The last time fiscal and moral folly merged so shamelessly with political opportunism, we invaded Iraq.
HR 4844, which passed the House along party lines last week, is, unfortunately, more than just sputter and bluster about the peril of illegal aliens invading our voting booths, i.e., another piece of fantasy legislation to "protect" Americans from one more right-wing bugbear, like smoldering flags and gay wedding cakes.
This bill, which would require would-be voters to show expensive proof-of-citizenship identification before they could cast a ballot in the 2010 election, is straight-on vote suppression - addressing not the minuscule problem of non-citizens trying to vote, but the far larger one of low-income American citizens trying to vote, and voting their interests, which means, for the most part, voting Democratic.
"If this bill passed the Senate and became law, the electorate would likely become more middle-aged, whiter and richer - and, its sponsors are anticipating, more Republican," the New York Times editorialized last week with welcome zeal (signaling, let us pray, the Gray Lady's awakened interest in the integrity of U.S. elections).
Indeed, the day before the House vote, a Georgia law requiring would-be voters to show a government-issued photo ID was struck down by Superior Court Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr., whose words of rebuke were echoing in the House chamber 24 hours later (and quoted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi).
"This cannot be," he said.
Judge Bedford's anger and incredulity still reverberate. The Republicans are rolling back the civil rights movement.
And it gets worse. In order to do this, they'd be requiring every state to tangle its citizens in a new, enormously expensive bureaucracy, the cost of which would be borne primarily by destitute state governments.
An estimate of how much this unnecessary measure would cost to implement can be found in a recently released report (based on a survey conducted by the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators) examining the true cost of a national identity card, a.k.a. Real ID. This is a similarly ill-conceived GOP concoction passed into law last spring as part of a military spending bill.
The cost for states to reissue identification documents to all 245 million current driver's-license and state-ID holders within five years, the study found, would be $11 billion. Congress has set aside $40 million, according to a recent story in the Salt Lake Tribune.
The mechanism of democracy is breaking down before our very eyes. The problems already in place - most egregiously, our national electronic voting debacle, which is mind-boggling in its costs, malfunctions and fraud potential - need our urgent attention. So it's enormously frustrating to have to expend energy desperately heading off greater damage, but I see little choice.
The anti-democratic forces we're up against are part cynical calculation and part deep-seated fear of the unknown. The Voter ID bill demonstrates the seamlessness with which these elements are conjoined. The bill is part of a package of fear-based legislation - including the construction of 700 miles of double-layered fencing on the U.S.-Mexico border - aimed at sealing the country off from the rest of the world, as though what we have to give the world is in short supply.