Thursday, October 28, 2004

Disenfranchisement - a rant

It's interesting that one of the distinguishing characteristics that is emerging between Democrats and Republicans is that as an institution Democrats are working to expand the voting franchise, to ensure that as many people as possible who are qualified to vote get a chance to do so, while Republicans are intent on limiting and challenging that expansion as much as possible. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to draw a parallel between that and the differences between the parties in most things. In economic matters, Republicans seem to view economic prosperity as a zero sum game, in which economic gains made by the lower or middle economic classes must come at the expense of those in the upper class, so they work hard, through passage of laws to protect their interests, and, as our President has noted, through the hiring of top flight attorneys who can help them avoid paying taxes. Although Laffer curves and "trickle down economics" pays lip service to the notion that a rising tide floats all ships, the Republicans only ever seem to want to test those theories from the top down. Reagan and Bush I economic policies were geared toward further enriching those at the top with the expressed hope that as those people spent their wealth those below them on the economic ladder would be able to share in the prosperity. It didn't really work that way, though, did it?

By contrast, during the Clinton economic expansion, we saw a dramatic rise in the size and wealth of the middle class and more people than ever before taking advantage of an upward economic class mobility. Unlike the enrichment of the upper class that we saw under Reagan/Bush, which never actually had an appreciable impact on enriching those middle and lower economic classes, the enrichment of the middle class was accompanied by consumer spending that broadened the tax base dramatically, leading to the unprecedented revenue surplus that Clinton bequeathed to Bush. This was an economic expansion that spread out both up and down the economic spectrum and truly benefitted all classes.

Under George W. Bush, our country's economic and tax policies have returned to a top down distribution pushed by people who no longer even pretend that the enrichment of the top 1% will benefit us all. Instead they try to sweep that tremendous transfer of the nation's wealth from the lower and middle class to the upper class under the rug. They tell us about the tax cut we all got and won't even discuss the tax cuts that they gave themselves and their friends. They don't talk about the corporate giveaways that are costing present and future tax payers hundreds of billions of dollars. The Bush Administration took the Clinton Surplus that belonged to all of us and gave it to the rich, to those who needed it the least, to those, whom it can be argued, have benfitted the most from the services, subsidies, and protections of the federal government. The people at the top of the our economic system have more money in their personal fortunes than they and their families could squander in twenty generations. The largesse distributed to them by the Bush Administration wasn't necessary from an economic standpoint, but it was from a power distribution standpoint, and that's where Republican economic policies meet up with Republican policies regarding the popular franchise.

Through consolidation of economic power, the rich and powerful who run this country can maintain their grip on the government. When Bush was installed by the Supreme Court these powerful interests found that they had a useful and malleable ally in the White House and a useful and powerful ally in the Vice-President's office. A radically pro-business House Republican leadership and a compliant Republican majority (and for the most part dormant Democratic minority) in the Senate have rounded out a Federal government that has spent the last four years shifting as much of the government's wealth as they could into the vaults of major corporations. Life's been good for these people.

Now, though, they are threatened. Spectacular incompetence in the management of the war in Iraq and unprecedented indifference to the economic and social needs of the middle and lower class have created a restive mass of voters that, if stimulated enough, could remove the Bush administration and possibly the Republican majority in the Senate. Realizing that it's too late to actually do something of value to serve these tens of millions of disgruntled voters and not willing to count too heavily on their lies continuing to be believed, the Republicans have turned to widespread disenfranchisement of voters, non-Republican voters, to remain in power. From voter roll purges in Florida (again), to destruction of Democrat voter registrations in numerous states (sponsored by the Republican National Committee), to shifting polling places in Philadelphia, to Republican plans to "challenge" voters in Ohio (designed to tie up polling places and discourage voters from casting their ballots), the Republicans aim to make it as hard as possible for people who are inclined to vote for their opponents to cast their ballots.

The amazing thing about these moves, aside from the fact that one of our two major political parties would engage in such activities in the twenty first century, is that the mainstream press has by and large chosen to ignore it. It is being ignored in the individual instances described above and it is being ignored as a pattern that is emerging. The Republican party has clearly declared its intention to remain in power regardless of what it takes to do so. They will literally lie, cheat, and steal to do it, and it remains to be seen if they will kill as well. And the news media avert their eyes and tell us to move along, there's nothing to see here. And the republic crumbles.
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