"Voter Fraud," Race, and the Conservative Base
There's a long article at the Washington Post today about the crossfire in Ohio over allegations of voter fraud by Republicans and of voter suppression by Democrats. It's mainly interesting because it illustrates the extent to which rank-and-file Republican voters have totally bought their leaders' bogus rhetoric about a vast conspiracy to steal the election for Barack Obama by herding unqualified voters to the polls.
Here's a particular pungent passage from the Post story:
"Did I register? Three times," joked a supervisor of a demolition crew tearing down an old public housing complex on the east side.
"I signed 73 times, got a cigarette every time I put down my name," said worker Randy Kinney, bringing up one of the much-publicized local voter-registration problems being investigated by the county elections board.
The ugly racial subtext of such "jokes" is pretty clear, and like a lot of conservative election-stretch-drive talk, seems designed to promote the belief that Barack Obama is leading some sort of radical African-American takeover of the United States.
Traditionally, Republican "voter fraud" agitation has been designed to distract attention from, if not actually justify, GOP efforts to intimidate or discourage minority voters. We'll see next Tuesday what sorts of dirty tricks Republicans have in store this time around, but I suspect the current voter-fraud talk reflects a deeper psychological phenomenon among conservatives, not just some tactical ploy.
Hostility to universal sufferage is one of the oldest traditions in American conservatism. It transcends simple elitism and/or racism mainly in arguments that poor people will naturally try to use government to loot the property holdings of their social and economic superiors. And these arguments are not very far from the surface of the McCain campaign this year, given its preoccupation with attacks on Obama's tax plan for providing "welfare" to people without federal income tax liability (never mind that refundable tax credits to working families who pay high and regressive payroll taxes was an idea once championed by Republicans such as Ronald Reagan).
It's not too hard to connect the dots here. Barack Obama is an African-American with avid African-American support. African-Americans are participating heavily in early voting opportunities. His "socialist" tax plan will shower African-Americans with welfare benefits. And African-Americans, or their "elitist" Democratic leaders, will break every rule to make this all happen.
In many parts of the country, racial polarization has been the single most reliable vehicle for driving white working-class voters to the GOP, and driving white turnout up sharply. Whether the McCain-Palin campaign is consciously relying on this kind of nasty appeal in Ohio, the South, or elsewhere, I think it's beyond any reasonable doubt that they are stoking it, not just with caterwauling about "voter fraud," but with the entire series of attacks on Barack Obama as a radical who wants to tax Joe the Plumber to provide "welfare" to his supporters.