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From the monthly archives: March 2011

Vote Twice button

Just like the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Amiright?

Kay at Balloon Juice brings up Ohio’s plans to firm up voter ID laws. It is, of course, an extreme exercise in partisanship, an attempt to play up racial anxieties and trumpet a phony crisis that can then be Emanueled in the favor of the Republicans. In other words, it’s a typical crusade for the Tea Party-era Republican Party. But I think I have to give a fair share of blame to liberals on this one. The debate on this topic has gone a little something like this:

Republicans: “Voter fraud is a huge epidemic! People can vote without proving who they are! We need voter ID laws!”
Democrats: “There’s no evidence it’s a problem. The Bush Justice Department devoted considerable resources to proving the veracity of voter fraud and it found none. Studies have shown that hardly any fraud occurs by people pretending to be other people and voting.”
Republicans: “It could still happen! ACORN! Voter ID laws!”

It’s an annoying debate. The facts are clearly on the Democrats’ side. But here’s the most annoying thing about it, and there’s no way around it so I have to go through it: Republicans have a point. They don’t win the argument, but the point is hard to ignore. It’s hard to defend less integrity in voting, and while I think these sorts of Republican proposals have little merit, I think liberals should advocate more integrity in voting, not less. This is done by ensuring that every voting-age adult gets a state ID card.

There are two ways this can work: through public policy or through philanthropy. The first one is: propose a federal law that pays for every person in America to get a state ID for free. We have about 300 million people in this country, so at about $10 a pop (that’s what it costs in California), America would have to spend about $3 billion dollars for everyone to get one. Less than that, in fact, since not all 300 million are 18 or older, and you could decide not to pay for people who aren’t poor or already have an ID card or driver’s license. But the smart thing would be to cover everyone over 18, so it doesn’t look like an attempt to single out any constituency. $3 billion is not nothing, but it’s not all that much (we could, for example, not start a war for a few weeks), and it changes the nature of the debate. For now, the dynamic is Republicans advocating tougher measures to prevent fraud (fair or not, that’s the perception) and Democrats saying no. Even proposing a bill like that would change the debate to Democrats wanting to expand voting in principle and Republicans explicitly supporting disenfranchisement. I get that they do that now, but usually in secret and out of sight. Adopting this as an official stance would be more damaging. Now, I wouldn’t expect Republicans to take the deal, as this issue is a partisan tool for them, and it is to their disadvantage to end it. (Of course, standing up for minority voting rights would be the sort of thing that might make black voters take another look at the GOP, but that’s neither here nor there.) Plus, lots more poor people get to vote, which largely helps Democrats (though it could help Republicans some in, say, Appalachia). Really, this is such a no-brainer for Democrats I don’t know why it isn’t party doctrine at this point.

But, failing that, this seems like something that could also be remedied through philanthropic efforts. The size of the problem is small enough that, say, a even a few million in Soros money could make a huge dent. A nonprofit whose sole purpose was to provide people with money to buy a state ID to vote seems like the sort of thing that is eminently possible. It could be officially nonpartisan, you could even find a civic-minded Republican ex-officeholder to chair it (perhaps someone with Villager juice like Chuck Hagel?), and you could possibly even set up some sort of voucher system with the states so that the money given out couldn’t be used for other things. I doubt it would even cost $3 billion–focusing largely on the segment of the poor, minorities, and the elderly without any ID would be a much smaller piece of that number, and you could solve it gradually depending on how much money was raised. And, really, even if the fundraising wasn’t close at all to $3 billion, I don’t see why even incremental progress in this wouldn’t be worthwhile.

This is just off the top of my head. There’s absolutely no reason why liberals can’t win this debate if they wanted to.

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A pitch-perfect parody of militarism, including a hypernationalist Country singer. For some reason I was just thinking about it:

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Then Everything Changed

Then Everything Changed

I like the concept of the alternate history novel, but I find that few of them are in any way satisfying. I like Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle (though I think it will make a terrible movie, since there’s a ton of talk and hardly any action), but most other books of the sort leave me cold. I think the problem is that I tend to see history as more of a bottom-up phenomenon than a top-down one, so I usually figure that even significant changes to the timeline probably wouldn’t change history that much. Clearly, this isn’t always true–had Gore been in the Oval Office after 9/11, I very highly doubt we ever would have participated in the Iraq mess, which would have had very different consequences for the nation. But generally I tend to think that if Robespierre had never come to power during the French Revolution, someone else would have, and things probably would have turned out more or less the same. Which isn’t really the stuff of high drama, which is why most of these sorts of stories don’t quite work for me. (Also, many of them are appallingly poorly written and don’t really have much of a reason for existing, but that’s not a problem with the concept itself.)

Anyway, I don’t know if our readership is interested in such things, but if so, I’d recommend Jeff Greenfield’s Then Everything Changed, which is among the best of these sorts of books I’ve come across. The book has three “What if?” scenarios, all of which are well-developed at some length. One of these scenarios is one of the most pondered in history (Robert Kennedy not being shot at the Ambassador Hotel), one of which is something I’ve always pondered (Gerald Ford beating Jimmy Carter in 1976), and one of which is completely out of left field (John Kennedy being assassinated before he was president). I have to say that there’s a lot to appreciate here–Greenfield’s scholarship is pretty strong, and he has a firm grasp on the characters here. There’s the inevitable dramatic license–Mayor Daley backing RFK in ’68 seems like a bit of a stretch, though it is well-argued for in the book–but there are also moments here, like Bobby Kennedy arguing with the protesters outside the 1968 Democratic Convention, that really ring true. And there’s actually a point to it all: Greenfield’s point is to try to better understand the people who both made history and could have. Alter-Lyndon Johnson’s mishandling of the Bay of Pigs, for example, is pretty consistent with how he conducted himself in Vietnam–trusting the generals, intent on projecting “strength” instead of coming to a sensible solution, a lack of imagination in foreign affairs, and so on. On the other hand, Alter-Lyndon has much more success with Voting Rights legislation–he plays a smarter strategy and gets a voting rights bill through earlier and with much less backlash than otherwise occurred–which is also consistent with what we know about LBJ, master legislator. It’s thoughtful is all I’m saying. All the stories are well-written, and the book reads like an actual history with a rich sociocultural-political backdrop and (most importantly!) well-developed characters. Plus, if you are a politics or history nerd, there are tons of in-jokes (Roger Ailes pining for a “fair and balanced” news network while working for Nixon is one of such) and tiny details that make the whole thing a pretty entertaining read. But generalists would get a lot out of it as well, I think.

Anyway, if you’re interested in these sorts of stories, I do recommend it. It’s easily more ambitious than most of these books, which basically just milk a whole book out of one idea and just provide half-assed speculation as though it were more than that.

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The Minnesota Congresswoman/Crazy Person files exploratory paperwork. Well, at least the Republican debates won’t be boring this time!
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Will Wilkinson looks at the evidence and says no. I’m inclined to agree. Republicans always turn out anyway–firing them up is good for the bottom line of Fox News, but not for much else. Democratic apathy was a much worse problem–a problem that looks to be less potent in 2010, thanks to overreaching Republicans.
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Evidently Ed Harris is going to play John McCain in HBO’s adaptation of Game Change. Why they didn’t just cast this guy I’ll never know:

Michael Hogan as Saul Tigh

I'm still not coinvinced they AREN'T the same person...

While we’re on the topic, why are they adapting Game Change into anything at all? I mean, not only did the book lack new facts, but it also lacked original interpretations–I guess people wanting to read about how Hillary Clinton listened too much to Mark Penn would get something out of it, but that’s really all you get. It’s almost too easy to dump on Halperin, but honestly that book was just not that great. Maybe people who paid attention to absolutely nothing during the 2008 race might have gotten something out of it, but I can’t imagine why they’d be buying the book in the first place.

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According to my research, Michigan allows recalls of statewide officials. Considering that Rick Snyder’s approval ratings are already in the Gray Davis zone, I wonder if we’ll start to hear about significant momentum toward that end soon. Ordinarily I don’t give any money to other states’ gubernatorial races, ’cause I really don’t care all that much, but I might make an exception if a credible recall effort comes about. I mean, Snyder’s just on a whole other level here compared to the rest of them.

What’s so strange about the Midwest Red Squad is the sheer audacity. Scott Walker soft-peddled his plans during his campaign. Snyder seems to have outright lied about his fundamental political identity. Kasich stuck to platitudes and vagueness during the campaign, and now he’s just barreling ahead. They got their Dubya ’04-style phony mandate and just went to town. These guys all now have approval ratings in the low 30s (though it’s likely they won’t get much lower than that). That’s still really low. I seriously doubt any of these guys will get more than one term in office (Walker and Snyder stand a chance of serving a lot less than that), but I always wondered why more politicians didn’t just swoop in, say to hell with a second term, and pursue a maximalist agenda without fear of pissing off people and counting on it being too hard to completely roll back when the other party takes power. I figured that it was a combination of survival instinct and the risk of suffering such a huge backlash that moves the ball even further in the other direction. But judging by their policies and attitude, it looks like Walker, Snyder, Kasich, Corbett and Paul LePage of Maine could be giving this theory a try. Then again, some combination of stupidity, arrogance, inexperience, and ideology could explain it all too.

Update: Looks like a once-competitive Michigan Senate contest now appears safely Democratic, just as it happened in Ohio. I’m not sure why Republicans are so hell-bent on upping Democratic odds of keeping the Senate, but they sure seem to be.