell to Palin to Mason City: They spread Nazi labels as smoothly as Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance turned double plays. And let's not deny an assist to Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who went to the House floor to read aloud the Obama-Nazi comparison by the "brilliant" Sowell.

Twenty years ago, the dawn of the Internet Age gave us Godwin's Law: If an online argument goes on long enough, somebody will eventually invoke Hitler. When that happens, it's basically the end of the conversation, because all rational discussion ceases when one side calls the other Nazis.

These sentiments have long existed on the fringe and always will. The problem is that conservative leaders and Republican politicians, in their blind rage against Obama these last 18 months, invited the epithets of the fringe into the mainstream. Godwin's Law has spread from the chat rooms and now applies to cable news and even to the floor of the House of Representatives.

Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck's show on Fox News since Obama's inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama -- as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck's nightly "report."

It's not strictly a phenomenon of the right. California's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Jerry Brown, likened his opponent's tactics to those of the Nazis, while Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) talks blithely of a health care "holocaust" and an aide to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) dubs the opposition "Brownshirts."

But at the moment, the anger pendulum has swung far in the conservative direction, and accusations that once were beyond the pale -- not just talk of Nazis and Marxists but intimations of tyranny, revolution and bloodshed -- are now routine.

A few from recent weeks: Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) comes out in favor of lawsuits alleging that Obama was not an American citizen at birth. Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate challenging Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada, speaks about the possible need for violence to overcome the "tyrannical" government. Gohmert, the Sowell admirer, says the children of illegal immigrants are going to return and "blow us up."

Isn't there a grown-up to rein in these backbenchers when they go over the top? Don't ask House Minority Leader John Boehner, the man who would replace Nancy Pelosi as speaker. He accuses the Democrats of "snuffing out the America that I grew up in" and predicts a rebellion unlike anything "since 1776." Boehner also said one Democratic lawmaker "may be a dead man" for his vote on health care and predicted that the bill would bring "Armageddon."

Recall, Mr. Leader, the wisdom of the Mason City billboard: "Radical leaders prey on the fearful & naïve."

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