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Jeremiah Goulka: Playing the ID Card

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It's an election year for the record books -- or maybe Ripley's Believe It or Not.  The Obama campaign has now raised close to $1 billion; "dark money" is pouring into the Republican camp and onto the airwaves; and it's clear that earlier predictions of the first $2 billion presidential campaign are likely to fall short of the real figure.  Or if you want to be staggered, consider how much the full election season, not just the presidential part of it, is now predicted to deliver in "political advertising in all media": $5 billion. That means attack ads coming out everyone's ears in anything close to a swing state or a contested race anywhere, including, for instance, the 19,000 political ads (mostly by "outside groups") aired in the state of Montana (Montana!) in a recent three-week period for the tight Senate campaign there. By the way, at a national level, this sort of thing represents one of the great conflict-of-interest stories of our era that no one thinks to report (for obvious reasons): those responsible for pumping up the so-called horse race of campaign 2012 as the most important event on Earth, the greatest show since Cleopatra barged down the Nile and sank, are the very media whose owners will make more money off it if it is.

Honestly, all of this adds up to such a bizarre, nightmarish parody of "democracy" that, if you want to ward off depression, you better try to enjoy the ludicrous spectacle of it all. Take, for instance, the voter ID laws meant to disenfranchise minority voters that Republican politicians and operatives have been pushing like mad this season (with pushback from the court system) as an obvious way to offset their party's increasing demographic disadvantage.  They are all based on claims of in-person fraud that make no sense.

But in one of this election season's great stand-up comedy routines, it turns out that those Republicans weren't completely wrong. Yep, you guessed it: the fraud scandal of the year recently marched down Main Street tossing a baton.  It turned out to be the work of a Republican operative hired by both the Florida party and the national one to "register" voters. (His companies' methods have raised questions and been dogged by fraud accusations in the past.)  Possible outright fraud, including the registering of dead people, has been reported in ten counties in Florida and a number of swing states.

It's enough to make you laugh till you cry.  In the meantime, let Jeremiah Goulka, whose "Confessions of a Former Republican" was a big hit at TomDispatch back in September, fill you in on just why Republican voters hang in there on the voter fraud issue.  It's a fascinating tale. Tom

Of Republicans and Race Cards
Why I Used to Believe That Voter ID Laws Really Were Just Common Sense
By Jeremiah Goulka

Democrats are frustrated: Why can't Republican voters see that Republicans pass voter ID laws to suppress voting, not fraud?/p>

Democrats know who tends to lack ID.  They know that the threat of in-person voter fraud is wildly exaggerated.  Besides, Republican officials could hardly have been clearer about the real purpose behind these laws and courts keep striking them down as unconstitutional.  Still, Republican support remains sky high, with only one third of Republicans recognizing that they are primarily intended to boost the GOP's prospects.

How can Republican voters go on believing that the latest wave of voter ID laws is about fraud and that it's the opposition to the laws that's being partisan?

To help frustrated non-Republicans, I offer up my own experience as a case study.  I was a Republican for most of my life, and during those years I had no doubt that such laws were indeed truly about fraud.  Please join me on a tour of my old outlook on voter ID laws and what caused it to change.

Fraud on the Brain

I grew up in a wealthy Republican suburb of Chicago, where we worried about election fraud all the time.  Showing our IDs at the polls seemed like a minor act of political rebellion against the legendary Democratic political machine that ran the city and county.  "Vote early and often!" was the catchphrase we used for how that machine worked.  Those were its instructions to its minions, we semi-jokingly believed, and it called up an image of mass in-person voter fraud.

We hated the "Democrat" machine, seeing it as inherently corrupt, and its power, we had no doubt, derived from fraud.  When it wasn't bribing voters or destroying ballots, it was manipulating election laws -- creating, for instance, a signature-collecting requirement so onerous that only a massive organization like itself could easily gather enough John Hancocks to put its candidates on the ballot.

Republicans with long memories still wonder if Richard Nixon lost Illinois -- and the 1960 election -- thanks to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's ability to make dead Republicans vote for John F. Kennedy.  For us, any new report of voter fraud, wrapped in rumor and historical memory, just hammered home what we already knew: it was rampant in our county thanks to the machine.

And it wasn't just Chicago.  We assumed that all cities were run by similarly corrupt Democratic organizations.  As for stories of rural corruption and vote tampering?  You can guess which party we blamed.  Corruption, election fraud, and Democrats: they went hand-in-hand-in-hand.

Sure, we were aware of the occasional accusation of corruption against one or another Republican official.  Normally, we assumed that such accusations were politically motivated.  If they turned out to be true, then you were obviously talking about a "bad apple."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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