It’s a new year, and already the Republicans in Congress have begun the process of trying to undo President Obama’s accomplishments. For those of us who watch and study politics, we should not be the least bit surprised. As Obama makes overtures across the aisle in a spirit of bipartisanship, his Republican adversaries want nothing else but to make the first black president a one-term president. Already, the 2012 campaign has begun. This is politics — racial politics, that is. And it appears the GOP will use anything and everything in their deck of race cards, including allegations of presidential corruption and voter fraud, to get the job done.
For example, at a recent debate, the candidates for RNC chairman have voter fraud on their mind. “Voter fraud is a real issue out there, and it’s important that every state party, and at the national party, that we provide the resources and the legal basis and the resources in order to stop voter fraud out there, and to initiate what we’ll call ballot integrity programs across the country,” said RNC chair candidate Ann Wagner. “Poll watchers are very, very important to have out there to keep vigilant, and we had an army of those in this last election cycle at many precincts around the state of Missouri.”
“I think voter fraud is a very serious issue for all of us obviously,” said candidate Saul Anuzis of Michigan. “If you take a look at what’s happened. Michigan as an example is a blue state that can go red under the right circumstances, and one of our challenges traditionally has been voter fraud in many of the urban areas.”
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Reince Priebus of Wisconsin criticized his state’s open voting system. “We are one of the few states in the entire country, in Wisconsin, where you can actually vote on Election Day without registering. And you can also vote without any picture identification at all. So our challenges in Wisconsin are astronomical.” He added: “I think we need to win more races in the legislature so we can pass photo ID in all states, and make sure that we either have photo ID or real ID, or some method of protecting our constitutional right to vote in this country. And I think it has to be a top priority of the next chairman.”
Meanwhile, the new chair of the House Oversight and Government Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) is the attack dog that Republicans will try to sick on President Obama. Issa recently said the Obama administration “has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times.” Armed with subpoena power, Issa is bound to launch investigations on everything under the sun.
“If we can take any lessons away from the results of the midterm elections, it’s that the American people will no longer tolerate a government that has institutionalized a culture of waste and abuse that acts carelessly with their tax dollars,” Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella told Politico. ” As chairman of this committee, [Rep.] Issa will pursue an agenda that aims to shed light on the failures of government for the purpose of reforming them so that the government is more transparent and accountable to the American people.”
Rep. Issa and his colleagues would return the Congress to the days of the Clinton administration, when Republicans went after Clinton, forcing witnesses to lawyer up and deplete their life savings in the process. Conservatives overreached and imploded due to their own hypocrisy in the 1990s, as they undoubtedly will again in 2011.
Issa, a Lebanese-American and Republican lawmaker, is vowing to bring down the first African-American president, who in turn is depicted by the GOP as an Arab and branded as a Muslim terrorist. But for Republicans such as Issa, the richest member of Congress, it’s all about the money, and fulfilling a campaign promise to protect the wealthy. In their view, getting rid of President Obama will make that happen. This is the GOP endgame. Throwing red meat to the Republican Party base — overwhelmingly white, disaffected, Fox News-watching, low-information voters that they are — has become a means to an end.
And for the former party of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln — now the party of white nationalism and exclusion — race-baiting is the red meat that wins elections. Since the 1960s, Republicans pursued a Southern Strategy, capitalizing on the defection of white Southern Democrats who longed for the good ol’ days of Jim Crow segregation, and resented President Johnson for his passage of civil rights legislation. While Dixiecrats had used the “N word” to appeal to racist white voters on a visceral level, Republicans became more sophisticated, using code words such as “taxes,” “social programs” and “smaller government” in lieu of more blatant racial epithets.
When Barack Obama arrived on the scene, Republicans found the personification of their racial hatred in a black presidential candidate. The anti-Obama crowds at the McCain-Palin campaign rallies and later at the health care town hall meetings came with their crass racist placards. They questioned the president’s citizenship and legitimacy, and called him everything from a terrorist to a communist to a fascist. Yet, even as these mobs made their party look like an amalgam of racists, hatemongers and crackpots, the party never distanced itself from the base. Rather, a birtherized, tea party-infused Republican Party embraced the hate under the banner of “taking our country back” — implying that things are a mess now that a black man runs the country.
An integral part of the Republican Party’s race-based Southern Strategy is voter fraud. The GOP faithful love to accuse Democratic supporters, particularly blacks and Latinos in urban areas, of voter fraud. Typically, the charges are unsubstantiated. In their narrative, the right opposes Obama, in part, because they believe he was illegitimately elected by millions of African-Americans who voted illegally. Aside from characterizing voters of color as the new racists, the fraud charges are a subterfuge, used by Republicans as a pretext to suppress the vote in reliably Democratic strongholds. Black voter suppression equals Republican electoral victory.
In recent years, Republicans have manufactured voter fraud charges against ACORN and the New Black Panthers. The Republican-led Congress even plans to resurrect the Panthers with an investigation in this session. In the 2010 election, then-U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) and others around the country funded voter suppression efforts under the guise of “anti-voter fraud” activities. Kirk selected “key, vulnerable precincts” with significant black voting blocks. And the highly politicized Bush Justice Department fired a number of U.S. Attorneys for refusing to prosecute flimsy cases of voter fraud.
The crass voter suppression and intimidation tactics employed by twenty-first century political operatives smell a lot like the methods used by Jim Crow segregationists in the South to block the black vote. Many built their careers in the process. In 1964, a young attorney named William Rehnquist made his bones when he led a team of Republicans who intimidated, harassed and disenfranchised black and Latino voters in Phoenix under Operation Eagle Eye.
Times have changed, but the basic tactics of racial politics have remained the same. Republicans are making Obama their “whipping boy” and perpetuating the voter fraud myth for two reasons: to excite their base, but more importantly, to suppress the black vote in the 2012 election. When you cannot win a fair and honest debate on the issues, you resort to the gutter. When, like the Republicans, you have guaranteed that virtually no black or brown people will vote for you, you make sure those folks don’t vote.