Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Perverting Democracy-- It's Always Been A Conservative Priority


Last week Rachel Maddow did a typically engaging and brilliant analysis of how the Republican Party is making a concerted effort to pervert democracy by disenfranchising likely Democratic voters and by changing vote counting rules. She calls it "using public policy for partisan outcomes" and "putting your thumb on the scale." The first part, which focuses on GOP corruption in Pennsylvania is above and the rest of it, which focuses on the Republican efforts in Colorado, is here.

But what Rachel doesn't go into is the history or the psychology of these kinds of efforts. And these kinds of efforts are hardly new. After all, right-wing political parties in a democracy represent-- at best-- an always shrinking 10% of the population, usually wealthy people who want to maintain the status quo. To this you can add generally uptight people who worry that if the ______ (fill in the blank: slaves, Jews, Italians, Mexicans, hippies, gays... whatever) get any say-so their families will fall about. No literally; that's the basis of the conservative mind; it's very personal, as you already know if you've been following along with our reports from Corey Robin's book, The Reactionary Mind. And, in fact... time for today's Corey Robin quote:
[H]istorian Alexander Keyssar has demonstrated that the struggle for the vote in the United States has been as much a story of retraction and contraction as one of progress and expansion, "with class tensions and apprehensions" on the part of political and economic elites constituting "the single most important obstacle to universal suffrage... from the late eighteenth century to the 1960s."

That quote came from Keyssar's book, The Right To Vote-- The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. As Publishers Weekly pointed out on their 2001 review, "America's self-image as the land of democracy flows from the belief that we've long enjoyed universal suffrage or at least aspired to it. Duke historian Keyssar [he's at Harvard now] convincingly shows that, though distinctive in some ways, the evolution of the franchise in America is similar to that in other countries: highly contested, with retreats as well as advances, containing within it the sharp reflections of larger struggles for power. America's basic claim to exceptionalism-- early white manhood suffrage-- was, according to Keyssar, part historical accident and part mistake, adopted before a European-style urban working class emerged. Keyssar identifies four periods: one of expansion from the Constitution's signing to around 1850; a period of contraction lasting until around WWI, in which the upper and middle classes demonstrated hostility to universal suffrage; a period of mixed, minor adjustments lasting till the 1960s, when the fourth period began, the civil rights movement, which inaugurated the removal of most of the remaining barriers."

And now we have characters like Tom Corbett (R-PA), Scott Gessler (R-CO), Rick Snyder (R-MI), Rick Perry (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), Scott Walker (R-WI), Susanna Martinez (R-NM) dragging us back into this fight for disenfranchising Americans. What do they all have in common? Well, besides all being very reactionary Republicans? Ownership. Their political allegiance has been bought by the Koch brothers. Each owes their political careers to the Koch brothers and each takes their policy agenda directly from the Koch-funded American Legislative Council (ALEC) a domestic fascist organization whose primary goal is, literally, to disembowel democracy in our country. It's not just about stealing the 2012 elections-- not by a longshot. It's far worse, far more dangerous.

Sunday Robert Reich wrote about the fundamental war that "has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward." I wish he had an opportunity to read it aloud at last night's absurd Republican presidential debate and ask the contenders to answer his charges. It would have been far more entertaining-- if not entirely enlightening.
Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together: We all benefit from public investments in schools and health care and infrastructure. And we all do better with strong safety nets, reasonable constraints on Wall Street and big business, and a truly progressive tax system. Progressives worry when the rich and privileged become powerful enough to undermine democracy. 

Regressives take the opposite positions.

Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the other tribunes of today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards. 

They’d like to return to the 1920s-- before Social Security, unemployment insurance, labor laws, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, worker safety laws, the Environmental Protection Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, and the Voting Rights Act. 

In the 1920s Wall Street was unfettered, the rich grew far richer and everyone else went deep into debt, and the nation closed its doors to immigrants.

Rather than conserve the economy, these regressives want to resurrect the classical economics of the 1920s-- the view that economic downturns are best addressed by doing nothing until the “rot” is purged out of the system (as Andrew Mellon, Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, so decorously put it). 

In truth, if they had their way we’d be back in the late nineteenth century-- before the federal income tax, antitrust laws, the pure food and drug act, and the Federal Reserve. A time when robber barons-- railroad, financial, and oil titans-- ran the country. A time of wrenching squalor for the many and mind-numbing wealth for the few. 

Listen carefully to today’s Republican right and you hear the same Social Darwinism Americans were fed more than a century ago to justify the brazen inequality of the Gilded Age:  Survival of the fittest. Don’t help the poor or unemployed or anyone who’s fallen on bad times, they say, because this only encourages laziness. America will be strong only if we reward the rich and punish the needy. 

The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.

This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court. 

Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts (and, all too often, Kennedy) claim they’re conservative jurists. But they’re judicial activists bent on overturning seventy-five years of jurisprudence by resurrecting states’ rights, treating the 2nd Amendment as if America still relied on  local militias, narrowing the Commerce Clause, and calling money speech and corporations people.
Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action. 

Look at the Progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities, and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s.  

In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform. 

Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America. 

So... let's count on the outside strategy (OccupyWallStreet) to, at minimum, spark a reform in the Democratic Party that leaves us with at least one political engine willing-- no, not willing; EAGER-- to fight for the progressive cause and on behalf of this nation's ordinary working families. Because if anyone still thinks that push is coming from the likes of Barack Obama, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Steny Hoyer or the other wholly owned subsidiaries of corporate America, you might as well put your faith in... Herman Cain. and speaking of The Hermanator, I found this cool graphic in the Washington Post this morning. It shows how Republican primary voters view their top 3 candidates in one word. Pretty funny sad:

Click on this graphic for elucidation

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