Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Context of the Campaign

I wasn't really sure whether this one was worth an item or not, but anyway...I was in the car yesterday, and flipping around I wound up on the local conservative talk radio station. Very first words I heard: I can't do it verbatim, but it was essentially "I've come to the conclusion that Barack Obama is deliberately trying to ruin America." Followed by a bit about how George W. Bush was just incompetent, and the host had entertained that possibility with Obama...but after careful reflection, he's now decided that it must be deliberate. After all, he went on, you can see it in his eyes. After that, he then talked about how Mitt Romney should issue an edict when he became president to nullify the Supreme Court decision on health care reform, and something about how we need a good Constitutional crisis about now.

The guy turned out to be a guest host: Mark Williams, who got some publicity when he was kicked out of one of the Tea Party groups for a flap a while back. As I was saying, I wasn't really sure it was worth an item, but that tipped me over the edge was the radio show web sight, which had a different topic highlighted entirely:

Getting A Voter ID Is "Inconvenient" We Really Want These People To Vote In The First Place?
The obvious question is which is worse: "These People" or "We"?

Anyway, it's a good reminder of the context that Mitt Romney is operating within. This isn't to make excuses for Romney; party leaders can do a fair amount to change their own party's context. But it does help explain what he's up to. He's heading up a party which is constantly told that the President of the United States hates this country and is actively trying to undermine it. At the very least, that sets a pretty weird context for the campaign and gives Romney a set of choices that wouldn't be immediately apparent without understanding that context.


  1. Conservatives assume that citizens who find voter ID so inconvenient that they won't actually vote are probably not bringing their "A-Game" to the voting booth anyway. I'm not sure I agree, but I think it's a perfectly reasonable opinion.

    On the other side of things, it doesn't matter how convenient you make it for people to obtain a voter ID, there will always be Democrats who consider it "voter suppression." I think Democrats are a bit tone deaf on this one -- the average person is not surprised to be hassled several times a day for their ID, for things much less important than exercising their right to vote. We're increasingly living in a security-oriented society, so it's only natural that people want to feel that their elections are secure as well.

    1. The Brennan Center at NYU Law School calculates that in the 10 states that have introduced restrictive voter ID laws, there are a half million people who don't have vehicles and live at least 10 miles from an ID-issuing office that's open at least two days a week. In the 32 counties of southern Texas, there are just two such offices. That seems like a substantial inconvenience, and that's apart from such subtle political filters as accepting a state-issued concealed-weapons permit as ID but not accepting a state university student ID as ID.

  2. Couves - thoughtful comment. Here is a general response:

    1. Voter ID seeks to fix a non-existent problem. There is no simply evidence of voter fraud outside of extremely isolated examples. The Bush Administration studied the problem nationwide and could barely find any evidence. Here in NH, the only recent instances of voter fraud were (a) James Keefe committing voter fraud in an effort to prove that voter fraud exists, and (b) the son of the Republican speaker of the state house registering illegally.

    2. It can be extremely hard for some people to get ID, much more than conservatives acknowledge. How hard depends on the rules of the state and the condition of the person in question. Some states are restricting where you can get ID and not locating outlets in Democratic districts. Some states are restricting the open hours of outlets (I read that there is a place (in WI?) that is only open on the 5th Wednesday of the month, which occurs 4 times a year). Some states are restricting the types of ID that are allowed - gun licenses okay, student IDs not okay. What about a homebound elderly person without a driver's license? What about someone who was born at home without a doctor and doesn't have a birth certificate (usually required to get an ID)? What about a person who works through the weekday, when the ID outlets are open, and doesn't get time off? What about people who don't have access to either a car or public transport? Etc.

    3. In most cases, these IDs are only available for a fee. Why isn't such a fee like a poll tax? If states are going to require ID, shouldn't they go out of their way to reduce the barriers to getting an ID?

    4. It is true that the "average" person has an ID and can meet the requirement. But why shouldn't we be considering people in not-average or below-average or exceptional circumstances in making these laws? Why don't their voices count?

    5. Conservatives seem notably unwilling to consider other people's circumstances. I chalk it up to the general conservative empathy deficit (if they don't face a circumstance in their own life, they are unlikely to care about it), as well as partisan interest.

    1. I'm not in favor of voter ID, I just don’t think it’s an inherently sinister idea. The Georgia law is the only one I've read about and my impression was that the ID's were both free and easy to obtain. But if you and Scott are describing them accurately, then I think they're clearly a violation of civil rights.

      Regarding #5 -- liberals have their own blind spots, where they've proven to be perfectly willing to ignore people's individual circumstances, and even their basic Constitutional freedoms, when it conflicts with their own agenda.

      I'll use an example from my own state (MA --"the bluest state"). Concealed carry permits are only issued at the discretion of the Chief of Police in your city or town. Suburban towns give them out freely. Cities, which are disproportionately poor, disabled and minority, very infrequently issue carry permits at all. Non-citizens aren't allowed to own handguns anywhere in the state. Now, if I wanted to play games, I would darkly hint that liberals fear dark-skinned people and want to keep them defenseless. Of course the real issue isn't the sinister motives of one side or the other, but a general lack of interest in the freedom of the individual when it conflicts with their political agenda.

    2. We'd all be so much safer is everyone ran around with loaded assault rifles...

    3. Purusha, you’re closer to the truth than you know! A number of common handguns are not available here because they violate the MA assault weapons ban, which prohibits the sale of new firearms with a magazine capacity greater than ten.

  3. When I once dared to ask an American online why the USA doesn't handle the situation like Germany (where people have to register when they move, and have a photo ID card - and if people need aid to get there or pay for the card the state pays for it) I was told I was living in a police state, and if I liked it I had to be completely brainwashed or a lackey of the system. (BTW, I don't think German police ask people more often to show their papers than US police)

  4. Also, there's an Official White House memo in Barak Obama's handwriting which orders government agents in Texas and Arizona to sell guns to Mexican drug dealers and keep this going until a half-dozen innocent Americans get taken out as bystanders in wars between drug cartels. Until this memo is released and Barak Obama confesses his sins on national TV, there's no reason at all for Mitt Romney to release his tax records.

    Top level involvement, murders of innocents, full disclosure-- nothing else will satisfy the wingnuts. Who will no doubt sleep happily with the notion that giving out Romney's tax records will be equally explosive.

  5. Yeah that is pretty awful, and the authoritarian streak thats increasingly coming out of conservatives (only people who agree with me should be allowed to vote, that sort of stuff) about voting is pretty ugly and bad for our democracy. But it reminds me of a great point that Yglesias made about the ECB demanding political concessions from countries in exchange for fixing economic misery. Matt said something to the tune of "two can play at this game" and pointed out a liberal central banker could say threaten to raise intrest rates and start a recession unless climate change legislation is passed. When actors in a democracy start trying to rig an electoral system to favor themselves or play "constitutional hardball" opponents have strong incentives to do the same and as a result democracy as a whole suffers. I live in Minnesota where there's a voter suppression constitutional amendment on the ballot this year but a good chance the legislature will flip back to the Dem's giving them control of the legislature and the Governorship. Why not return the favor and pass the "Ronald Reagan Freedom Support and Job Creation Act" which will require counties with population densities under a certain threshold (and thus more GOP) to have only one polling location for the whole county open for 4 hours on election day. It will save money and create jobs by cutting big government spending right? Also have fun driving 50 plus miles one way to vote on election day! Conservatives should remember that the sword can cut both ways.

  6. The argument that IDs are necessary for things like buying liquor, flying on an airplane, etc., so why shouldn't they be needed for the much-more-important act of voting has it backwards. The answer: you don't have a constitutional right to buy liquor or fly on an airplane. Voting is perhaps the most precious constitutional right we have because it is the individual's ONLY real power in our political system. Therefore, the fewest burdens possible consistent with the integrity of the process should be placed on voting. I don't understand why people don't get this distinction.


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