Monday, November 01, 2004

Strict Father likes some of his children better than others


This article, in its entirety, says it much better than anything I can write. Read it in the context of Lakoffian analysis, and it is all clear. Conservatives are hierarchical (very few elements of the system control the rest of the entire system in a top-down fashion), liberals are interactionists (more elements in the system, more likely the "emergent properties" of the system will function well). It also accents the barely veiled racism that is an integral part of the conservative core moral order.


Easy Does It
by Peter Beinart

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20041108&s=trb110804

Behind all the Republican screaming about voter fraud and all the Democratic
screaming about voter disenfranchisement is this fundamental truth: Liberals and
conservatives don't see voting the same way.

Conservatives don't want to
make voting easy. They don't want to make it impossible. They don't even want to
make it excruciatingly difficult. They just don't want to make it easy. Their
rationale is that easy voting allows voter fraud. But there's a deeper
explanation. Of course, voter fraud is a bad thing, but it's also the natural,
perhaps inevitable, result of higher turnout. The reason conservatives always
oppose this trade-off (besides the partisan fear that higher turnout might hurt
the GOP) is that, philosophically, they don't think higher turnout is
necessarily a good thing. The Republican Party pays lip service to cultural
populism, but, among serious conservatives, there remains an older strain of
principled elitism, a fear of the uninformed masses, which are motivated by
passion rather than reason. I'm not saying contemporary conservatives are
anti-democratic; they just don't think greater political participation will
produce better government.

As a liberal, I think conservatives are
wrong: Voting should be easy. If easier access to the polls produces a little
fraud and a lot more participation, it's worth it. It's worth it not because new
voters will make thoughtful decisions at the voting booth but because, by
bringing them into the political process, we have a chance of transforming them
into the kind of voters who will.

In Bowling Alone, Harvard's Robert
Putnam notes that "some recent evidence suggests that the act of voting itself
encourages volunteering and other forms of good citizenship." In particular, it
may inculcate greater faith in the democratic process. As Columbia University's
Penn Kimball explained in his 1972 study, The Disconnected, "Those whose lives
are untouched by any sort of involvement [in the political system] have no
framework of experience by which to develop the patience and appreciation for
the complexities or trade-offs of evolutionary progress." That makes them easy
prey for demagogues, such as Louis Farrakhan or Lyndon LaRouche, who offer
quick, often illiberal, fixes to entrenched problems.

Inculcating
democratic values becomes even more important when you realize that a
disproportionate percentage of the "disconnected" are African American, a
community with a deep suspicion--fueled by centuries of exclusion--of the
political process. Given America's toxic racial history, overcoming that
suspicion is critical to the health of our political system. But, since
conservatives view higher black turnout largely as an opportunity for fraud
(when was the last time you heard a conservative warning about white suburban
fraud?), they generally oppose efforts to increase African American
participation.

For starters, they refuse to admit there are any genuine
obstacles to such participation now. When the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
found that black voters in Florida were almost ten times more likely than
nonblacks to have their ballots rejected in 2000, conservatives noted
indignantly that the Commission had not proved intentional disenfranchisement.
But what if blacks' ballots weren't counted in part because they live in
counties with inferior voting equipment and poorly trained polling workers?
Since paying staff and buying equipment has traditionally been a local
responsibility, it's logical that financial disparities between counties would
produce disparities in the number of spoiled ballots. That's why, after 2000,
the National Commission on Federal Election Reform, overseen by Jimmy Carter and
Gerald Ford, proposed that states ensure that their counties' error rates not
fluctuate wildly between rich and poor, white and black.

Unfortunately,
that hasn't happened. In 2002, Congress created the Election Assistance
Commission, which was supposed to help states improve their voting procedures.
But President Bush and the Republican congressional leadership didn't appoint
its members until nearly a year after the deadline. Last year, the Commission
only received $2 million of the $10 million it was due. This January, it still
had no office or phone line. Since one of the Commission's functions was to
disperse money set aside by Congress, states have received far less help
upgrading their voting systems than they were promised. And even federal
assistance that doesn't require the Commission's authorization has been
painfully slow in coming. As The New York Times noted this February, the
president's fiscal-year 2005 budget allocates only $40 million of the $800
million promised for electoral reform. In September 2003, Doug Chapin, director
of the Election Reform Information Project, told The Washington Post, "The
states have really moved forward on their end of the bargain, but the federal
government has yet to do that."

You can see the effect in Ohio. In 2000,
most Ohioans voted on punch-card ballots. The antiquated machinery--which, if
not well-maintained, can easily produce the "chads" immortalized in
Florida--particularly disadvantaged African American voters, who live in poorer
areas with fewer well-trained poll workers. According to the ACLU, African
Americans in two key counties were far more likely to have their ballots spoiled
than whites. In late 2003, Ohio officials were expecting $60 million in federal
money to buy new machines for every county in the state. But the money didn't
come. "We are ready to move forward," said Republican Secretary of State J.
Kenneth Blackwell last November, "but we simply don't yet have the money from
the federal government that we need to complete our statewide system
transformation." Ultimately, the lack of timely funding--plus concerns about
instituting new technologies in such a short time--forced the Buckeye State to
shelve the upgrades. And that virtually guarantees that, once again, poor and
black voters are less likely to have their votes count.

The irony in all
this is that, under Bush v. Gore, which invalidated the varying voting
procedures in Florida's different counties, Ohio's inequities may be
unconstitutional. But the Bush campaign need not worry. The conservatives on the
Supreme Court were never serious about equalizing ballot access. They just
wanted their side to win--which makes them pretty much like conservatives
everywhere else.



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