Monday, November 06, 2006

The History Behind Republican Vote Supression

Inspired by a good conversation today... wish I had more of them.

Anyone obsessive enough to be following the United States' midterm election race will have already begun to read about nasty vote-supression strategies coming into full swing this weekend, from automated phone spam purporting to be from Democratic candidates but paid for by Republicans, designed to annoy voters into staying home (documented on Talking Points Memo), to all of the unfixed problems with electronic voting machines documented in this HBO documentary, Hacking Democracy (Link to full video on Google Video) — you can't help but get the impression that Republicans put their own power above the principle of democracy and that they're absolutely shameless about it.

People looking in on the American political process from other mature democracies are understandably confused at the nation that shouts the loudest about democracy is the one that can't even keep it up at home.

Even in Canada, where I've seen some pretty hard-fought election campaigns, and on PEI where your party affiliation is something many are practically born with, if someone is publicly caught going that one step too far in a campaign he or she is universally shamed and has a hard time working again. For such behaviour in the US they rise through the ranks and eventually become the President's chief political advisor.

One has to ask 'How can Republicans live with themselves?' and 'How can anyone support a party who knowingly and deliberatly dismantles the very democracy they themselves live in?'

I think it goes back to the Civil Rights era — whites in Southern states felt that blacks should never have been given the right to vote in the first place, and with this excuse Southern governors (Democrats at the time, before LBJ's civil rights initiative and Nixon's Southern Strategy brought the racist vote completely over from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party) would openly dispatch police with firehoses and dogs and employ mob violence to keep blacks from polling places.

Since then the overt and open racism of the 1950s and 1960s has sunk below the skin and infected the blood of many Americans. Now all a Republican has to do is say the word 'welfare' or 'tax cuts' and this tickles a little lizard brain memory in the backs of enough voters who instantly hear 'nigger.. nigger' (quote from Lee Atwater: "You start out in 1954 by saying, 'Nigger, nigger, nigger.' By 1968 you can't say 'nigger' - that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites." - Source)

Now, instead of just justifying supression of black voters, this gets extended to poor immigrants and basically anyone stupid enough to vote for Democrats — it's for their own good that these people don't exercise too much influence.

And so here we are, with the media reporting on the election like a horserace and not using the three extra brain cells needed to say 'this party is cheating' - for fear of losing a key group of viewers, and democracy is spirited away in plain sight.

By al - 9:05 p.m. |

Great summary, Al. The only thing I'd add is that Nixon was only mildly successful in getting the silent majority vote -- they found him too Republicany and too aristocratic. So, like, the southern strategy certainly helped set the stage for a Republican victory, but it was Reagan's "everyman" emphasis on family values and cultural/social issues that sold southern whites on voting against their own economic interests.
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