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Monday, February 06, 2006

Part 1 of 5

The Republican Party does not value democracy and reguarly attempts to steal votes. Considering the recent actions by the Republicans, America needs an active debate about whether democracy truly exists. Today I begin this discussion by examining how the Republicans have undermined democracy at every turn once it became a reality in 1965.


The history of America is filled with conservatives who worked vigorously to undermine the democratic system. At our nation's inception, only white, male property owners could vote. We were by no means a democracy, but rather a plutocracy. A democracy requires "government by the people", not by "some of the people." Indeed this nation did not really become a democracy until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Prior to JFK, the policy of both political parties was white supremacy. If anything, the Democrats were worse up to that point due to the party's Southern influences. Republicans and Democrats in 1960 were not quite what they are today. In addition to liberal Democrats, you also found very conservative Southern Democrats who enforced the racist status quo. Some fiscally conservative Republicans were socially progressive and/or ardent believers in the essential guarantees of the New Deal. Due to the South's anger at the Republican party following the civil war, the South had long been dominated by the Democrats. The process didn't begin to change until JFK's Civil Rights Act which was ultimately signed by LBJ in 1964 when he famously remarked "We've lost the South for a generation."

The 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibits discrimination in voting practices and procedures due to race. An example of its' successes is that black registration in Mississippi went from 6.7% to 59.8% after the passage of the Act. Over the years Congress has expanded the Voting Rights Act to ensure the continued existence of democracy. In 1975, for instance, people were guaranteed the right to use ballots in foreign languages. Prior to 1965, however, it's difficult to discuss the topic of this article -- undermining democracy -- because we just plain weren't a democracy. It was a country run by white men with a few white women brought along, albeit reluctantly. Up to 1965, however, it is fair to note that Democrats had been more culpable of undermining democracy than the Republicans had been.

After the Voting Rights Act, the two parties began to take vastly different approaches. The Democrats saw a mass exodus of racist Southerners who couldn't deal with the party taking a stand against their so-called "way of life." Existing Democrats became more liberal as a result. The left-leaning wing of the party suddenly could be more vocal and aggressive in pushing a socially progressive agenda without the constant threat of retribution from Southern Democrats. On the other side of the fence, the Republicans jumped at the chance to obtain a new block of voters, especially in the South. President Eisenhower started making small concessions to the South in an attempt to end Democratic dominance, but Tricky Dick Nixon was the one who completed the transformation.

Nixon realized that the Southerners had more in common with fiscal conservatives than fiscal liberals. Both Southern Democrats and mainstream Republicans distrusted the government, despised academia and were fearful of change from the status quo. Nixon termed his plan "positive polarization", history has called it the "Southern Strategy". In my earlier article on Lakoff, I discussed the Republican strategy of framing debates. In some ways, Nixon was the founder of this movement. The term "states rights" was invented as a way to speak in code about white supremacy. The Southern Strategy was fought using such clever manipulations of words. Nixon attempted to speak using the same terms directly to two constituencies that, up to that point, had been consider polar opposites, politically. So Nixon would promise that he, personally, was not a racist but that he was against big government telling us what to do. So fiscal conservatives heard what they wanted -- that Nixon was a social moderate who disfavored government regulation -- and social conservatives heard what they wanted -- that Nixon wasn't going to enforce the federal government's civil rights laws of the 1960s. By speaking against what the government had done in race relations directly after the massive developments of the LBJ administration, Nixon came off to Southerners as being against everything LBJ stood for. More sophisticated Northern Republicans saw Nixon as the social moderate they preferred.


An offshoot of Nixon's Southern Strategy was to suppress the black vote at all costs and to use dirty tricks to turn white voters against the Democrats. One of these strategies was to send phony "minority representatives" into white communities to inform them of government programs created specifically for minorities at taxpayer's expense. Segregationist candidates who had once been Democrats, such as Trent Lott, now ran as Republicans.

The more devious way of turning the country Republican was by flagrantly violating the spirit, if not the letter, of the Voting Rights Act. Republican party operatives began a massive campaign of stealing black votes. (Disenfranchisement is a nice term, but it also deflects the seriousness of what is occurring. I prefer the term stealing to better reflect the crime.) The Republican Party launched a series of “ballot security” and “voter integrity” initiatives which targeted minority communities. Using these deceptive terms, they were able to eliminate and suppress votes while technically complying with the Voting Rights Act. In 1981, the New Jersey Republican Party hired armed guards to act as a "National Ballot Security Task Force" and set up signs in black and latino neighborhoods claiming: Warning, This Area Is Being Patrolled by the National Ballot Security Task Force. It Is a Crime to Falsify a Ballot or to Violate Election Laws.” In 1987, the Republican National Committee's true motivations behind "voter integrity" initiatives was exposed when they wrote that the Louisiana measure would "eliminate at least 60- 80,000 folks from the rolls." The goal was not voter integrity; it was voter elimination. In 1990, the North Carolina Republican Party and the Helms for Senate committee mailed 125,000 postcards, 97% of them to African Americans, warning of criminal penalties for voter fraud.

Republican politicians themselves began to open embrace racism and vote suppression. Ronald Reagan announced his candidacy for President in Philadelphia, Mississippi and spoke of "states rights." This isolated community was famous for just one thing in its long history -- the death of 3 civil rights workers in 1964. Speaking the racial code in this town was a clear signal to Southern racists -- I'm with you. During his confirmation hearings for Chief Justice in 1986, 19 witnesses testifying that Rehnquist in the early 60s harassed black and latino voters at polling places in an attempt at disenfranchisement. (Sorry, I meant stealing votes, Mr. Chief Justice. It wasn't his last crime and likely not his first either. See a future post on the 2000 election.)

As future posts will show, these attempts at voter disenfranchisement only increased in the 1990s. By 2004, it was a vast, professionally run, criminal enterprise.


The above discussion proves that the Republican party kept trying to violate the spirit and letter of the Voting Rights Act. They did so because it helped them win elections. Minorities were not behind the pro-status quo agenda of the Republican Party once it hardened in the late 60s, so the disappearance of their vote was a "good" thing for the Republican party. But what does that say about the Republicans' commitment to democracy? Is the maintenance and preservation of a democratic state even an important goal to the Republicans? Or do they simply want a government "by our people", not "by the people"? Or do they believe that an aggressive policy of limiting votes is just an unavoidable part of democratic politics?

In the next 4 parts of this semi-occasional series, I will explain discuss 4 other recent events that call into question whether democracy even exists anymore. Circumventing the Voting Rights Act and suppressing minorities is just part of the Republican War on Democracy. The GOP's hatred of the democratic process has intensified so much in the last 7 years that democracy may have been killed without many noticing. Next time, I'll look at the Impeachment of President Clinton.

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