Voter ID and the Self-Destruction of the GOP

Elephant and DonkeyRoss Douthat wrote a really good article last Thursday, The Politics of Voter ID. On one hand, the article is another in a long line of Republican pundits trying to convince the Republican establishment that all the self-destructive things they are doing are, you know, self-destructive. On the other hand, I haven’t heard this argument before. He says that while voter ID will disenfranchise lots of Democratic voters, it will also disenfranchise lots of Republican votes. Because of this, Republicans will not get as much benefit for these laws as they think. And according to Douthat, they are going to lose far more than they gain by both adding power to the Democrats’ voter registration drives and make the Republicans look like the bigots they are (my words, not his).

Although I think this is highly insightful, it won’t matter at all. The Republicans have convinced themselves that they are creating voter ID laws simply to make elections fair. I was originally shocked, but the truth is that many (even most) Republicans think that the only reason that Democrats ever win elections is because they are stolen. Many Republicans believe that ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama, even though they went out of business almost two years to the day before the election. To these kinds of people, America is still as white as it was in 1950—or perhaps even more white. That’s a big part of the problem of the right wing echo chamber: it allows people to think that pretty much everyone believes as they do. It’s the whole problem of, “All Indians walk in single file—at least the only one I ever saw did.”

So I have no doubt that the people who support voter ID laws are simultaneously racist and sincere. They realize that the laws are racist. But this isn’t a problem for them, because they just know that voter fraud is primarily a problem with minority people. Since they are completely vested in this idea, they will never back away from the voter ID laws. Even if they were convinced that voter ID was bad for the Republicans, they are too vested in the idea that they are for it for idealistic reasons to go back now. Here I’m talking about the Republican base, of course; the elites pushing these laws are doing it cynically.

Douthat notes a very strange thing with where elite opinion is on this stuff. The Republican leadership is pushing voter ID laws. But they are also in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. In both these case, the Republicans are going against what African Americans want. They aren’t generally in favor of a pathway to citizenship. It isn’t that they are against it, but like most poorer Americans, they think that the government should do something about their situation before worrying about people who are here illegally. So in both cases, the Republican Party leadership is giving the African American community a big “Fuck you!”

This isn’t surprising, of course. The position on Voter ID laws is simply an obvious, first-order approach to staying in power without changing their highly unpopular positions on economic issues. The position on comprehensive immigration reform is simply one of these pro-business economic issues. I’ve never thought that the embrace of immigration reform by the Republican leadership was about making nice with the immigrant community. It was about doing what the true base of the Republican Party wanted. George W. Bush revealed a good too much about his party in this amusing 20 seconds of video:

Ross Douthat’s article went right along with what I’ve been thinking the last couple of months. At first, the voter ID laws concerned me greatly. But over time I came to see them not being that important. The way the United States already is, people are encouraged not to vote. In terms of developed countries, we make it harder to vote than anyone else. These laws will just make the voter registration drives that much harder—but they won’t stop them. What’s more, all the time that the Republicans spend on stopping people from voting is just time that they don’t work on becoming an appealing political party.

So what Douthat has done is put some numbers to what I was thinking. And he’s made me feel even better about these laws. It seems more than ever that the Republican Party is destroying itself.

When There Was Democracy in America

Alexis de TocquevilleOn this day in 1817, the great Romantic seascape painter Ivan Aivazovsky was born. Writer of The Magnificent Ambersons and other classics, Booth Tarkington was born in 1869. Journalist and creator of “Archy and Mehitabel,” Don Marquis was born in 1878. Fascist Benito Mussolini was born in 1883. Operetta composer Sigmund Romberg was born in 1887. Actor William Powell was born in 1892. Lawyer Melvin Belli was born in 1907. Detective writer Chester Himes was born in 1909. The great jazz guitarist Charlie Christian was born in 1916. “The Black Dahlia,” Elizabeth Short was born in 1924.

Songwriter and composer Mikis Theodorakis is 88 today. Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is 60. And actor and (much more compellingly) commentator Wil Wheaton is 41.

The day, however, belongs to Alexis de Tocqueville who was born on this day in 1805. He was an early political scientist, but in the United States, he is mostly known for having written Democracy in America. Conservatives especially like to quote him. This is largely because they don’t understand the book. De Tocqueville did idealize America, but this was for the purpose of making a broad argument to the French people about the move from monarchy to democracy. And in discussing this, de Tocqueville especially disliked the inheritance laws in France that allowed the rich to hold onto their wealth generation after generation regardless of their merit. Conservatives of course love inheritance laws and hate estate taxes. If you get into the details of his writing, you will see that he is the 19th century equivalent of a liberal. But conservatives love him because they think that he said that America really is “exceptional.” What’s more, conservatives love this quote, “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” The problem is that de Tocqueville never wrote that.

Happy birthday Alexis de Tocqueville!

Five Reasons GOP Shutdown Is Suicide

Ramesh PonnuruWhenever I read Ramesh Ponnuru I wonder why it is the conservative movement can’t be more like him. After all, it isn’t like he is exactly reasonable. I can’t usually read more than two paragraphs without being forced to sit through silly Republican talking points. For example, he never misses an opportunity to slam Obamacare as though he wouldn’t be firmly on board with the program if it had been enacted by President McCain. And this Friday, he argued that one of the reasons the recent Republican efforts (to defund Obamacare via government shutdown) will look bad is because the Republicans don’t have an alternative for healthcare reform. This is just silly. As I’ve argued before, Obamacare was the conservative alternative to healthcare reform. When they decided that it was a communist conspiracy, they left themselves with nothing. Ponnuru must know that the there is no alternative to Obamacare and thus his suggestion that the Republicans need to have one is just pure conservative propaganda.

But most of the article is quite good, Drop the Disastrous Plan to Defund Obamacare. In it, he provided five reasons why the Republican plan to shut down the government or even default on our debt is a bad idea for the Republicans themselves:

  1. Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests.
  2. The executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere.
  3. People will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible.
  4. Some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans.
  5. The news media will surely side with the Democrats.

I think this can all be boiled down into what I have come to think of as Biden’s Law. You may remember in the vice-presidential debate that Paul Ryan was talking about the almost $600 billion taken out of Medicare. He was arguing that the Republicans were the true defenders of Medicare. Joe Biden didn’t even counter the specifics; he just said, “Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this?” And that is why the Republicans will hurt themselves if they shut down the government. People may not be too thrilled with Obamacare, but they don’t think it is so bad that the government should be shut down over it. What’s more, everyone knows that the Republicans are itching to shut the government down. Only the true believers will applaud this move. In the end, people will use their common sense and decide that this is not about Obamacare at all—it’s just about the fact that the Republicans hate the government.

None of this means that the Republicans won’t shut down the government and default on the debt. I think I know why conservatives are so keen on doing this—or at least threatening to do it. In the conservative world, politics is simple. If only we sent strong willed people to Washington, all problems would be solved. (Interestingly, this is part of the authoritarian mindset.) But that isn’t the way things work when you aren’t in control of the White House and Congress. So they try through force of will to get what they want. That’s why the House has voted 37 times to repeal Obamacare. I heard one Republican claim that they were going to continue to vote for repeal until it happened—as though the 37 votes would have any effect on the one vote they would take after they do have control of Washington.

The move to threaten all of government is just the next logical step for the Republicans. And it does have the advantage of being an actual strategy. It isn’t just a hope and a prayer—there is an actual mechanism by which they might win. The problem is that the very small chance they have of winning is not worth all the damage they will do to their party if they lose. As I wrote in The Next Three Election Cycles, if the Republicans manage to destroy the world economy, they will bring on their reckoning in 2014 rather than 2018.

Ponnuru isn’t the only one trying to save the Republican Party from itself. I’m just not sure what he’s saying will be enough. The only argument that might stop the most radical elements of the party is to say that Obamacare will be so terrible that the people will demand its repeal once it is in effect. The problem is that no one ever believed that argument. Republicans are saying we should repeal Obamacare right now because they know that once it is in effect people will like it. Both the extremists and the more practical members of the caucus understand that this is their last chance. The only difference between these two groups is that the practical members don’t want to destroy the party for this cause. The extremists don’t care; they were sent to Washington to destroy it; if it is a suicide mission, so be it. (Interestingly, destruction is also a part of the authoritarian mindset.)