Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Something Missing

You have doubtless had the experience that something is missing and you don’t know what that something is. You would know instantly if you came across the missing something and I am not referring to Governor Rick Perry’s much discussed television lapse, although I could. Because it was the surplus of televised debates that had been on my mind and something about them was missing. Then it occurred to me out of the thin television air. It was as if someone had snuck up behind me and popped a paper bag full of air. Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich used the words “public servant” -- the missing concept revealed.

"My view is when people speak like this in a campaign referendum," Mr. Kasich said, “you have to listen if you're a public servant.” Ohio overwhelmingly rejected a law that restricted the collective-bargaining power of some 350-thousand government workers. Now, that law that Kasich championed will never take effect
But it is the idea of public service that has been missing in the Republican debates because it is all about them and not about us.

In the last decade US television audiences began their affair with so-called reality TV shows. Suspending the notion that such shows have production requisites -- like cameras, lights, audio, make-up, direction, catering, transportation and lots of folks behind the scenes – reality is just an abstraction. The sponsored GOP debates are also such an abstraction in addition to being a relatively cheap shoot. They are to professional politics what wrestling is to professional sports.

It’s like watching a reality version of Gilligan’s Island as an elimination game show. Just look at the cast. Seven contestants are or have been elected public officials and one has never held an elected public office. Three candidates are from the House of Representatives and one is from the Senate. Two are former governors and one is a sitting governor. There is a white woman, a black man, two white seniors and four middle-aged white men. Republicans call this diversity.

100% divided by 8 equals 12.5%. Polls only make the television event dubious.

Here is what is apparent. Gallup shows that Huntsman, Santorum and Paul do not register among likely Republican voters. What that means is that the money is not there. Gallup also reports that Romney, who has been running for president for five years, is the most likely to make it to the finals of the contest to win the Republican nomination. He is dull. So is the contest. There is no debating. Except for Perry’s lapse, debate moderator John Harwood said on PBS Washington Week, the television show would have only been about people reciting lines. The Perry gaffe made it interesting
Only interesting.

The Tea Party stains Bachmann and Cain: Bachmann, who thinks US default on its debt is good and Cain, who thinks sexual harassment is an acceptable management style. Age dims Paul and Gingrich: the Libertarian and the former Speaker could be a formidable tag-team for one presidential term, as US comic relief in a troubled world. Texas dung sticks to Perry’s pointed-toe boots, by his admission, and it stinks.

By the way, Romney and Perry may have the campaign money, but their support of US military intervention in Iran lacks money. They have not said how they would have the US pay for yet another war. Neither did George W. Bush, the former Republican president, who paid for two wars by deficit spending.

So, what about public service? There isn’t any. Romney knows what it is but won’t admit it. Huntsman and Santorum know what it is but lack the money to demonstrate it. Bachmann and Cain do not comprehend what it is. Paul and Gingrich are just there for the show. And none of them mention public service – that something missing in their television show.

Originally published as That Something Missing on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Republican Brand: An Empty Hat

The GOP became the removed-from-power party when Barack Obama won the 2008 election. The Republican Party ran a Senate veteran with a relatively novice politician to follow its flawed Presidential incumbency. They lost the election. The GOP squandered time for the necessity of rebuilding in favor of expedience. By the midterm elections it embraced a faction called the Tea Party. In so doing, the GOP became fractious, forgetting that it took six years for candidate Richard Nixon to successfully reinvent the Nixon brand: Nixon’s the One. Nixon had a plan. The Republican debates demonstrate no such plans from its cast of candidates and puts the brand in jeapordy.
To its credit the Republican National Committee replaced Michael Steele at its helm. However, the RNC retained the same elite hypocrisy as the John Boehner House speakership demonstrates. Being the party of business became the party owned by business. The recent debt ceiling crisis and deficit debate debacle that Speaker Boehner allowed makes matter worse. It difficult to argue that such GOP stewardship has been looking after the best interest of its stock holders, Republican and Independent voters. Some observers allege that the disparities in the Republican Party stem from ideological differences. However, those allegations are phony.
One might think that it must be hard to be both phony and shallow. Failure to distance the Republican brand from its Tea Party faction as well as from self-appointed spokespeople like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin has corralled the GOP into a political pen. Bigots have come to roost. The Republican debates may have demonstrated reach and audience, but the star candidates lack substance. They are becoming highly paid political celebrities who are famous for being famous. Unfortunately, that is all there is to them. They don’t stand for anything; they stand against things, President Obama foremost among all. They don’t represent anyone other than themselves. A television audience is a poor substitute for a constituency.
The concept of “take the country back” deserves derision, not applause. It is an expression of rube rhetoric that may sound good but does not mean anything. Does it mean taking the country back to another time in history, like before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 -- an idea floated by Rand Paul? Does it mean taking the country away from a person or from a group? I ask because neither the President nor the Congress is a foreign occupier of our government. Even so, the Tea Party faction likes the “take back” slogan fragment because it is an identifier, like a verbal secret handshake.

Although they won’t admit it, the Tea Party folks are pissed off because they lost the most important election of our time in 2008. They have hated the loss now for three years. They will continue to hate it for another five years if the secret handshakers in Congress continue to make the O in GOP stand for obstruction.
There is a limit to just how much empty-hat policy the country will tolerate. Griping about everything the president does or doesn’t do is no substitute for policies on issues such as civil rights, ending the wars, and immigration reform. Karl Rove’s acolytes drove Hispanics and Blacks from the GOP to appeal to the white Christian right. That was their master plan, their conservative agenda. Gallup reports, “The Republican Party in 2011 remains demographically and ideologically similar to the way it looked in 2008. The only change is that “Republicans are now slightly less likely than they were in 2008 to be male and to be highly religious.”
The Tea Party rejuvenated the GOP sufficiently in the midterm elections to keep it out of any meaningful rehabilitation. Had it undergone rehab, the Republican Party would have admitted it is powerless over the greed that subsidizes it and that subsequently tarnished America’s reputation and finances. It would have made amends to everyone it hurt, like the American people. Seeking some forgiveness is no longer an option. Repudiation is in order, such as bringing criminal charges against Bush, Cheney and Rove -- indicting them with high crimes and misdemeanors.
Instead, the GOP has served up a meaningless series of television debates among candidates who are incompetent for the presidency. The debates offered lots of talking points but no policy, just empty-hat ritual and rube rhetoric. The debates showed that the party lacks the courage for the conciliation required to rebuild the Republican constituency. It will require those attributes for the Republican brand to become inclusionary, to end obstructionism and to become a smart, loyal opposition.
The “O” in GOP stands for “Old.” The elephant logo dates from 1874. It looks like something one would expect to find hanging on the wall at Applebee’s. I can venerate the GOP for what it once was in my father’s lifetime. “I like Ike” was then. Today, the GOP brand is like old-time religion -- significant to a former time, just not to this time. The once venerable Republican Party has become more about political celebrities, who vie for money by denigrating the incumbent president than it is about conservative policies articulated by credible candidates. Deep down inside, it is shallow.

Originally published as Republican Brand: An Empty Hat on Blogcritics.

Monday, November 14, 2011

End Sweeping the Voting Rights Act

The good news about the Voter ID law debate is what it demonstrates: the modern GOP’s antipathy to civil rights. The concerted state level effort to end-sweep the constitution is a cynical attempt to limit the electoral process in the knowledge that it will not be litigated until after the damage is done. The GOP knows that the lower the voter turnout in 2012, the better prospect their party has in the national election. However, despite financing, hypocritical rhetoric and a dependence on public ignorance, these new state Voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American in his heart can justify. The right is one which no American true to our principles can deny.” President Lyndon Johnson made those remarks before Congress on August 6, 1965, when he signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Extended in 1970, 1975, 1982, and 2006, the VRA codifies and effectuates the 15th Amendment's permanent guarantee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law. It prohibits any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and states that proof of intentional discrimination is not required. The provision focuses instead on whether the electoral processes are equally accessible to minority voters. New Voter ID laws are not.

The GOP falsely claims that widespread voter fraud exists. Once upon a time it did.

Electoral fraud by ballot box stuffing, throwing out non-Democratic votes, or counting them for the Democrats even when cast for the opposition, was the norm in the Southern states before legal means of voter disenfranchisement became entrenched. Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. The rhetoric is flawed.antee that no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color. During the Reagan Administration, Congress amended Section 2 of the law. It prohibits any voting practice or procedure that has a discriminatory result and states that proof of intentional discrimination is not required.

In a Wall Street Journal column Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach wrote, "You can't cash a check, board a plane, or even buy full-strength Sudafed over the counter without ID.” Kobach is the co-author of Arizona's SB 1070 illegal immigration law and former Counsel to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. “That's why it's not unreasonable to require one in order to protect our most important privilege of citizenship."

Nice try, but voting is not a privilege. Voting is constitutional right. There is no Bill of Privileges.

Rolling Stone reports that 38 states have introduced legislation designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process. Alabama and Kansas require new voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Registration drives for new voters by groups like the League of Women Voters in Texas and Florida are now restricted. Maine’s Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973, has been repealed. Moreover, early voting periods have been shortened in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the New York University School of Law. At a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections, the states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 -- 63% of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

Most cynically, an internal memo circulated by executive assistant of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Steve Krieser, instructs employees: "While you should certainly help customers who come in asking for a free [Voter] ID to check the appropriate box, you should refrain from offering the free version to customers who do not ask for it." Obtaining a state-issued photo ID for the purpose of voting is actually free of charge. But if voters don't specifically ask for the free ID, they'll get charged $28.

Can you say “Poll Tax?”

"There is cost no matter what, whether they give these IDs out for free or not," said the executive director of One Wisconsin Now, Scot Ross. "There is a cost that you would not normally have to bear in order to be an eligible voter."

Even if an ID is free, getting the documents to obtain it can be expensive and difficult. For example, a U.S. passport costs as much as $145. Naturalization papers can run up to $200. A birth certificate in Texas costs $22. People born out of state who lack transportation, work multiple jobs, have disabilities, or are home-bound or poor cannot access or afford this paperwork.

It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prohibit the poll tax in state elections. The Supreme Court independently declared poll taxes an unconstitutional violation of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections. Congress applied a nationwide prohibition against the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on literacy tests. However, the modern GOP seeks to end-sweep the VRA in specific and Constitution in general.

President Johnson said, “The denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong.” That denial is the effect of new Voter ID laws. As LBJ admonished Congress in 1965, "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem.”

Article first published as End Sweeping the Voting Rights Act on Blogcritics.