September 18th, 2012


election confuzzlement

If you are following the US presidential election you might have heard of a campaign video that was leaked by a Romney campaign worker, from a meeting with donors. If not, you can find a lot of clips and transcripts of sections of his remarks at MotherJones:

MJ is a liberal political blog/news site, but the most interesting parts are Romney's comments themselves. As far as I've heard, no one's questioning the authenticity of this video. The quote that particularly interested me, and is getting the widest news coverage:

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

Set aside the fact that Romney's claim - that the 47% who are too poor to pay federal income tax (but who play all kinds of other taxes) are overwhelmingly Democratic - are reliably Democrat. Many poor people, particularly poor whites, tend to vote reliably Republican, based on non-economic issues like gay rights and civil liberties, a hope to one day be rich, a simple distrust of government, or whatever the reason. Not paying taxes is not the same as being on the public dole, let alone realizing you're benefiting from government largesse and voting to keep the checks coming.

But that's not even the main source of my confuzzlement. It's that this idea - that Democrats only have to win 3% of the non-Welfare Queen electorate - is so incompatible with another big election year issue: voter fraud.

Republicans in many states have been passing "voter fraud" laws that require people to have a photo ID to vote, or that restrict hours you can vote, or that otherwise just make it more difficult than it once was. The idea is that in-person voter fraud is a big problem. There are apparently large numbers of people who aren't entitled to vote who are voting anyway, and that they need to be stopped. But this simply doesn't make sense if 47% of the voting electorate is already in their pocket. If Romney's claim about the 47% is true, what sense does it make for Democrats, either collectively or individual Democrats, to engage in voter fraud that's widespread enough to sway an election? It simply doesn't make sense.

Reading this, I was reminded by a quip of some politician in Maine - this was back in 2008, when the voter fraud laws first were being noticed - saying we don't really want to encourage college students to vote anyway. He was trying to disallow use of college photo IDs, or absentee ballots for college students studying out of state, or something like that. And he said specifically that college students lacked the life experience to vote well, so it wasn't like we needed to be encouraging them to vote anyway.

And the more I think about this, that's the only way this makes sense. That Republicans aren't concerned so much about genuinely illegitimate votes (as in: voters with no legal right to vote). They're concerned about the "wrong" people voting. And that's what has me genuinely confuzzled, and depressed. Because 47% of people voting in the way they think is best (for them, for their children, for America in general, whatever), that isn't fraud and it isn't election-stealing and it's not even bad. It's just democracy in action.

ETA: I was my usual distanced, reasonable self about all this. It's how I roll. But I also "get" the frustration in this rant on Romney's dismissing half the country this way:

Expletive-laden, to be sure, but very emotionally satisfying to see someone else get so upset over this. I don't usually blog my first reaction because I'm not very good about being open with emotions, particularly angry ones. But I wasn't far off from this guy when I first saw that video.