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Pragmatic Racism

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No, it's not the brutal, hate-twisted racism of the old days. Today's Republicans are capable of adoring select right-wing African-Americans. The Jim Crow revival they're pushing -- the large-scale disenfranchisement of primarily minority voters -- is pragmatic.

They're outnumbered. They couldn't win a fair national election. What a dilemma for such a righteous political organization. Winning -- securing power, implementing their agenda -- is the whole point, and that means they have no choice but to put the big squeeze on Democrat-leaning voting blocs. And the most obvious of those blocs are racial and ethnic.

Democracy is as vulnerable to abuse when it's several centuries old as when it's brand new. And though the United States proudly waves its flag as the world's oldest democracy, at the beginning that concept was seriously limited -- to white, male property owners. And as enfranchisement spread, a tradition of virulent vote suppression spread right along with it. Democracy is never far from its own demise.

As Harvey Wasserman, co-author along with Bob Fitrakis of the recently released Will The GOP Steal America's 2012 Election?, noted in a recent interview at Op-Ed News:

Historians tend to classify the racist violence of the Ku Klux Klan as a 'boys-will-be-good-ol'-boys' product of random bigotry. But in fact the Klan's major function was as a well-oiled voter suppression machine, the terrorist wing of the Southern Democratic Party.

If blacks could vote, as was the case for the ten years of Reconstruction, the center of political power would not be with the old guard. The point of Jim Crow was to re-secure repressive white political power in the Old South. And as many analysts are now pointing out, that need is very much still alive today, represented this time around by the Republicans.

"There is no question in my mind anymore that the Republican Party has reconfigured itself as a Confederate party," Charles P. Pierce writes this week at Esquire's Politics Blog.

And Jonathan Alter, writing last June for Bloomberg, talked about what he called the GOP's Voter Suppression Project.

None of this is new. Voting irregularities abounded in both of George W. Bush's election victories. In 2000, the year of the hanging chad, the Supreme Court handed him the state of Florida and thus a slim Electoral College majority, but a subsequent statewide recount conducted by major media organizations revealed that Al Gore had actually won Florida. But by then the war on terror was underway and Big Media didn't want to challenge Bush's legitimacy. The New York Times buried the news that Gore won Florida ("a statewide recount could have produced enough votes to tilt the election his way") two-thirds of the way into its story.

In 2004, reports of voter suppression in minority neighborhoods and on college campuses -- voting machine shortages, enormously long lines, bogus voter challenges and much more -- were nationwide. And vote flipping and other bizarre behavior by electronic voting machines threw a pall of doubt over Bush's narrow, exit-poll-contradicting victory over John Kerry.

Barack Obama beat John McCain in 2008 by a majority too large for the Republicans to subvert, but the 2012 election is likely to be a different matter. I can only hope the mainstream media pay attention to more than just the flow of computer-generated numbers on Election Day and that the Democrats fight for their constituents' -- indeed, for every citizen's -- right to vote and have it counted this time around.

The Voter Suppression Project, at least in its known form, is a mishmash of legal maneuvering at the state level.

As Alter writes:

The big Republican victory in the 2010 election was essential to the Voter Suppression Project. With the help of ALEC -- a conservative lobbying outfit that spreads cookie-cutter bills to state legislatures -- Republicans moved with lightning speed to implement their scheme. Since 2011, 18 states have enacted voter-suppression bills, with similar ones pending in 12 more.

The suppression efforts include: voter ID and proof-of-citizenship requirements, which impact minority and low-income communities most heavily and have been compared to such Jim Crow-era tactics as the poll tax; the curtailing of early voting, especially Sunday voting, which has become an after-church tradition in some African-American communities; and the disenfranchisement of ex-felons, a particularly cruel game to play because of the way the war on drugs, in particular, has targeted the African-American and Latino communities, destroying families and creating a vast new underclass of second-class citizens. These and other measures could impact millions of people nationwide.

While these new laws are promoted under the guise of protecting the system's integrity and preventing (virtually nonexistent) "voter fraud," sometimes the real rationale slips out, such as this email to the Columbus Dispatch from Doug Preisse, chairman of the Franklin County (Ohio) Republican Party and a member of the elections board, who voted against weekend hours for early voting in the 2012 election:

I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban -- read African-American -- voter-turnout machine.

This is called fear of democracy.

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Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com, visit his website at commonwonders.com or listen to him at Voices of Peace radio.

© 2012 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

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