Goo-Goo America

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

Say you’ve got a global agenda that’s far too important to leave to chance — wars to fight, quagmires to feed, interests to protect, secrets to hide.

Staying in power is crucial.

This presents a big problem in an election year — heart-stopping, even — for the Republican Party. Consider the basic numbers, as compiled recently by the Associated Press: In the 28 states that register voters according to party affiliation, more than 2 million Democrats have been registered, in highly energized get-out-the-vote drives, over the last two years, while, simultaneously, Republicans have lost nearly 344,000 voters in those same states. Nationwide, AP informs us, there are about 42 million registered Democrats right now and about 31 million Republicans.

However, in applied, as opposed to merely theoretical, democracy, there are things you can do about a numbers problem like this — legal, quasi-legal and blatantly, wildly, desperately (but undetectably) illegal. And the GOP, in its virulent neocon incarnation, is going to do all of them. In impolite, non-mainstream-media circles, it’s called cheating.

Indeed, “this is an all out Republican war on democracy in which we will be witnessing an unprecedented ‘troop surge’ between here and November,” Brad Friedman, whose blog sounded one of the earliest and most clarion voices of warning about election fraud, wrote recently in the U.K. Guardian. Friedman quoted conservative guru Paul Weyrich, who back in 1980 mocked the idea of democracy and good government as “goo-goo syndrome,” and bluntly stated: “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

Keeping the voting populace down — among target groups, of course (African-Americans, students, Native Americans, Hispanics, the poor, the young) — has been core Republican strategy throughout the Rove-Bush era, from the bogus ex-felon purges of voting rolls in 2000 that disenfranchised thousands of mostly African-Americans in the South and gave Florida to George W. Bush, to a dizzying array of dirty tricks in 2004 (check out “Fooled Again” by Mark Crispin Miller or the documentaries “Uncounted” and the just-completed “Stealing America Vote by Vote”), to . . .

Well, they’re at it again, of course, targeting the most vulnerable and the most Democratic-leaning populations, such as, in a stunning display of cynicism, people whose homes were recently foreclosed on, but this time they don’t have a free hand. The most crucial news of the 2008 election season is that “Goo-Goo America,” if you will — good-government, democracy-committed America — is up and out of its complacency in growing numbers.

“In 2004, we were blindsided,” long-time voting-rights activist Harvey Wasserman told me. But this year, no way. People are starting to feel a deeper cry of citizenship, to get involved in the process in a new way, whether it be by signing up as election judges or poll watchers, or by becoming indie media types and videotaping what they see going on.

“We think it is actually within reach to get a fair election in 2008,” said Wasserman, who is one of the organizers of the Ohio Election Protection conference, in Columbus Sept. 26-28 (for more details, click here).

This is a rallying cry, not a reassuring bedtime story. We can’t go back to sleep about the mechanics of our elections any more than we can give up on the issues of war and peace, the national direction and America’s relationship with the rest of the world. The stakes are far too high.

“There are many problems in American democracy,” writes Kevin Zeese in Op-Ed News, in a comprehensive roundup of disenfranchisement attempts around the country. “But, if we are unable to get these two basic things right — registering voters and counting the vote accurately — then not much else matters because the democracy is a farce and a fraud on the most basic fundamentals.”

The problems and potential problems with hackable electronic voting machines, sloppy ballot chain-of-custody procedures and other matters related to the voting process itself are enormous and troubling, and I will address them as the election nears. For now, I focus on the basic fact of power. Its tendency to corrupt is known, documented and filed away under “history.”

But history is occurring right now, as the election season progresses, mostly under the mainstream media radar, and it often looks like latter-day, de facto racism. For instance, in Macomb County, outside Detroit in the swing state of Michigan, Republicans have gotten ahold of foreclosure lists to challenge the addresses of (mostly African-American) registered voters, even as the GOP sits on an anti-predatory lending bill in the state legislature. Lose your home, lose your vote.

Goo-Goo America has to rouse itself and rise to the challenges of this election season, because power doesn’t bow to principle unless it has to — unless principle itself has a power base.