Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Election round-up: 'real America' edition

I've spent the last week or so in Britain submerged in research-related work on a crime-history project. So, while not exactly in a news-free zone (even if the headlines seemed as occupied by Madonna's impending divorce as anything else), I've been, shall we say, a bit distracted in my efforts to keep up with US election news.

And I missed commenting on so much: the third debate! Joe the Plumber!! Palin on SNL!!!

Oh well...I'm imagining you won't mind.

In trying to catch up with what's going on, I have noticed that the ugly turn in the Republican campaign -- when we last tuned in, they were labelling Barack Obama the friend of terrorists -- has not only not been reversed but has even expanded.

Seeming bereft of any ideas for, you know, actually making an argument that they know how to run the country, Republicans are instead relying -- solely, as far as I can tell -- on energetically smearing efforts to register more voters, inflaming resentful divisions between regions (even within states) and warning of the threat a 'socialist' Obama administration would pose to basic American freedoms.

This is likely, I think, to fail, and will likely drive independents and moderates away. There are years in which you can't win an election solely with angry pseudo-plumbers, religious extremists and moose hunters, and this might be one of them.

True, there are people who do find McCain-Palin appealing. Like Tracy, whose husband is still undecided about whether to vote Democratic or Republican.

She, however, has definitely made up her mind:

(via Geoff)

One of the most chilling moments I've ever seen on television has to be watching Tracy's face when she says, referring to her undecided husband, 'He knows what the right decision is.' I'm not sure what she can threaten him with, though, as simply being married to her sounds like all the punishment one person can legally be forced to endure.

(If you're interested in seeing the context from which that excerpt comes, see the PBS 'Now' website. The 'Virginia Votes' video -- in which Tracy's husband comes across as a pretty thoughtful guy -- is available here.)

In any case, a number of other conservatives -- some gesturing toward the brain-dead aggression of their party's campaign -- have endorsed Obama. (As a commentator at Daily Kos points out, it might be just because they too are black, as Rush Limbaugh has suggested was the case with Colin Powell's endorsement of Obama. He's a classy guy, Rush, yes indeed.)

If this goes much further, you sort of wonder what kind of people the Republican Party is going to be left with after November.

Tracy should, indeed, have some interesting company.

As to the various other things, I've run across a few good commentaries.

The Chicago Tribune, for example, has officially endorsed Obama:

Many Americans say they're uneasy about Obama. He's pretty new to them.

We can provide some assurance. We have known Obama since he entered politics a dozen years ago. We have watched him, worked with him, argued with him as he rose from an effective state senator to an inspiring U.S. senator to the Democratic Party's nominee for president.

We have tremendous confidence in his intellectual rigor, his moral compass and his ability to make sound, thoughtful, careful decisions. He is ready.

An unsuprising decision, you say, for a paper based in Obama's political hometown? Well...

This endorsement makes some history for the Chicago Tribune. This is the first time the newspaper has endorsed the Democratic Party's nominee for president. [Emphasis added.]

When I was growing up, we were Sun-Times readers in our house (which is kind of strange now that I think about it, as my parents always voted Republican...), but this still gives me a very good feeling.

On the ACORN (non-)scandal, Dave Neiwert (in a post that is -- as always -- worth reading) points us to an AP article examining the charges that the activist group -- in McCain's measured words -- might "now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy."

For AP, Deborah Hastings states,

Voter fraud is rare in the United States, according to a 2007 report by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Based on reviews of voter fraud claims at the federal and state level, the center's report asserted most problems were caused by things like technological glitches, clerical errors or mistakes made by voters and by election officials.

"It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than he will impersonate another voter at the polls," the report said.

Alex Keyssar, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, calls the current controversy "chapter 22 in a drama that's been going on awhile. The pattern is that nothing much ever comes from this. There have been no known cases of people voting fraudulently."

"What we've seen," Keyssar said, "is sloppiness and someone's idea of a stupid joke, like registering as Donald Duck."

Harold Myerson, in 'The Power of Two Myths' in The Washington Post, makes a similar point:

For years, the Republican response to the rising number of non-white voters in particular has been: If you can't win their vote, suppress it. So the GOP has propagated the myth that large numbers of people are voting who shouldn't be, that voter registration groups such as ACORN, which the Republican ticket regularly attacks, are, like the big-city machines of yore, casting ballots in the name of the dead and stealing elections.

Ferreting out these nefarious activities became a central focus of the Justice Department under John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales at the direction of the Bush White House. The department instructed all U.S. attorneys that the prosecution and conviction of voter-fraud perpetrators was, in Gonzales's words, a "top priority." Extensive investigations were undertaken across the nation. Yet, by 2005, as Art Levine reported in the American Prospect this April, only two people had been charged with falsifying or fabricating voter registration forms, and nobody had been charged with impersonating another voter.

But the current attacks on ACORN provide the pretext for attempts to turn black voters and college students away from their polling places. In Ohio, the Republican war on voting has already begun. Hamilton County (that's Cincinnati) prosecutor Joseph Deters, who is also the Southwest Ohio regional chair of the McCain campaign, subpoenaed the records of 266 new voters who have cast absentee ballots because he suspected their addresses might not comport to other public records. A GOP fundraiser in the state is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to deny 200,000 recent registrants the right to vote because their addresses on their registration forms don't match those on their driver's licenses, a discrepancy that suggests that the voters have moved or that the addresses were entered incorrectly by the registrar's offices.

If you can't find the crime here, you're not alone. A number of the U.S attorneys fired by Gonzales got the ax for failing to uncover such crimes, though they conducted far-reaching investigations. David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, told Levine that voter fraud "is like the boogeymen parents use to scare their children. It's very frightening, and it doesn't exist."

(The Levine article cited, 'The Republican War on Voting', is well worth reading.)

And on the 'real America' meme (or the effort to divide the country into those who are 'pro-America' and 'anti-America') that is emerging as a centrepiece of the GOP campaign, I can't think of a better response than Jon Stewart's comments on the expressed views of Sarah Palin, Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, and McCain campaign aide Nancy Pfotenhauer:

I don't now live in what anyone would regard as 'real America'. Because...well, it's really not in America. And even were it to be admitted to the Union, polls suggest that Germany -- although currently governed by a mainly conservative coalition -- would be among the bluest of blue states.

Nevertheless, I consider myself as 'real' an American as any other, not least since I think that that category should have as little to do with geography as it does with skin colour. (No Blut und Boden ideologies for us, thank you)

Take that as you will.

At least, however, I have no problem pronouncing 'Pfotenhauer'.

[UPDATE] Olbermann also chimes in.

(via Pharyngula)


Tor Hershman said...

Mrs. Wood, you simply must view moi's blog to get the lastest [sic] on the U. S. of A.'s elections.

Stay on groovin' safari,

J. Carter Wood said...

Thanks for the tip TH, though I do tend to respond more often to 'Mr.' than 'Mrs.'

But what's a stray consonant between strangers, eh?

Not much.


Geoff Coupe said...

Mr. Wood. Good stuff - Olbermann is simply brilliant. However, now, as a welcome change from the horror that is the US Presidential election, please let us know what Mrs. Wood makes of the revelations of Stephan Petzner. It's simply so delicious: