The Real Scandal (they're ruining my country) October 21, 2008
The Real Scandal
By BOB HERBERT
It never ends. The Republican Party never gets tired of spraying its poison across the American political landscape.
So there was a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, telling Chris Matthews on MSNBC that the press should start investigating members of the House and Senate to determine which ones are “pro-America or anti-America.”
Can a rancid Congressional committee be far behind? Leave it to a right-wing Republican to long for those sunny, bygone days of political witch-hunting.
Ms. Bachmann’s demented desire (“I would love to see an exposé like that”) is of a piece with the G.O.P.’s unrelenting effort to demonize its opponents, to characterize them as beyond the pale, different from ordinary patriotic Americans — and not just different, but dangerous, and even evil.
But the party is not content to stop there. Even better than demonizing opponents is the more powerful and direct act of taking the vote away from their opponents’ supporters. The Republican Party has made strenuous efforts in recent years to prevent Democrats from voting, and to prevent their votes from being properly counted once they’ve been cast.
Which brings me to the phony Acorn scandal.
John McCain, who placed his principles in a blind trust once the presidential race heated up, warned the country during the presidential debate last week that Acorn, which has been registering people to vote by the hundreds of thousands, was “on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history.”
It turns out that a tiny percentage of these new registrations are bogus, with some of them carrying ludicrous names like Mickey Mouse. Republicans have tried to turn this into a mighty oak of a scandal, with Mr. McCain thundering at the debate that it “may be destroying the fabric of democracy.”
Please. The Times put the matter in perspective when it said in an editorial that Acorn needs to be more careful with some aspects of its voter-registration process. It needs to do a better job selecting canvassers, among other things.
“But,” the editorial added, “for all of the McCain campaign’s manufactured fury about vote theft (and similar claims from the Republican Party over the years) there is virtually no evidence — anywhere in the country, going back many elections — of people showing up at the polls and voting when they are not entitled to.”
Two important points need to be made here. First, the reckless attempt by Senator McCain, Sarah Palin and others to fan this into a major scandal has made Acorn the target of vandals and a wave of hate calls and e-mail. Acorn staff members have been threatened and sickening, murderous comments have been made about supporters of Barack Obama. (Senator Obama had nothing to do with Acorn’s voter-registration drives.)
Second, when it comes to voting, the real threat to democracy is the nonstop campaign by the G.O.P. and its supporters to disenfranchise American citizens who have every right to cast a ballot. We saw this in 2000. We saw it in 2004. And we’re seeing it again now.
In Montana, the Republican Party challenged the registrations of thousands of legitimate voters based on change-of-address information available from the Post Office. These specious challenges were made — surprise, surprise — in Democratic districts. Answering the challenges would have been a wholly unnecessary hardship for the voters, many of whom were students or members of the armed forces.
In the face of widespread public criticism (even the Republican lieutenant governor weighed in), the party backed off.
That sort of thing is widespread. In one politically crucial state after another — in Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, you name it — the G.O.P. has unleashed foot soldiers whose insidious mission is to make the voting process as difficult as possible — or, better yet, impossible — for citizens who are believed to favor Democrats.
For Senator McCain to flip reality on its head and point to an overwhelmingly legitimate voter-registration effort as a “threat to the fabric of democracy” is a breathtaking exercise in absurdity.
Miles Rapoport, a former Connecticut secretary of state who is now president of Demos, a public policy group, remarked on the irony of elected Republican officials deliberately attempting to thwart voting. Some years ago, he said, he “and all the other secretaries of state” would bemoan the lack of interest in voting, especially among the young and the poor.
Now, he said, with the explosion of voter registration and the heightened interest in the presidential campaign, you’d think officials “would welcome that, and encourage it, and even celebrate it.” Instead, he said, in so many cases, G.O.P. officials are “trying to pare down the lists.”
A version of this article appeared in print on
October 21, 2008, on page A29 of the New York Times.