Politico reports: It turns out that one of the Grand Old Party’s biggest — and least discussed — challenges going into 2016 is lying in plain sight, written right into the party’s own nickname. The Republican Party voter is old — and getting older, and as the adage goes, there are two certainties in life: Death and taxes. Right now, both are enemies of the GOP and they might want to worry more about the former than the latter.
There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all.
The party’s core is dying off by the day.
Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this? [Continue reading…]
Elizabeth Kolbert writes: During last fall’s midterm election campaign, “I’m not a scientist” became a standard Republican answer to questions about climate change. The line seemed to invite parody, and Stephen Colbert (among others) obliged. He played clips of House Speaker John Boehner, then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Florida Governor Rick Scott all offering, more or less word for word, the same refrain. “Everyone who denies climate change has the same stirring message,” Colbert observed. “‘We don’t know what the fuck we’re talking about.’”
The line worked — or, at least, didn’t not work — and Republicans won both houses of Congress. Now, it seems, they are trying to go one better. They are trying to prevent even scientists from being scientists.
Last week, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, headed by Texas Republican Lamar Smith, approved a bill that would slash at least three hundred million dollars from NASA’s earth-science budget. “Earth science, of course, includes climate science,” Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who is also on the committee, noted. (Smith said that the White House’s NASA budget request favored the earth sciences “at the expense of the other science divisions and human and robotic space exploration.”) Johnson tried to get the cuts eliminated from the bill, but her proposed amendment was rejected. Defunding NASA’s earth-science program takes willed ignorance one giant leap further. It means that not only will climate studies be ignored; some potentially useful data won’t even be collected.
The vote brought howls of protest from NASA itself and from wider earth-science circles. The agency’s administrator, Charles Bolden, issued a statement saying that the bill “guts our Earth science program and threatens to set back generations worth of progress in better understanding our changing climate.” In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Marshall Shepherd, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Georgia and the former president of the American Meteorological Association, said that he could not sleep after hearing about the vote. “None of us has a ‘vacation planet’ we can go to for the weekend, so I argue that NASA’s mission to study planet Earth should be a ‘no-brainer,’ ” he wrote. [Continue reading…]
Huffington Post: The fragile but growing congressional effort to bring oversight to ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran is at risk of unravelling, as lawmakers from both sides push for controversial additions to the bill.
On Tuesday, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) will formally introduce legislation for markup that would grant Congress the final vote on any nuclear deal and prohibit the president from waiving economic sanctions against Iran for two months while lawmakers review the terms of the agreement.
In the days preceding the markup, senators from both parties have introduced a slew of amendments, with several Democrats seeking to strike the more contentious clauses and Republicans vying to add even more restrictive language. The addition of any one of these could convince some of the more reluctant co-sponsors to abandon ship — giving President Barack Obama the margin he needs to ensure that his veto is not overridden.
ThinkProgress: Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic efforts to contain Iran’s nuclear program, suggested on Tuesday that armed conflict with Tehran could be easily contained to “several days of air and naval bombing” and would not require the deployment of American ground troops. The comments eerily echoed the false predictions of Bush administration officials on the eve of the Iraq invasion.
Appearing on the Family Research Council’s Washington Watch radio show, Cotton slammed Obama for suggesting that military confrontation was the only alternative to diplomacy in preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“This president has a bad habit of accusing other people of making false choices, but he presented the ultimate false choice last week when he said it’s either this deal or war,” Cotton said, before adding, that “Even if military action were required…the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq and that’s simply not the case.”
The New York Times reports: As the proposed agreement over Iran’s nuclear program is debated in coming weeks, President Obama will make his case to a Congress controlled by Republicans who are more fervently pro-Israel than ever, partly a result of ideology, but also a product of a surge in donations and campaign spending on their behalf by a small group of wealthy donors.
One of the surprisingly high-profile critics is Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who burst to prominence with a letter signed by 46 Republican colleagues to leaders of Iran warning against a deal. Mr. Cotton, echoing criticism by Israeli leaders, swiftly denounced the framework reached on Thursday as “a list of dangerous U.S. concessions that will put Iran on the path to nuclear weapons” — words, his colleagues say, that expressed his deep concern about Iran’s threat to Israel’s security.
But it is also true that Mr. Cotton and other Republicans benefited from millions in campaign spending in 2014 by several pro-Israel Republican billionaires and other influential American donors who helped them topple Democratic opponents.
Republicans currently in the Senate raised more money during the 2014 election cycle in direct, federally regulated campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees deemed pro-Israel than their Democratic counterparts, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics and analyzed for The New York Times by a second nonprofit, MapLight. The Republican advantage was the first in more than a decade. [Continue reading…]
Peter Beinart writes: Imagine this. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, Elizabeth Warren and multiple lesser Democratic notables travel halfway across the country to kiss the ring of a Palestinian-American billionaire who has shown himself willing to spend tens of millions of dollars subsidizing presidential campaigns.
The billionaire has some provocative views. Six months earlier, he suggested that if Israel does not end its nuclear weapons program, America should drop an “atomic weapon…in the middle of the [Negev] desert that doesn’t hurt a soul.” If that doesn’t work, America should drop “the next one…in the middle of” Tel Aviv.
The billionaire insists that there is no such thing as the Jewish people. It’s a hoax; the Jews “have fooled the world very successfully.” And he declares that “There isn’t a” Jew “alive who wasn’t raised on a curriculum of hatred and hostility toward the” Palestinians.
Change the words “Democrat” to “Republican,” “Israel” to “Iran” and “Palestinian” to “Jewish,” and that’s exactly what just happened. Leading contenders for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination spent last weekend wooing and feting a billionaire, Sheldon Adelson, whose views – if directed at Jews—would put him in the company of Louis Farrakhan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. [Continue reading…]
Andy Kroll and David Corn report: What do former Vice President Dick Cheney, billionaire mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, and Republican activists and funders talk about — and applaud — when they’re behind closed doors at a Las Vegas hotel? Bombing Iran.
This past weekend, the Republican Jewish Coalition held its spring leadership meeting at Adelson’s Venetian hotel, where several possible 2016 contenders, including ex-Governor Jeb Bush and current Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and John Kasich, showed up to kiss the ring of the casino magnate, who’s looking to bankroll a viable Republican presidential candidate. Though the heavy-on-Israel speeches of the White House wannabes were open to the press, the keynote address delivered by Cheney on Saturday night was off-limits to reporters and the public. But Mother Jones has obtained a recording of Cheney’s talk, during which he once again derided President Barack Obama on foreign policy, blasted the isolationists within his own party, assailed critics of the National Security Agency, and seemingly endorsed the idea of an Israeli strike against Iran.
Speaking about the possibility of Iran developing a nuclear weapon, Cheney dismissed Obama’s negotiations with Tehran, and he recalled a dinner meeting he had in 2007 with Israeli General Amos Yadlin. Yadlin had flown in the Israeli Defense Force’s mission in 1981 that destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor, and he was the country’s military intelligence chief in 2007 when the Israel Defense Forces obliterated Syria’s nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region. Recalling his conversation with Yadlin, Cheney said, “He looked across the table over dinner, and he said, ‘Two down, one to go.’ I knew exactly what he meant.”
“One to go” was an obvious reference to bombing Iran’s nuclear program. The crowd responded approvingly with laughter and applause. [Continue reading…]
The Hill: The Republican National Committee has formally renounced the “dragnet” surveillance program at the National Security Agency (NSA).
During its winter meeting in Washington, the committee on Friday overwhelmingly approved a measure calling for lawmakers to end the program and create a special committee to investigate domestic surveillance efforts.
The resolution, which declared that “unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights,” among other condemnations, passed the committee on a voice vote with near-unanimous support. Only a small minority of the 168 RNC members dissented.
Frank Rich writes: At the time, back in January in New Hampshire, it didn’t seem like that big a deal, certainly nothing to rival previous debate flash points like “9-9-9” and “Oops!” But in retrospect it may have been one of the more fateful twists of the Republican presidential campaign. The exchange was prompted by George Stephanopoulos, who seemingly out of nowhere asked Mitt Romney if he shared Rick Santorum’s view that “states have the right to ban contraception.” Romney stiffened, as he is wont to do, and took the tone of a men’s club factotum tut-tutting a member for violating the dress code. “George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising,” he said. “I know of no reason to talk about contraception in this regard.” The partisan audience would soon jeer the moderator for his effrontery.
Afterward, Romney’s spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom accused Stephanopoulos of asking “the oddest question in a debate this year” and of having “a strange obsession with contraception.” It was actually Santorum who had the strange obsession. He had first turned the subject into a cause in October by talking about “the dangers of contraception in this country.” Birth control is “not okay,” he said then. “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
As we know now, Santorum, flaky though he may sound, is not some outlier in his party or in its presidential field. He was an advance man for a rancorous national brawl about to ambush an unsuspecting America that thought women’s access to birth control had been resolved by the Supreme Court almost a half century ago.
The hostilities would break out just weeks after the New Hampshire debate, with the back-to-back controversies of the White House health-care rule on contraceptives and the Komen Foundation’s dumping of Planned Parenthood. Though those two conflicts ended with speedy cease-fires, an emboldened GOP kept fighting. It had women’s sex lives on the brain and would not stop rolling out jaw-dropping sideshows: an all-male panel at a hearing on birth control in the House. A fat-cat Santorum bankroller joking that “gals” could stay out of trouble by putting Bayer aspirin “between their knees.” A Virginia governor endorsing a state bill requiring that an ultrasound “wand” be inserted into the vagina of any woman seeking an abortion.
The Nation reports: North Carolina State Senator Eric Mansfield was born in 1964, a year before the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote for African-Americans. He grew up in Columbus, Georgia, and moved to North Carolina when he was stationed at Fort Bragg. He became an Army doctor, opening a practice in Fayetteville after leaving the service. Mansfield says he was always “very cynical about politics” but decided to run for office in 2010 after being inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential run.
He ran a grassroots campaign in the Obama mold, easily winning the election with 67 percent of the vote. He represented a compact section of northwest Fayetteville that included Fort Bragg and the most populous areas of the city. It was a socioeconomically diverse district, comprising white and black and rich and poor sections of the city. Though his district had a black voting age population (BVAP) of 45 percent, Mansfield, who is African-American, lives in an old, affluent part of town that he estimates is 90 percent white. Many of his neighbors are also his patients.
But after the 2010 census and North Carolina’s once-per-decade redistricting process—which Republicans control by virtue of winning the state’s General Assembly for the first time since the McKinley administration—Mansfield’s district looks radically different. It resembles a fat squid, its large head in an adjoining rural county with little in common with Mansfield’s previously urban district, and its long tentacles reaching exclusively into the black neighborhoods of Fayetteville. The BVAP has increased from 45 to 51 percent, as white voters were surgically removed from the district and placed in a neighboring Senate district represented by a white Republican whom GOP leaders want to protect in 2012. Mansfield’s own street was divided in half, and he no longer represents most of the people in his neighborhood. His new district spans 350 square miles, roughly the distance from Fayetteville to Atlanta. Thirty-three voting precincts in his district have been divided to accommodate the influx of new black voters. “My district has never elected a nonminority state senator, even though minorities were never more than 45 percent of the vote,” Mansfield says. “I didn’t need the help. I was doing OK.”
Here is Newt Gingrich and Sheldon Adelson‘s campaign to support Occupy Wall Street! Well, not really. Ostensibly it’s a 30-minute attack ad on Mitt Romney. Beyond needing to know that this as a production by Gingrich’s super PAC, “Winning Our Future,” this video speaks for itself.
More than anything, this is a demonstration of the degree to which the OWS anti-corporate narrative is now at the core of American political discourse.
Do any of the GOP candidates truly believe they can credibly co-opt this message? This seems like a spectacular collision between rampant hubris and profound contempt for the average American.
Noting the fact that Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan both share the ‘virtue’ of being non-interventionists, Fred Clark starts drilling into the question of whether there really is such a principle as non-interventionism.
I want to look one further step back from this discussion and question the assumption here that “non-interventionism” is a Good Thing.
I don’t think it’s a Good Thing because I don’t think it’s a thing at all. “Non-interventionism” is no more a principle than “interventionism” is. It’s not obvious to me that “never intervene” is a wiser, more sensible, more prudent or more just approach than “always intervene” would be.
It seems to me, rather, to be the sort of crutch one falls back on instead of engaging in the difficult, messy business of an actual principled approach to evaluating any given situation. It allows you to escape having to know or care at all about any particular situation, because you’ve got a one-size-fits-all answer to any and every question.
Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul both happened to be right in opposing the invasion of Iraq, but that had nothing to do with their principled evaluation of that situation. They’re more like my friend in algebra class in high school who always said that X=3. Sometimes X did equal 3, but even when he got the answer right it wasn’t because he understood the question.
“Non-intervention” may sometimes be the better course of action. It usually is. But it may also sometimes be the worse course of action. President Franklin D. Roosevelt spent three years battling against non-interventionists. I think that he and his supporter Dr. Seuss were right and their non-interventionist opponents were wrong.
President Bill Clinton chose to intervene in Bosnia. He chose not to intervene in Rwanda. One of those decisions was justified. The other proved to be a monstrous mistake.
Those same two cases — Bosnia and Rwanda — shaped the perspective of our current secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in response to Gadhafi’s lethal attempt to quash the uprising in Libya. The Obama administration chose the path of intervention in Libya, with an approach that in many ways mirrored NATO’s intervention in Bosnia. It confuses more than it clarifies to label that response as “interventionism” and to declare it indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq.
I would add one other thought. For those of us who would most likely never consider voting for Ron Paul, the debate about his virtues as a presidential candidate is somewhat redundant. The broader question of greater relevance is whether his presence in the presidential race has had a positive or negative effect. To suggest that the GOP contest would have been better without Paul’s participation, seems to me to be to be a pretty difficult argument to win.
Steve Kornacki writes: When you’re running near the top of the polls, it’s inevitable that your opponents will gang up on you. But there’s something different about the nature of the attacks Ron Paul is now facing – and, potentially, about their implications.
In the past few days, three of Paul’s rivals – Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann – have publicly declared that the Texas congressman will not under any circumstances win the GOP nomination. Bachmann called him “dangerous,” while Gingrich said he wasn’t even sure he’d vote for Paul over Barack Obama. Another candidate, Rick Santorum, said there’s no difference between Paul and Obama on foreign policy and that he’d need “a lot of antacid” to stomach voting for Paul. And Jon Huntsman launched a scathing anti-Paul ad in New Hampshire with a simple title: “Unelectable.”
This is not a run of the mill pile-on. Paul’s foes aren’t simply telling Republicans that he’s not the best choice to be their nominee; they’re telling Republicans that he’s unfit to call himself one of them – that he’s an imposter who isn’t due even the most basic courtesy (“Oh sure, if he ends up being the nominee I’ll be with him…”) that major candidates for the nomination are typically afforded.
It’s an attitude that’s also being encouraged by some of the GOP’s most powerful opinion-shaping forces. Rush Limbaugh has been disdainful of Paul throughout the campaign, with his guest host this week – Mark Steyn – keeping up the campaign. Fox News, whose primetime hosts have alternated between ignoring and savaging Paul, has been treating him like a pariah since the last campaign, when Paul was denied a seat at a critical pre-New Hampshire debate. And the New Hampshire Union Leader, which boasts one of the country’s most influential conservative editorial pages, branded Paul “truly dangerous” on Thursday.
The roots of this anti-Paul alarmism go deeper than the racist newsletters that were sent out under Paul’s name in the early 1990s and that have attracted new attention in the past week. Sure, the newsletters (and Paul’s shifting explanations for them over the years) would help make him an unelectable GOP nominee, but rest assured the same intraparty voices would be railing against him with the same adamance even if they’d never emerged.
The reason has to do with Paul’s non-interventionist foreign policy and his unapologetic mockery of the “clash of civilizations” ethos that has defined the post-Cold War GOP. Today’s Republican Party is dominated by Christian conservatives (44 percent of participants in the 2008 primaries identified themselves as evangelicals) and neoconservatives, who are united in their commitment to an unwavering alliance between the United States and Israel, confrontation with Iran, and a significant American presence in the Middle East. Paul’s warnings about “blowback” directly threaten this consensus.
Paul Krugman writes: This is the way the euro ends — not with a bang but with bunga bunga. Not long ago, European leaders were insisting that Greece could and should stay on the euro while paying its debts in full. Now, with Italy falling off a cliff, it’s hard to see how the euro can survive at all.
But what’s the meaning of the eurodebacle? As always happens when disaster strikes, there’s a rush by ideologues to claim that the disaster vindicates their views. So it’s time to start debunking.
First things first: The attempt to create a common European currency was one of those ideas that cut across the usual ideological lines. It was cheered on by American right-wingers, who saw it as the next best thing to a revived gold standard, and by Britain’s left, which saw it as a big step toward a social-democratic Europe. But it was opposed by British conservatives, who also saw it as a step toward a social-democratic Europe. And it was questioned by American liberals, who worried — rightly, I’d say (but then I would, wouldn’t I?) — about what would happen if countries couldn’t use monetary and fiscal policy to fight recessions.
So now that the euro project is on the rocks, what lessons should we draw?
I’ve been hearing two claims, both false: that Europe’s woes reflect the failure of welfare states in general, and that Europe’s crisis makes the case for immediate fiscal austerity in the United States.
The assertion that Europe’s crisis proves that the welfare state doesn’t work comes from many Republicans. For example, Mitt Romney has accused President Obama of taking his inspiration from European “socialist democrats” and asserted that “Europe isn’t working in Europe.” The idea, presumably, is that the crisis countries are in trouble because they’re groaning under the burden of high government spending. But the facts say otherwise.
“House Republicans Discover a Growing Bond With Netanyahu” says the headline in the New York Times.
Discover? This isn’t exactly news. What the headline should say (and I know I’m fantasizing about an imaginary New York Times whose headlines don’t pull any punches) is: “House GOP trusts Netanyahu more than Obama.”
The report does acknowledge: “Unbending support for Israel has long been a bipartisan fact of American politics, but Mr. Netanyahu’s popularity in Congress now runs deeper than ever.” Or, as Pat Buchanan would put it, Capitol Hill is still Israeli occupied territory.
When the Obama administration wanted to be certain that Congress would not block $50 million in new aid to the Palestinian Authority last month, it turned to a singularly influential lobbyist: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
At the request of the American Embassy and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Mr. Netanyahu urged dozens of members of Congress visiting Israel last month not to object to the aid, according to Congressional and diplomatic officials. Mr. Netanyahu’s intervention with Congress underscored an extraordinary intersection of American diplomacy and domestic politics, the result of an ever-tightening relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party that now controls the House.
On Tuesday, one of President Obama’s potential rivals in 2012, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, delivered a speech in New York criticizing Mr. Obama’s stance toward Israel as “naïve, arrogant, misguided and dangerous.” Mr. Perry said that he would be a guest soon of Danny Danon, the hard-right deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament.
The relationship between the Israeli government and the Republican Party has significantly complicated the administration’s diplomatic efforts to avert a confrontation at the United Nations this week over the Palestinian bid for full membership as a state, limiting President Obama’s ability to exert pressure on Mr. Netanyahu to make concessions that could restart negotiations with the Palestinians.
One of the members of Congress who attended the meeting with Mr. Netanyahu in August, Representative Michael G. Grimm of New York, a Republican, said that it was carefully explained to the delegation that the money would be used for training Palestinian police officers who work closely with the Israeli government.
Mr. Grimm said he felt more comfortable receiving the explanation from the prime minister than from Obama administration officials.
Except for the fact that the proceedings were held in English, an Israeli attending Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “press conference” at the W Hotel in midtown Manhattan Tuesday morning might be excused for imagining that he was in the middle of a pep rally for one of Israel’s right-wing politicians, and a hard-liner at that.
Flanked by two of the Knesset’s most hard-core peace process pooh-poohers, the Likud’s Danny Danon and Shas’ Nissim Ze’ev, and enthusiastically encouraged by an organized band of Orthodox Jewish cheerleaders, Perry adopted the rhetoric of Israel’s radical right lock, stock and barrel, repeating the word “appeasement” in all its inflections, in order to hammer home a not-too-subtle association between President Obama’s Middle East peace policies in 2011 and Neville Chamberlain Munich capitulations in 1938.
Against the backdrop of the upcoming drama at the UN, Perry castigated Obama’s “arrogant” attitude towards Israel, dismissed negotiations based on the 1967 borders, issued the obligatory pledge to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, dismissed most of the Palestinians as schemers or terrorists or both and garnished, with Danon smiling contentedly at his side, with an unprecedented carte blanche for Israel to build in the settlements as much as it pleases.
Perry, obviously, harbors no hope of securing even a single vote from the 2 million strong Arab-American community, which will come as welcome news for Obama, who is increasingly and rather ironically being viewed by Arab voters as “too pro-Israel”. Furthermore, by surrounding himself with staunch Israeli right-wingers and no less zealous Orthodox figures from New York, Perry may also be signaling that, at least in the upcoming Republican primaries, he does not expect to get many votes from less conservative and more mainstream Jewish supporters, who are in any case uncomfortable with the Texas governor’s evangelical enthusiasm.
Ever since the sensational victory of Republican Bob Turner in New York’s traditionally democratic and heavily-Jewish Ninth Congressional District last week, the issue of the Jewish vote and of the candidates’ attitudes towards Israel has featured prominently in the media discourse.
Yesterday’s no-holds-barred bashing of Obama by the Republican frontrunner – endorsed, as it was, by members of Israel’s ruling coalition – is a clear sign that the injection of Israel and the importation of its divisive internal conflicts into the upcoming American election campaign may run dangerously deeper than most mainstream Jewish leaders had feared.
Though the winners and losers are still hard to predict at this early stage, it seems safe to assume that after the votes are cast come November 2012, both the spirit of political bipartisanship as well as the already–fraying unity of the American Jewish community in support of Israel will be counted as the clear-cut casualties.
National Journal reports:
Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann on Friday decried the “Arab Spring” that has toppled three dictators and given rise to pro-democracy protests across the Middle East for promoting the “rise of radical elements” across the region.
In a speech to about 400 Republicans gathered for the state party’s fall convention here, the three-term Minnesota congresswoman blamed President Obama for “the hostilities of the Arab spring” and expressed regret that “we saw (Egyptian) President (Hosni) Mubarak fall while President Obama sat on his hands.”
She got her biggest applause line of the evening when she accused Obama of asking Israel to return to its “indefensible” pre-1967 borders. Obama in May said a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on the borders — with land swaps –before the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and its Arab neighbors, a position that angered some in Israel and Israel’s conservative supporters in the U.S.
Ari Berman writes:
As the nation gears up for the 2012 presidential election, Republican officials have launched an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots. “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century,” says Judith Browne-Dianis, who monitors barriers to voting as co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization based in Washington, D.C.
Republicans have long tried to drive Democratic voters away from the polls. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” the influential conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” But since the 2010 election, thanks to a conservative advocacy group founded by Weyrich, the GOP’s effort to disrupt voting rights has been more widespread and effective than ever. In a systematic campaign orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council – and funded in part by David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who bankrolled the Tea Party – 38 states introduced legislation this year designed to impede voters at every step of the electoral process.
All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.
Taken together, such measures could significantly dampen the Democratic turnout next year – perhaps enough to shift the outcome in favor of the GOP. “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time,” Bill Clinton told a group of student activists in July. “Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate” – a reference to the dominance of the Tea Party last year, compared to the millions of students and minorities who turned out for Obama. “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”