Monday, September 5, 2011

The GOP Welcomes You to the New Jim Crow

Depending on which nation or state you live in, you might have missed the Republican party's commitment over this last year to returning the U.S. to Jim Crow levels of voter disenfranchisement. Rolling Stone had an excellent article on the subject this week (and you should read it as soon as possible). In it, and in every right-wing pundit's gloss on the strategy, it's clear that the GOP believes it must rely on voter suppression and restriction to win elections.

This is one of the rare instances in which the Republican party has evinced even the slightest interest in math. They're playing percentages. Their ideal voter model is 2010 or any low-interest midterm contest; their nightmare is more of 2008. The fewer black, brown, filthy or foreign "Them" who can vote — not to mention college kids who are obliged to keep reading actual books about economics and American history — the greater force with which old, white, privileged evangelicals can shove this country back to the 19th century. They're not even particularly subtle about it. Just a few days ago, Salon's Alex Pareene ran an excellent breakdown of an odious piece of GOP opinion by Matthew Vadum. Pareene describes it as "positively Swiftian, if Jonathan Swift had been an actual cannibal." Let's look at what Vadum has to say:

Why are left-wing activist groups so keen on registering the poor to vote? [Needless, portentous paragraph break.] Because they know the poor can be counted on to vote themselves more benefits by electing redistributionist politicians. Welfare recipients are particularly open to demagoguery and bribery.
It's an interestingly myopic and badly open-ended argument. Poor people in democracies have been susceptible to bribes since the Roman Republic, Disraeli's Britain or literally tens of dollars in GOP tax cuts for the poor — payroll taxes excepted, of course. Vadum doesn't seem to recognize the bad form inherent in criticizing the populist skinflint bribery of his own party since 1981. He also doesn't seem to recognize the demagoguery and bribery inherent in, say, giving money back to rich people while declaiming their having reached the apotheosis of human existence. After all, to the rest of the world, they might be "elites," but everyone knows that elites are merely the GOP base — which, via demagoguery and pandering, makes even the basest GOP member intrinsically better than anyone unlike him.

Whatever. This isn't even the worst thing about Vadum. Worrying about this is like worrying about Stalin's omelet joke instead of the Holodomor.

Registering them 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.
You couldn't get more begged questions if you slapped interrogatives on every vagrant's cardboard in New York. It's no surprise that, with, the lede paragraph and this one, Vadum betrays a total absence of credibility and humanity. Arguing with him on any of his heroic, illogical presumptions is a colossal waste of time. Anyway, Pareene already covers the faint whiff of eugenics Vadum relies on when he divides humanity into those who are productive and those who are nonproductive. Besides all that horrid mess, there are two very salient parts to Vadum's thesis:

1. He profoundly objects to voting drives to register the poor or anyone on state assistance. Beyond the implicit racism and all-out class warfare is the glaring blindness to the fact that his idea of voting can no longer constitute a redress of grievances if those grievances contradict GOP policy. While Vadum would doubtless deny that the Bush administration or Republican congress or Phil Gramm had anything to do with the creation of The Second Great Depression (I'm sure he still blames an obscure mortgage-related act passed under Carter), we could assume that it's remotely plausible that some hardworking Republican was made destitute by actions undertaken by that President and Congress.

Thus, Vadum says that someone bankrupted by a policy and rendered dependent on state assistance shouldn't be allowed to vote against the creators of that policy. In effect, it would behoove the GOP to destroy even more American lives and maintain the current welfare system, because this could systematically eliminate the franchise amongst even more people who resented or opposed them. In fact, since GOP electoral strategy depends so strongly on eliminating the potential voter pool to increase the weight that their guaranteed base brings to any election on a percentage basis, they'd be fools not to ruin millions of lives, just to make sure.

2. Completely absent from this electoral calculus is any whiff of the labor theory of value. In Vadum's universe, wealth automatically equals discernment, credibility and an inherent right to vote, while assistance of any kind should preclude full citizenship. A person who lives in state-subsidized housing and works 12 hours per day at a minimum-wage job is automatically of less social, intellectual and moral worth than — to take a recent famous example — a cocaine-snorting drunkard who spends decades losing tens of millions of dollars even in sweetheart deals with his dad's cronies. There is no nuance here. There is no allowance for actual work, for circumstance or character. There is only the point-and-laugh evil of saying, "Look at that poor person! He thinks he's people!" It's thought this regressive, cruel and stupid that led to harnessing the greatest power in Europe in the hands of people who either couldn't grow chins or who grew ones so big that they couldn't even close their mouths and liked to talk to dead people.

Again, there's nothing terribly subtle about this. All of these notes have been implicit in GOP policy for years now — like triggering felony convictions for third-strike possession busts and then automatically disenfranchising all felons. Or like Newt Gingrich's attack of nostalgia for the odious Jim Crow policy of "Poll Testing." Then again, if I ran a party committed to annihilating the public school system, I'd be in favor of testing people to see if they could vote, too. It's only a wonder that they don't favor mandating a minimum health requirement to vote as a complement to their commitment to destroy Medicare and Medicaid. Or maybe they don't see it as necessary: enough elderly voters die every four years, and the ones who remain are probably a lot easier to scare over to the GOP side with the tripartite specter of wetbacks, darkies and queers.

Still, the GOP has only had the last 30 years to prove it's right about economics and social science. We shouldn't rush to judge, and, with any luck, our children won't even be able to. Metropolis wasn't built in a day.