We’ve discussed this before here many times, but John Holbo at Crooked Timber has a post up that’s so astoundingly good I wanted to draw everyone’s attention to it.
The post is, “Political Dog-whistles Don’t Have An Off-Switch For The Dog-whistle Part,” and it’s about why the Republican presidential candidate received ~0% of the African-American vote in the last election. It’s also about why Republicans find it so damn unfair to be accused of racism when they’re proposing [more draconian enforcement of immigration laws|cutting AFDC|that Sonya Sotomayor is incompetent|that Susan Rice is incompetent|that Barack Obama is incompetent|that Barack Obama is from Kenya|that Barack Obama is the ‘food stamp’ president|that the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have been passed|that Affirmative Action is bad|making it harder for members of minority groups to vote|how awesome The Bell Curve was|etc] for perfectly good ideological reasons that have nothing to do with race. It’s also about what the Republican Party might need to do if they want to change any of that.
Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that Rice’s handling of Benghazi was plausibly incompetent (I don’t buy it, but suppose.) Problem is: if you have a history of saying abstract things, signaling something else, you have painted yourself into a rhetorical corner when it comes to saying abstractly negative things about Susan Rice and not having black people suspect you are really saying something else. It’s also obvious why Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, etc. do not remove the suspicion that you are trying to paper over your race problem without addressing it.
So this is the problem, essentially. Republicans have a long history of using coded racial language to appeal to white racists.1 I think that’s a problem, of course, and I think that the disparate impact that many of their preferred policies have on racial minorities is a problem, but I think that there’s a third problem: the ongoing refusal of Republicans to openly discuss any of this.
What happens, time and again, is that the discussions about the racism and deliberate appeals to racists that the Republican Party has engaged in end up getting bogged down in technical deniability.
That is: “Sure, there are ‘the birthers,’ but they’re not in the mainstream of the party.” And, “Sure, Mitt Romney, our most recent presidential candidate, made birther references, but they were just JOKES! Loosen up!” And, “When Newt called Obama the Food Stamp President, there was nothing racial about that.” And, “It’s technically possible to oppose the civil rights act and all legislation designed to remedy discrimination for ideological reasons without bringing racism into it at all.”
After a while, the process of defending your party against claims of racism (by dismissing and minimizing the concerns of racial minorities and relying on technicalities) does as much or more damage to your party’s image as the original racism itself.
And that’s because this deniability isn’t plausible deniability (unless you’re Republican). It’s technical deniability. It’s true that it’s technically possible to oppose the Civil Rights Act for non-racist reasons. It’s true that it’s technically possible to do all of this stuff for non-racist reasons. But, frankly, after witnessing decades of the Republican Party exploiting racial tensions to win elections, it’s just not plausible that that’s what’s going on … and the kind of smirking, winking “You can’t call this racist unless there’s no other possible explanation” wins no prizes.
And hey, as Holbo points out, maybe you’re not racist! Maybe you are saying and doing these things that have been historically coded racist for purely ideological reasons! Here’s the problem:
But even if whites at some point, in their sincerest hearts of hearts, want ‘we want to cut this’ to not serve any longer as an in-group/out-group marker (to use the nicest possible term for it) because 1) they have sincerely become less racist and 2) it hurts them at the ballot box, it’s totally unreasonable to expect that out-group members will stop hearing this as dog-whistle ethnocentric signaling, at precisely the convenient moment when it no longer serves the interests of white folks to have it be heard that way. The dog-whistle part doesn’t have an off-switch, so if ‘we want to cut this’ is a dog-whistle, you can’t proposing cutting without dog-whistling.
John Holbo’s point, and mine, is that unless the Republican Party enjoys falling off the demographic cliff, they’ll need to openly address their racism, purge it, and make crystal-fucking-clear that it’s been purged. Frankly, I don’t think they’ll be able to do it, at least not very soon.
I hope I’m wrong.
- Don’t blame me for saying this, blame Lee Atwater. [↩]
Speaking for myself, I have to say that I do not see the Republicans as any more racist than the Average Democrat, and certainly no more than the average African American (a label that I do not apply to myself, and not just because I am not American)
What is undeniable is that the Republicans of any caliber are trying very hard to appeal to white racists and poor people who firmly believe they’re middle class, the same way that Democrats are trying to appeal to white guilt, and to minorities who firmly believe they are being victimized by whites (as opposed to the rich)
From where I stand, I see a bunch of horrible people who are manipulating a bunch of stupid people, and I cannot quite tell how stupid the horrible ones are, nor how horrible the stupid ones are. I know that one side of the aisle supports my interests better, but unfortunately, they also make me physically sick… their opponents only make me ashamed of sympathizing with them.
Not to get off topic… I think that you are absolutely correct that Republican politicians consciously try to appeal to racists. Why do you have a problem with this? They are shooting themselves in the foot. As time marches on, whites are growing proportionally fewer, and expressing white racism is becoming more and more the sign of low class.
At some point, the Republicans will wake up, and realize that they need to change their tune. The later they do, the more of a chance there is that there will be a period when the Democrats will have the political power to actually make some chances for the common good. Such changes are likely to be against my short term interests, but I try very hard take the long view (or my wife will give me disappointed looks)
Oh, I somehow removed the paragraph in which I was making clear that I do not believe that any Democrat politician above a certain rank has any interest in the common good. Well, I still don’t.
I sense a suggestion that whether or not the Republicans can make this message crystal-fucking-clear depends entirely on things the Republicans do today. I’m skeptical.
Here’s my take:
Once upon a time, the Democrats were the party of white supremacy, tradition, states’ rights, and the South; the Republicans were the party of emancipation, education, progress, and the North. After losing a bunch of presidential elections, the Democrats under Franklin Roosevelt found a new electoral base by appealing to the middle and lower classes. This strategy worked, but had political advantages and disadvantages. During the Depression it had the advantage of appealing to the majority of citizens, who identified with being downtrodden. But this strategy caused the Democratic Party to represent the interests of ethnic minorities and “radicals” – and this would prove to be a disadvantage over time, especially as the US economy improved, and the threat of outside forces dominated economic concerns at the national level.
During the next major economic slump – the stagnation of the 70s — the Republicans adopted a counterstrategy, ultimately encapsulated in Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.” The Republicans appealed to white resentment triggered by the lousy economy and perceived loss of status relative to blacks. This strategy worked – but again, had advantages and disadvantaged. In particular, it tied the Republican Party to racism.
The Democratic Party could do many things, yet still not persuade Tea Partiers that it isn’t some font of a Communist conspiracy. Similarly, the Republican Party could adopt a platform written by Myca, but it still wouldn’t cause the party to shake off the taint of racism. In sum, each party has adopted strategies that have had short-term benefits but also long-term costs. Those long-term costs must be paid – well, over the long term. Nixon created today’s Republican Party, and benefited from his creation; the party is still paying Nixon’s debts.
I don’t think that cleansing the taint of racism from the Republican party will be an immediate thing, but I do think that the sooner they begin and the more aggressively they pursue this goal, the less they’ll suffer, long-term.
I think the costs could be paid short term, though the result wouldn’t be anything like the Republican party as we now know it–which (like NR pointed out) is already what happened in earlier political shifts.
If you openly purge bigotry, you lose the South. Why would the Republican Party want to do that, given that their non-social policies are massively unpopular already?
Of course, Democrats and Liberals have a vested interest in convincing as many people as possible that various statements by Republicans are ‘racially coded’ whether those statements were intended as such or not. Painting Republicans as ‘racists’, whether or not that is an accurate depiction, is good politics for Democrats, is it not? And technical deniability comes in handy there, too.
Did you miss Lee Atwater? The GOP is a political party that explicitly exploited (and exploits) racism to get votes. It’s undeniable since it has told us so itself. It’s probably also ‘racist’, but I’m not positive of what you mean by that.
Exactly. Indeed, that’s just the flip side of John Holbo’s initial point.
See, I can’t know another person’s heart. I can merely perceive another person’s actions (including another person’s words). Over time, a person will accrue a reputation based on past actions. And where there is doubt – and there is always some doubt — I will interpret that person’s actions based on that person’s reputation.
The Republicans have long benefited from Willy Horton-type campaigns that appealed to racial fears, even if only through implication. That has become the Republican reputation. After decades of receiving such messages, I am prone to interpret Republican messages in this light.
Is this unfair to new Republican messages? In one sense, no: Republicans as early as Nixon adopted a race-laden strategy that foreseeably had electoral benefits in the short term and costs in the long term. We’ve now reached the long term, and Republicans are now reaping what they have sown. And AnonymousDog is right: The Democrats, having suffered defeats while Nixon’s Southern Strategy was working, now have every incentive and opportunity to remind people of the Republican reputation for making race-laden remarks now that the Southern Strategy has, well, “gone south.” I can’t blame them.
But in another sense, yes, it is unfair: the messenger is NOT the message. I strive to maintain an open mind to ALL messages, regardless of the messenger’s reputation. But this requires effort and good will.
Yet here’s where I draw the line: Where there is doubt – and there is always some doubt — the Republicans do not deserve the benefit of it. Perhaps my children will be more open-minded than I. But, as I alluded to in my prior post, even if Republicans engage in the most wholesome politics from now on, their reputation precedes them. I suspect that this reputation, plus the ever-present doubt involved in any communication, will impede their agenda for a generation or so.
On the magnanimous side, I suspect I am less inclined than Myca to blame current Republicans for their declining national prospects. As I say, current Republicans must pay the reputational debts incurred by past Republicans. (In Minnesota, current Republicans must also pay the financial debts of past Republicans.) I see little hope that they will be able to shed this debt any time soon.
First, sure Democrats have a vested interest in convincing the public of bad things about Republicans, just at Republicans have a vested interest in convincing the public of bad things about Democrats. And it doesn’t ‘matter’ whether those things are true in the sense that once people are convinced, that will affect their vote, regardless of the underlying truth of the matter.
But in asking this question, phrased this way, AnonymousDog seems to be implying that the main problem Republicans face vis-a-vis their racism is that the public has been convinced, wrongly, that they’re racist via Democratic propaganda. If that’s not what he’s implying, I certainly apologize, but it’s the sort of claim I’ve heard so many times that I’d like to address it.
Frankly, it’s a claim that’s so out of touch with reality it’s scary. Mitt Romney took less of the black vote than any candidate I’ve seen in any race I’ve paid attention to for any office ever. EVER.
That’s not because of spoooooky Democratic mind control rays. That’s because Republicans have a long and open history of racism, and a long history of advocating for certain non-racist policies as a way to dog-whistle racism. Nowadays, I think the racism is probably less important to the party than the policies, but after 30-40 years of saying “cut welfare” as code for “screw the blacks,” it’s going to be a lot harder for Republicans to say “cut welfare” without everyone hearing “screw the blacks.”
The longer Republicans deny this, the longer they talk about how Democrats are the real racists, the longer they talk about how racism is over and complaints about racism are ‘playing the race card’ and how it’s all lies anyway … the longer the hurt will go on. The people they are trying to convince do not believe them. They know there’s an actual problem. It’s time for Republicans to wake the fuck up and realize it too.
Eh. I’m agnostic. I think that a lot of Republican policies are less about racism than they once were, but that’s not to say that there are none that are. The Arizona immigration law sure as hell didn’t need any dog whistles, Democratic propaganda, or long-term costs to drive Latin@ voters away. It was just perceived as racist as hell. Same thing with the racist birther nonsense.
I do think that there’s something to what you’re saying, though, nobody.really. I think that there are policies that are much more about advancing a traditional Republican economic agenda than they are about race that end up getting tagged as racist because Republicans have historically used them that way.
Which brings me to my third point.
Someone smart, I think it was Ta-Nehisi Coates, wrote a while back that African Americans tend to be socially (but not economically) conservative, but vote overwhelmingly Democratic because they have the sense that Republicans are a bunch of racists.
I think he’s right in general, but I also think that the longer Republicans push a racist agenda and live in denial about the racism, open and covert, in their party and agenda, TNC’s quote will be less true. What I mean is that for a long time, Republicans attacked urban poor people as a way of attacking black people and being able to deny it. What happened was that black people started hearing attacks on poor people as attacks on them
I think we’re seeing a similar realignment right now in terms of social issues. When Republicans are all on one side, and racial minorities, poor people, gay people, and the first black president are on the other, I think it’s inescapable.
If Republicans don’t want that to happen, if they’d rather not see black people become as socially liberal as they are economically liberal, I think they need to change that basic division.
It would undoubtedly be better for the Democratic party for Republicans to remain openly racist for as long as possible.
I’m more interested in having a functioning two-party (or multi-party, but that’s another post) democracy that’s interested in discussing actual solutions to actual problems than I am in what’s in the long-term interest of the Democratic party.
I’m also more interested in making racism, open and covert, socially and politically unacceptable than I am in what’s in the long-term interest of the Democratic party.
It’s more important to stop insulting racial minorities than it is to win elections.
No question. I vote overwhelmingly Democratic, and even without Republican racism, I would favor Democratic policies … but for the love of fuck, wouldn’t it be great if we had two parties, neither of which were aggressively racist or homphobic or xenophobic, but who still had different ideas?
Right now, I’m flatly not going to consider voting for a Republican president, because it would be the equivalent of screaming ‘fuck you’ over and over at a lot of people I love, and that’s too bad. I try be where nobody.really is, “striv[ing] to maintain an open mind to ALL messages, regardless of the messenger’s reputation,” but even the most awesome economic plan ever isn’t going to convince me that voting for racist and homophobic shit is okay.
Awesome response, Myca.
I also think the Republican led aggressive campaign of voter disenfranchisement over the past decade has been clearly racist in effect (and hey, the courts agree with me!). We have a party with a recent history of racist behavior actively using a technique with a history of racist intent (voter disenfranchisement) to produce a clearly racist effect, and the party shows no signs of concern about this racist effect and no interest in ameliorating this racist effect.
Even if the Republicans aren’t engaging in voter disenfranchisement for directly racist reasons (they just want to disenfranchise Democrats, and disenfranchising black people is one way of doing that), the ways in which that is different from being an overtly and explicitly racist party are pretty subtle and irrelevant to anyone being subjected to disenfranchisement or concerned about being disenfranchised in the future. At least anecdotally, anger over Republican efforts to disenfranchise black people was a significant motivator for some black voters this year. I think the Republicans need to stop trying to keep black people (and Latino people and old people and poor people) from voting before they can really start working on trying to not be perceived as the party of racists anymore.
Lots of thought-provoking things here, but I think that Romney’s share of the black vote can be somewhat discounted as a Great Shining Indicator of Republican (Perceived and Real) Racism. Specifically, this: “Mitt Romney took less of the black vote than any candidate I’ve seen in any race I’ve paid attention to for any office ever. EVER.”, while possibly technically true owing to the weasel-words about which races Myca paid attention to, is just not true.
Romney got 6% of the overall black vote this time. Four years ago, McCain got…4%. Obvious reason for the INCREASE: four years ago Obama was the very first black candidate in the two-party election; in 2012, he was not. Some fraction of black people could very naturally be expected to vote for him out of simple group identity the first time around, and then some of those people would not feel so obliged the next time around.
What’s the secular trend?
In 2004, Bush got 11 percent of the black vote; he got 8 percent in 2000. Dole got 12 percent in 96; going back, the percentages were 10, 12, 9, 11, until we get to 1976 when Republicans pulled a whopping 16 percent.
So the trend is: around a sixth of the black electorate voted Republican in the early 1970s, and it has scaled down very slowly since then, until 2008 when the first black candidate ran and the number *cratered*, although it recovered a bit in 2012. The only big inflection point occurs in 2008; there are seven straight elections covering three decades in which the Republican share of the black vote was within 2 points of 10%, year in and year out. In 2008, the share drops from 11 to 4, and it is bleeding obvious why.
This has a good fit for a “most blacks don’t trust the Republicans, and some people in an identity group – maybe 5 percent – will vote for a pioneer from their group when they have a chance, though that effect might fade a bit with time”.
It’s not a good fit at all for “suddenly blacks became aware of Republican racism and declined to vote for such people”, unless the Republicans were super-canny at disguising their racism until the presidential candidate of the other party was black, at which time they broke out the white robes.
All that said, Republicans do have a HUGE problem with winning support from minority voters, and I do not know how we overcome it, if we do.
(2012 data: http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/11/08/demographics-of-election-2012-behind-the-numbers-part-i/, pre-2012 data, http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/national-exit-polls.html)
I stand kinda-corrected!
I’d actually thought that the percentage was lower than that (I know he was polling at zero percent of the black vote in at least one poll), so in that way, good catch, Robert.
But whether Romney’s share of the black vote was ‘a Great Shining Indicator of Republican (Perceived and Real) Racism,’ if you’re losing 93% of the black vote, you should probably give up on the “they’ve been tricked” rhetoric. NINETY-THREE PERCENT of them haven’t been tricked, man.
My point is that the reason that, “Republicans do have a HUGE problem with winning support from minority voters,” is pretty obvious, and needs addressing.
Part of it will self-solve, if the younger generation is acting in good faith. (I think that a lot of them are.) Note the drop from 16% prior to the late 70s; I suspect that number reflected black people who were still voting Republican because they grew up with the Republican party as the party of racial progress. And then they got old, and they died, and their kids didn’t have those memories or those perceptions. We lose a decade or two off the older end of the conservative movement and, willy nilly, a big chunk of the racists in it will also inherit the dirt.
One thing that the Republican party can offer is encouragement and mentoring to entrepreneurial people of every race. (I’ve been singing this song for 20 years.) The party establishment generally see that as outside the scope of the party. I think we should see it as one of the main points of our existence. Entrepreneurs and self-starters *do* bootstrap and *do* spontaneously generate – but it’s like mold in the refrigerator. Do nothing, and some mold spots will appear. Spray the whole thing down with nutrient solution, toss a few pounds of mushrooms in there, and seal it up for a month, and it’ll be fungapalooza.
We should also switch our emphasis on some class issues. We should be strongly in favor of big tax credits for the working poor, for married parents, for veterans and the genuinely disabled. And we should be ruthlessly opposed to social spending on the middle class, and should view government largesse to the wealthy as being akin to liking Twilight – intolerable among civilized humans.
That program is a political loser in the short term, but we have a choice. The rhetoric ought to be something like: “We can be a socialistic country like the European kleptocracies, with cradle-to-grave everything and taxes up the yin yang. Or we can be a country where the needy and struggling are cared for, but other people are expected to carry their own weight and people mostly keep what they earn. Well, we’re sorry to be harsh, but if the average person is getting and depending on government help, then we’re on an unstoppable track towards being Greece. The approach we take to middle-class, middle-income, middle-of-the-curve Americans *defines* where we end up. The democrats want Joe Sixpack to be state dependents. The republicans want Joe Sixpack to be independent. That’s the choice.”
And then we have to live it. If we do that, it will attract a plurality in some years and a majority in others.
It’s not that I disagree with you, Robert. I think some of your ideas are bad, but on the whole, they’re much better than what the Republicans have on order currently. Especially the part about making up shit about what Democrats want. That’s always a vote-getter.
The problem is that it’s just that it’s a general party platform, and seems orthogonal to “how does the Republican party win back minority votes.” It’s like saying, “we’ll win gay votes with our awesome job creation!”
Which, yeah, that would win some gay votes, but a lot of them would still ‘notice’ that the Republican Party is the party of homophobes and gay-hate.
Do you honestly believe that the Republican party doesn’t have a problem with being the party of racists and racism?
Contingently, partially as a result of the Southern Strategy. Intrinsically? No. Unless one believes that racial minorities have an intrinsic need for or inherent connection to social welfare programs, there’s nothing particularly keeping racial minorities on the side of the party that favors bigger social welfare programs; accordingly, we’re better off becoming the party that opposes most social welfare, rather than the party that favors slightly smaller big social welfare programs.
Angling specifically for minority votes, rather than simply being a party which welcomes all Americans while perhaps taking special notice of the current issues facing particular communities, is morally loathesome and I’m not strategizing about how to do that. Republicans used to have nearly 100% of the black vote, when the party treated black voters the same as white voters and also took their side on civil rights issues like voting. We should be on the side of people’s civil rights, but because everybody should have their civil rights, not because doing so will get blacks to like Mitt better.
I didn’t really answer you well. The way for us to stop being the party of racism is to stop being the party of racism; that can come with the passage of time and the deaths of some people (white racists, and black people who won’t be able to adjust their view of the GOP), but not much else. Setting out to accelerate that process would be wrong, because murder is bad. Personal moral change is unlikely on a broad scale; a lot of old GOP racists are going to die racist. And we’re not the party of blathering on about feelings so we’re not gonna have a Hallmark Moment where everything gets better when John Boehner talks about how he used to fear black people but now he’s cool.
You know, other than that institutional racism thing and its impact on social disparity.
Social welfare programs are an obvious response to institutional racism, and a response that alleviates emotional guilt felt by majority members who want to believe in the institutions of their society. And sometimes, I am sure, the social welfare programs do some good, both directly for their recipients and indirectly for the society.
But other programs can have perniciously destructive effects on their intended recipients. Some of the findings of those iatrogenic policies have been very controversial, others less so. Sometimes the social program have good effects on the first circle of the ripple-in-the-pond, but then bad things happen in subsequent circles. (For example, in the Bad Old Days, a black family that made some economic progress often didn’t really have the ability to move into a more prosperous neighborhood; racial constraints kept them “in their place”. That sucked for them. But when those racial constraints got removed as a matter of policy, successful blacks were able to move away from their less prosperous brethren – with the pernicious effect that young people in that community rarely get to see the economically successful members of their community in attainable, mainstream jobs – when they do see them, it’s not as neighbors, fellow congregants, schoolmates, etc.) Nobody would argue that making black people stay in segregated neighborhoods is a social good; few would argue that the government policies and programs to remove that barrier are bad. But, nonetheless, the sons and daughters of the day laborer no longer see “CPA” as attainable career choice, because they don’t know any black CPAs. The blacks in their neighborhood who went into accounting left the minute they got a reasonably stable accounting job.
All of which is a long way of saying: sure, institutional racism. But lots of people don’t see social welfare programs and social intentionalist policy as being particularly great tools in ameliorating that problem, and a fair number of those people are black. Good-faith efforts to make our society more racially just, even if not predicated on “you poor dear, here’s a check/a training program/a housing voucher/an admission bump/a few points on the state employee exam”, can provide a framework.
I certainly don’t think this is true when it comes to the obvious attempts by the GOP to make it harder for Black and Latin@ people to vote. The impression that the GOP is made up of people who hate that non-white people are allowed to vote isn’t a leftover relic from decades ago; it’s an observation about how the GOP acts in the current day. Young POC who decide the GOP is racist are acting on current information. Four years from now, the GOP is going to try and win the next presidential election in the exact same way; they’re going to do their best to either make sure that Blacks and Latin@s don’t vote, or that their votes are not counted equally. Ditto for eight years, twelve years…
Until the people currently in the GOP decide not to put up with it, it’s not going to change. Generational change won’t help unless the new generations are going to be the ones to change how the GOP behaves.
I do think this is going to change regarding the GOP as the anti-gay party. There seem to be a lot of younger Republicans – including Christians – who are embarrassed by the GOP’s focus on anti-gay politics, which is a hopeful sign. But I’ve seen virtually no pushback against GOP racism from within the GOP.
(Not saying the Democrats are perfect, of course. But that’s not this thread.)
Are Republicans promulgating rules that make it harder for black and Latino people to vote on the basis of the color of their skin? Or on their economic class?
To put it another way, do the rules being promulgated make it harder for Thomas Sowell and Bill Cosby and Jimmy Smits to vote? Do they make it harder for my tin-shack-dwelling white semi-cousin “Al” in Mississippi to vote?
If the answers to those last two questions are “no” and “yes”, then I would have to say that no, we are not engaging in “racist” voter discouragement, we are engaging in classist voter discouragement. And – so long as we do not cross a bright line where a person’s right to vote is effectively infringed – I am personally all for many types of classist voter discouragement, and think everyone else should be too. My cousin Al was an idiot, and the argument that a polity where Al’s political voice was cultivated and drawn out is a superior polity to one where he is allowed to quietly drink himself to death undisturbed among his Playboys is a tough, uphill, row to hoe.
I will go to the barricades to demand that Al be allowed to vote, should he come staggering up Main Street having miraculously recalled that it is Election Day – that’s his Constitutional right. But damned if I’ll say we shouldn’t go out of our way to make sure Al didn’t trade his vote for beer, or that this is really him, or whatever malevolent Republican conspiracy to discourage his vote is currently in play.
Essentially, this is an argument that, even if the practical effect of a policy is racist, it’s okay if the intent is based on something else.
Which is not an entirely wrong argument (intent is often relevant), but it’s always a problematical argument (intent is not universally redemptive).
But it’s an argument, and the Republicans can go on making it. “We are trying to disenfranchise voters, which we know perfectly well have a disparate impact on racial minorities, on the basis of CLASS, not RACE! We’re not racist! How could you THINK such a thing?”
And hey, that strategy worked for them for years. Go nuts, Republicans.
The practical effect of the policy may be (probably is) different in different racial communities; racially differentiated outcomes are not automatically racist.
I think, again, that the impression left by the strategy is probably just as negative as Amp &c opine – but I think that impression could be blunted or neutralized with a sufficiently contumacious (and honest) staking out of principal. Universal right of suffrage is an excellent principle; universal execution of suffrage is a bad one. If we make you guys really own cousin-Al-SHOULD-vote, then the middle-class black voter trying to decide between the parties on the grounds of (say) foreign policy may be persuadable that we bear his franchise no ill-will, and seek in fact only to ensure it is not diluted by the addition of people whose civic participation to date has been sketchy or off-grid.
That’s not a super-fun argument for a politician to make, however delightfully enjoyable I find making it to be. But again, as part of a rebranding and retrenching of our party, and done at a time when we’re losing anyway, so why not go ahead and be right, I think it’s necessary. Dems and progs have staked out the “every homeless derelict, mind shattered by forty years of cheap wine, should be dragged over broken glass to the polls to gaze in mute, illiterate confusion at the ballot” territory; we’re not going to get anywhere by being pro-homeless-derelict-voting-only-not-quite-as-much, and we’re not going to get anywhere by being MORE pro-homeless-derelict-voting.
I dunno, Robert. From my perspective I’m no more inclined to vote for the party that says, “No Jewish doctors should vote, ” versus the party that says, “No Jews should vote.” That party is still targeting Jews for disenfranchisement, even if it is only a subsection of Jews of which I am not part.
If the GOP wants to make that argument to other minorities…. okay. I don’t see how that’s not a terrible strategy and the more terrible strategies the current incarnation of the GOP uses, the better.
How about if it’s ‘No Jewish felons should vote’, or ‘No Jewish non-citizens should vote’ – or, if you want to actually critique Republicans for the positions we advocate rather than the cartoonish mischaracterization that it is convenient to smear the positions with – ‘No felons should vote’ or ‘No non-citizens should vote’ or ‘No people without identification should vote’, with Jewish being left completely out of it?
Is the existence of any person of minority ancestry within a ‘targeted’ behaviorally-characterized group, sufficient to make the targeting really directed towards the minority aspect? Black people are somewhat more likely not to have government-issued photo ID, so it’s entirely fair to say that efforts to require government photo ID are actually targeted at blacks?
46% of Jewish-descended households had incomes of $100,000 or more, as opposed to 18% among all American households, according to a Pew study a few years back. Jews are more than twice as likely as the typical American – and almost SIX times as likely as the average black Protestant – to be in that income bracket. Can I start talking about plans to raise taxes on households making more than $100,000 a year as “Jewish-targeted tax plans”?
If I can’t, why not? The numerical difference is staggeringly obvious. The political and social discrimination against the targeted group is well-documented and pervasive. Hey, we’ve even got a political leader who belongs to the poorest ethnic-religious combination, as one of the main cheerleaders of the “tax the rich” policy effort. Sure, they might talk about the rich people having the money, or fairness, but it isn’t all just clearly a big get-the-Jews targeted effort?
So are you disinclined to vote for Democrats, now that you know they’ve got an anti-Jewish agenda?
What, you mean like this?:
My description is cartoonish, but depicts a fact pattern that conforms to the actual Democratic preference. Democrats and progressives, broadly, want everyone to vote. Many support laws which *require* everyone to vote. Alcoholism, illiteracy, and homelessness are not only not disqualifying to this world view, they are completely irrelevant. Would Democrats or progressives (with any political sense) leap to phrase the argument this way? No. Does the argument misrepresent what universal exercise of suffrage would, at one extreme, necessarily entail? No.
Now contrast Jake’s description of Republican policy preferences/changes/proposals/laws as being either “no Jews should vote” or “no Jews [with X voluntary characteristics] should vote”, and his indifference to the choice because both of these are awful. His language is exaggerated and his tone is glib – fair enough, that is very often the case with MY language and tone and I can hardly raise a penalty flag when people riposte in kind. But the fact pattern described is not the fact pattern observed; Republicans do not propose laws restricting the rights of Jews to vote, or the rights of Jews with [characteristic] to vote. We instead propose laws restricting the rights of people with [characteristic] to vote; “Jew” don’t enter into it. So: would Republicans (with any political sense) leap to phrase the argument this way? No. Does the argument misrepresent what the law actually proposes? Yes.
Vive la ‘difference.
I’m getting a bit confused by the discussion here. Most people here are stating that the Republicans are implementing a racist policy of trying to stop minorities from voting. Robert is proposing that this is not motivated by racism but rather by some sort of class based rationale, and that the racism is just an resulting side-effect, not a motivator.
But the thing that no-one here mentioned, that seems most likely to me as an outsider, was that the republicans are trying to stop people from voting if they think they are likely to vote democrat. The attempts at voter disenfranchising were not about principle – either racist principle, or class-based principle, but rather about winning. No?
Which is why it *floors* me that Robert is making the argument that it’s okay as long as it’s not deliberately racist (which, incidentally, I doubt). And “discouraging” is much too light a word for changing the rules about ID in order to keep people you don’t want to vote from voting, under the guise of preventing voter fraud. (A very thin guise when members of your party are saying flat-out that the purpose of the ID changes is to win the election for Romney.)
“No one without government ID should vote,” is one thing when it’s proposed well before a presidential election and efforts are made to publicize the rule changes and people have the opportunity to *get* government ID. That’s not what actually happened.
I’m fine with “felons shouldn’t vote (in states where they’re prohibited from doing so)” and “non-citizens shouldn’t vote,” and from that it follows that voter registration should include proving eligibility and actually voting should include proving that you’re the person who registered. *BUT* as has already been discussed here pretty much ad nauseum, using “driver’s license” as the standard has a disproportionate effect on poor, urban minorities (which is the real goal, let’s be honest). Less likely to have a license, more likely to rely on public transit, less likely to be able to take off work to bop over to the DMV on a Tuesday afternoon and, you know, still pay rent that month.
If Republicans gave a tiny little damn about voting fraud, *now* would be the time to change ID rules. Plenty of time to hash out rules, publicize them, *and* provide free government photo IDs to anyone who wants one and can prove citizenship and residency. Because if your required ID costs money, it’s a poll tax. I’m totally fine with paying for the privilege to drive, but voting isn’t a privilege. It’s a right.
Also, “people standing in long lines to vote shouldn’t get water…but only in largely black districts” (the complaints about the NAACP giving out water in Florida), also totally not racist, right? As well as “districts not likely to vote our way should have limited or no early voting to make the lines long and discourage as many people as possible.” Still not racist?
Yes, it’s highly convenient to try to deny the vote to people who won’t vote the way you like, it’s still wrong.
Dude, rights are rights. Is a homeless, illiterate alcoholic going to vote well? Probably not as likely as the general population. He/she still has a right to vote.
Every time you disenfranchise a group of people based not on their eligibility to vote, but based on other characteristics (homelessness, inability to produce valid ID), sure, you eliminate some people, maybe a lot of people, who are clueless and without whose vote we might be better off. *But* you also eliminate people who are perfectly intelligent and competent. “Homeless people shouldn’t vote” disenfranchises the guy living in his car because his job got shipped overseas just as much as it disenfranchises the guy who hasn’t held a job in years because he drinks all the time. “Alcoholics shouldn’t vote” disenfranchises the guy who walks around blitzed all the time and thinks Reagan is still president. And it disenfranchises my dad, a really smart, college-educated guy who’s worked at a refinery for the last 30+ years and pays tons of attention to politics (and quit drinking when I was in elementary school, incidentally, but alcoholism is a disease, not something that goes away).
I mean, I might think it would be swell if only people who could correctly identify the president’s religion were allowed to vote. I don’t get to take away my fellow citizens’ rights because they watch Fox News and listen to Rush Limbaugh—even if we might, as a country, be better off if they stayed home. But that’s not actually how rights work. I mean, I point out examples of disenfranchising people whose vote is beneficial largely because you’re expressing the idea that rights don’t matter unless someone meets your standard. But it’s not really my main point. My main point is “votes for people who will vote the way I think best” is, by definition, not democracy. The whole concept of “democracy” is that everybody gets a say.
And, incidentally, it’s more than a little screwed up to champion the policies that make more people homeless in the first place, then disenfranchise them for (for example) having had the poor judgment to get sick without insurance or laid off. Illiteracy, the same thing applies. The party that wants to dismantle the public schools doesn’t want the people who they decided didn’t deserve an education to vote. Nice. So, we make more and more people poor and illiterate, while denying them the vote. Neither party really pays attention to the poor now. We have the party of the rich and the party of the middle class. So let’s add large swaths of people to the group politicians ignore, and take away their ability to vote in politicians who won’t ignore them. Sounds like a great way to start a class war.
Not talking about the right to vote. Talking about whether you want somebody to vote. My semi-cousin Al, has every right in the world to vote. I’ll fight for his right to do it. At the same time, Al is an idiot who has worsened every decision he was ever part of making. I don’t want him to vote.
Some people do want him to vote.
Robert – I get not wanting people to vote, especially if they obviously do not have the necessary wherewithall to understand what they’re doing. I personally think that the world (and America) would be a better place if anyone who answers yes to the question “do you self-identify as a libertarian” was shot with horse tranquilizers whenever they approach within 100 feet of a polling booth. But I don’t get how all the actual policies put in place by actual Republicans during the actual election (such as the ones KellyK mentioned, and many others you can find testimonies of online, sometimes by the Republican officials who instituted them) have anything to do with discouraging the ignorant or frivolous from voting, as opposed to blocking the people from voting who are hostile to your party’s policies (or politicians).
Eytan – I’m actually suggesting a shift in the stated reason we give for why we want to make it a smidge harder to vote, rather than claiming it as the reasoning for current activities. Voter fraud just is not a huge systemic problem; it could become so, and we should be watchful for it, and take steps to make sure it doesn’t become a huge systemic problem…but justifying our actions under the rubric of stopping voter fraud is rather a thin reed. I think “discouraging the exercise of the franchise”, and explaining why that is often a good in and of itself is a much more defensible policy.
So how does disenfranchising people who have regularly voted and participated in civic life, who happen to not have a birth certificate, do anything to discourage the uninformed from voting?
(Spoiler: it doesn’t, but it does discourage the elderly and poor!)
I like both Kelly and Eytan’s suggestions, personally, if we’re going to start culling the voter rolls. But racists already tried the whole “disenfranchisement by means of literacy tests” thing, so in practice I’d prefer not to go there as I prefer not to keep company with racist policies.
Notably, you haven’t actually offered any defense of this repellent policy [voter suppression of poor people]. You should recognize that our current level of inconveniencing voters in most states produces turn-out in the 50-60 percent range, so unless you are claiming that 40% (47 percent?) of the population are deranged alcoholic vagrants, your hope that the rest of us fear your cousin “Al” is probably not a very good go to argument. Look at who actually votes early. Look at who the marginal voters actually are. You’d need to find a convincing argument to justify preventing them from voting, with something approaching an honest reasoned argument rather than grotesque hyperbole.
And you’ll still be left with the problem that the O.P addresses: since Republicans have been intentionally trying to block black people from voting for years and are currently doing it particularly aggressively, it will be a long time before Republicans can claim that their anti-democratic policies only incidentally disproportionately affect black people and have anyone believe them.
It is worth noting that felony disenfranchisement laws were originally enacted as a part of Jim Crow, and are only found in 11 states. If expanding felony disenfranchisement is your go to example for justified disenfranchisement, you are going to have a hard time convincing anyone that you aren’t trying to pass of racist policy by other means.
Charles, before I head out into the weeds with you on this one, let me get a bead on what you perceive reality to be.
What’s happened to voter turnout in the last, say, 50 years?
When do you think the Republican kick-the-poor voter suppression effort began, and what has its effect been?
Usually the effect is… not much. There has been a lot of pushback from Democrats; many of the voter ID laws are being held up in court. Furthermore, even a successful voter purge is only going to have an effect in an incredibly close election.
But that doesn’t excuse the Republicans for trying so hard, as they did in Florida:
As it happened, Obama won Florida by 73,000 votes. So even if the GOP succeeded in disenfranchising 35,000 voters – and the real number probably was much smaller than that — Obama had a big enough margin so it didn’t matter. Plus, he had enough of a margin in the electoral college to be able to win even if the GOP’s voter purges and other efforts had managed to flip a couple of states.
So the effect, at least at a Presidential level, was probably nil. Even at lower level races, very few races are close enough so that this sort of thing will turn the race.
But sometimes it does happen. Most notably, George W Bush almost certainly could thank racist GOP voter purges in Florida for his presidency:
That the GOP has only succeeded in stealing one recent presidential election through racist voter purging doesn’t make the constant efforts to reduce black voter turnout acceptable. The problem is, the GOP keeps on trying. And as long as the GOP keeps on trying, the judgement that the GOP is a racist party that wants to win through racist methods is perfectly fair.
Edited to add: Relative to total voter turnout numbers, numbers like 4000 or even 35,000 are random statistical noise. Nearly eight and a half million people voted in Florida, after all. But under the right circumstances, a few thousand repressed votes can flip an election.
Florida has had provisional balloting as a hard, unchallengeable right for many, many years. It is not difficult to be sympathetic to the statement that Republicans went too far in purging their rolls – though I do note that the article you link to quietly does admit that the rolls were so rotten that they fouled up a previous election. It is difficult to be sympathetic to the statement that all the purged people were “disenfranchised”.
A thousand conservatives show up at Chik-Fil-A to buy a chicken sandwich and talk about how much we all hate the homerseshuals. A clever liberal lobbyist finds an obscure crowd-control ordinance that forbids such a gathering on the grounds that it might trample the pretty flowers. The police grumpily accede, and clear away the anti-gay mob before it can eat. I tell you “Amp, those people’s right of assembly and speech was infringed upon; free speech is more important than the pretty flowers.” Reluctantly, flower-loving comsymp that you are, you agree. I then say “a thousand people STARVED TO DEATH because of that liberal lobbyist”.
SOME of the purged people were, genuinely, disenfranchised. I bet a sizeable percentage of that group were people who shouldn’t have been voting, and were rightly purged. All the people who DID have a right to vote and should have been on the register, had a transparent process for getting back on it and for voting in the interim whether they’d done that process or not. “There were XX,XXX people disenfranchised” isn’t credible. Your party had people on the ground who knew the peoples’ rights, even in the cases where the people didn’t, and they filed provisional ballots and later reregistered.
Yes, filing a provisional is a bit of a pain; I had to do it this year. Even if I’d had to do it because the nice poll ladies had decided I was a Satanist and were oppressing me deliberately, I didn’t end up losing my civil rights.
So none of what follows really matters, since you are the one arguing that the Republicans ought to be waging a class war on poor voters. What efforts the Republicans are currently making against poor, black, and Latino voters is kind of to the side of why you believe they should be going after poor voters instead.
That said, I’ll oblige your request. I do ask in return that you stick to the point of arguing for your desired policy of a class war on poor voters (or whomever), rather than using the following to get off on a tangent of exactly how accurate my understanding of the history of vote suppression is.
Voter participation runs at at around 50-60 % nationally in presidential elections (or higher, depending on how you count it). It has been in that range for decades, with smaller trends and noise around that range. It dropped noticeably when 18-20 year olds were granted the franchise in 1971. There has been a small upward trend lately. There is much larger variation between states: the states with the best turnout (or worst, from your perspective, since we are apparently forcing deranged vagrants to the polls to get such high turnout): Oregon, with vote by mail; South Dakota, with 15 day prior registration; Alaska (although I think that crashed this year), no clear reason, although it does have vote by fax; Wisconsin, same day registration; Maine, same day registration (which the Republicans tried to abolish- they were defeated by a referendum); and Minnesota, with same day registration and aggressive voter education. The 10 worst are more of a mixed bag with less clear reasons, although they include several of the aggressive felon disenfranchisement states (but not Florida- probably because swing state status pushes participation up somewhat).
Republican voter suppression efforts mostly started in the 80s (although some influential modern Republicans were involved in John Birch Society efforts back in the 60’s, they were not efforts of the mainstream of the party at the time), but there has been a huge ramp-up of voter suppression efforts in the past decade or so. The fiasco of voter roll cleaning in Florida in 2000 is the first one that I’m particularly aware of, although things like that and informal harassment of black voters by the police were a staple of southern post-Jim Crow racial oppression (under Democrats and then under Republicans). 2004 saw another attempted purge of the Florida rolls, which was cancelled after the initially secret list was ordered to be public by the courts (and turned out to be mostly Democrats, and full of errors). 2004 also saw voter suppression efforts in Ohio (e.g. the attempt to throw out tens of thousands of voter registrations because they were on the wrong weight of paper).
The major modern Republican war on voting started up in 2002, when the Bush DoJ tried and failed to manufacture voter fraud cases. In HAVA, the post-2000 congressional election reform bill, the Republicans demanded tighter national voter ID requirements as part of the bill. Republican controlled legislatures have passed ID laws to make it more difficult for people to vote (Texas in ’08 or ’09, and then a wave of Republican states after the 2010 elections).
Additionally, Florida passed laws in 2011(?) to make it very difficult for organizations to register people to vote (which caused a substantial drop off in new registrations). I believe those were either struck down by the courts or public outcry forced the Florida government to modify them to be less absurd. And Florida attempted to do another voter registration purge late in 2012, using another extremely low quality list, but was stopped by a revolt by county election officials.
Oh, there is also the criminal voter suppression effort in the New Hampshire senate race in 2002, in which the Republicans orchestrated hang-up robo-dialing to Democrats in an attempt to stymie Democratic get out the vote calling, but that is more in the dirty tricks category than the main stem of Republican vote suppression efforts. There is also the repeated use by multiple state Republican parties of a voter registration firm with a long history of criminal voter registration tampering efforts (including throwing out Democratic registrations).
Meanwhile, the Democrats pushed through the motor voter law in 1993. I can’t find a good summary history of early voting and convenience voting changes over the past two decades. Certainly some of it (e.g. early voting in Florida) was implemented by Republicans, but Republicans have also pushed to curtail convenience voting efforts since 2008 (this year particularly notably in Ohio and Florida).
Democrats in Iowa ended felon disenfranchisement in 2005 or so, Republicans in Florida loosened felon disenfranchisement in 2005 or so, but then tightened it up greatly in August 2011. Outside of the US, most first world countries allow felons to vote, and the EU allows prisoners to vote while they are incarcerated (as do 2 US states).
Other than winning Bush the presidency in 2000, Republican voter suppression efforts don’t seem to have been hugely successful (that is kind of a big “other than” though), and they seem to have backfired pretty badly (although probably not significantly) this year.
That’s my (not particularly relevant, and tl;dr;) understanding of the situation, now what is your argument for why we need to do more to suppress the votes of poor people? Or is it stupid people, or maybe bad people? Despite (because of?) your grandiose language, you haven’t set out a particularly clear statement of whose voting should be suppressed or how you think we should go about suppressing voting, nor why you think, with ~40% of eligible voters not voting, that we currently have too many people voting.
One more reason to oppose felon disenfranchisement: I saw an argument from a homosexual from when sodomy was counted as a serious crime– he could be kept out of the normal political process to change the law which arbitrarily made him a criminal.
_Anything_ can be made into a felony.
Wow, great comments, everyone.
I’d like to try to move away from (yet another one of) Robert’s strawman arguments and refocus on what’s happened in this thread. What’s happened in this thread is exactly what the post is about.
That is … Republican blindness to their racism, past and present. Republican insistence that they don’t need to do anything to make up for past bad actions. Republican insistence that minority voters have been ‘fooled’ by Democrats. Very very careful parsing of obviously racist actions in order to find a way in which they might not be motivated by racism.
My point, the point of the post, and the point of Holbo’s original post is that that argument is one you guys have lost. The arguments you’re making about suppressing minority votes is not a new argument. It’s pretty standard and has been for years. And black voters, by and large, don’t buy it. They think it’s racist, and they think you’re racist. Repeating the argument isn’t going to win you any points … it’ll just be more evidence that you’re racist.
My point isn’t that you are or aren’t racist. My point isn’t that the argument is or isn’t racist. I think both you and the argument are way fucking racist, but that’s beside the point. The point is that, whether you’re racist or not, your party has a long history of racist actions, and your clever strategy and fine parsing is an utter failure at convincing minority voters that that’s changed.
Historically, the Republican party was able to shrug and ask “So? Who cares?” They’re less able to do that now, and will be even less so in coming years. I know it’s scary, but you guys might have to actually do something to make up for it all.
And a couple random notes and comments.
“Angling specifically for minority votes … is morally loathesome.”
The Republican party, for a long time, has been engaging in deliberate exploitation of and heightening of racial prejudice. That’s morally loathsome. More to the point, it’s the sort of thing that, once you’ve done it, you’re morally obligated to try to make amends.
This moral obligation stands apart from any electoral strategy.
What I’ve been hearing from you and other Republicans is that you either 1) don’t think you need to make amends or 2) refuse to make amends regardless.
“Sure, they [Democrats] might talk about the rich people having the money, or fairness, but it isn’t all just clearly a big get-the-Jews targeted effort?”
There are a number of differences, and understanding them is going to be key to your understanding of the situation. I honestly believe that you do not see what’s going on, and I’m trying to help you.
1) Jews in America have not historically been targets of punative taxation.
1a) Black folks in America have historically been targets of disenfranchisement.
2) A position of wealth is a position of power.
2a) A position of poverty is a position of weakness.
3) The Democratic party has not historically been seen as the party of antisemitism.
3a) For the past 30-40 years or so, the Republican party has been seen as the party of racism.
4) Large numbers of Jewish voters support the Democratic party.
4a) Large numbers of black voters oppose the Republican party.
Because of these differences, the analogy does not stand … now, this may seem unfair to you, because, as you say, viewed in a vacuum, the positions are analogous. Unfortunately for you, nobody else is bound to accept your preferred framing, and most voters choose not to view such things in a vacuum.
Your reaction is very common, and understandable, but … look. Racism isn’t an ‘official penalty’ that gets applied. Nobody pulls a lever marked “Racism: -20% of the vote.” You can’t avoid that penalty by coming up with a really good justification. The penalty comes from people thinking you’re doing racist shit, and voting accordingly. Arguing a whole lot that they’re wrong (especially in somewhat racist ways) isn’t going to work.
This, like the vote predictions, global warming, and a few other issues is a basic, “you need to see reality more clearly,” issue.
Think of it like a relationship. You’ve done some shit and your girlfriend is furious with you. You can argue against it, make fine-line distinctions (“technically, that girl wasn’t ‘naked,’ since she still had pasties on”), and explain why she shouldn’t be furious with you … but if you’ve ever been in a relationship ever, you know that that’s a bad fucking idea. Because she’s furious with you, and whether you think so or not, she thinks that you need to make up for what you did.
You can shake your tiny fist and swear you weren’t wrong, but what’s the sense in arguing when you’re all alone?
Do feel free to explain your theory of why we should be working to make it more difficult to vote rather than easier to vote at the current moment in an open thread. I am curious to see your reasoning.
Apparently someone at The New Republic reads Alas, a Blog, because they’ve created a very nice article entitled “Original Sin: Why the GOP is and will continue to be the party of white people.” It has a lovely timeline chronically events triggering the flight of people of color/women/homosexuals from the Republican Party, dating back to Calhoun. And the article kicks off with a nice quote from Keven Phillips’ “Emerging Republican Majority” (1968):
The author concludes, “the old polarizing politics is a spent force. The image of the ‘angry black man’ still purveyed by sensationalists such as Ann Coulter and Dinesh D’Souza is anachronistic today, when blacks and even Muslims, the most conspicuous of ‘outsider’ groups, profess optimism about America and their place in it. A politics of frustration and rage remains, but it is most evident within the GOP’s dwindling base….”
Reap what you sow, baby.
Heard an interview with the author today for a bit on NPR. The “politics of nullification” stuff was quite interesting.