Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Missing From Stewart's Admonition

Last week, Rush Limbaugh returned to a favorite theme of his and an awful lot of conservative Republicans:

What should be done about this? Every election we hear about this, every election. I've got a whole stack here of stories about election fraud. I don't have one in which Republicans are being accused of it. Not one.

No doubt this was true. Limbaugh probably didn't have in his stack anything about the voter caging, voter intimidation, and other strands of voter suppression described by Project Vote and reported by this website:

In Harris County, Texas, early voting has begun, and, as the Houston Chronicle reports, there are complaints that a Tea Party group has been hovering over voters, interfering with election workers, and disrupting lines of voters waiting to vote in minority neighborhoods. The Justice Department is investigating and interviewing witnesses.

Also in Texas, a fraudulent flyer being distributed in African American neighborhoods in Houston by the "Black Democratic Trust of Texas," a nonexistent group, advises voters not to vote for the Democratic ticket because their votes will instead go to the Republicans.

In Illinois, Senate candidate Mark Kirk has proudly claimed that he has mounted the state's largest "voter integrity program in 15 years"—aimed at four largely African-American precincts. Coincidentally (or maybe not), the Republican National Lawyers Association, a group closely affiliated with the Republican National Committee, is conducting trainings for lawyers in Illinois to assist on Election Day and "ensure that the elections are open, fair and honest." Additionally, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann has linked a key figure in Kirk's "voter integrity squad" to voter intimidation that occurred in black communities while President Bush was in office.

A voter suppression plan in Wisconsin (a combined effort of the state Republican Party, Americans for Prosperity, and Tea Party organizations) is targeting, among others, 16,000 Milwaukee County voters. As the Wisconsin-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, the organization One Wisconsin Now says it has obtained an audio recording of a tea party leader "outlining plans to work with the state Republican Party and another group, Americans for Prosperity, and use postcards to verify voters' addresses as well as provide volunteer poll workers to challenge voters on Election Day." A leader of a Tea Party group emailed "All Group Leaders" with instructions—including directions for photographing the homes of people targeted for voter suppression activities. The voter caging mailing allegedly targeted the 16th Assembly District, the district with the third-highest African-American voting population in the state.

A coalition of right-wing groups in Minnesota has been unsuccessful in its efforts to require photo ID at the polls, so they've redirected their energies to creating "voter surveillance teams." As Minnesota Public Radio reports, their planned activities include videotaping and tracking buses that bring voters to the polls (to ensure—they say—that buses are not taking their passengers to multiple polling places). Their materials also castigate Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and Attorney General Lori Swanson for failing to investigate and prosecute voter fraud.

One of the most publicized and explicit campaigns to suppress the minority vote has been in Nevada, where "Latinos for Reform," a group headed by a conservative Republican activist, is urging Hispanic voters to stay home on Election Day in order to "demand some attention." President Obama called the tactic a "cynical political ploy," and the ads have been denounced by the Latino Coalition. The Hispanic television network Univision has announced it will not broadcast the ad.

And everywhere, the conservative website "Pajamas Media" is trying to "develop a network of citizen journalists/poll watchers" to monitor as many polling places as possible and report back, preferably with video or still photographs, on cases of voter fraud or intimidation. They're looking for cases of electioneering too close to the polls, "forced assistance," registration fraud, multiple voting, and "dead voters." As Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice says in an Associated Press article, "unfounded fears cannot serve as prevention of actual voters casting actual votes."

I do not come to bury Rush (or others like him) but to praise him. Look over the the closing speech of Jon Stewart at his Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear on Saturday. Ten paragraphs and not one sentence about voting. Not to vote for Democrats, or liberals, or sane candidates- but simply to vote. Not even "vote for the candidate of your choice- Democrat, Republican, or any other because in so doing you strengthen American democracy." Nothing suggesting, in the manner of Stewart's theme, that however one chooses to express his/her sentiments on Tuesday only enhjances the citizen's contribution to cooperation, bipartisanship, sanity or "sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done."

Three days before the election and a rally of a couple of hundred thousand individuals takes place on the mall at the center of the American experiment and one of the nation's leading public figures cannot muster the courage to utter the word "vote."

It might have been the only safe course for Stewart and comedic sidekick Stephen Colbert. It's only only Rush fixating on mythical Democratic voter fraud but is widespread across the GOP spectrum. On Monday morning, talk show Michael Smerconish, a centrist whose audience is overwhelmingly Republican and conservative, remarked that he was pleasantly surprised that the rally did not turn into a Democratic get out the vote gathering. That would, apparently, be scandalous- encouraging people actually to vote.

Nothing- nothing- in 2010 will make a Republican head explode more dramatically than encouraging people to vote. It's really not necessary to ask them to cast a ballot for a Democrat; merely asking them to vote is frightening to Republicans. Stewart, if seemingly naive in his world of moral equivalence, is highly informed, intelligent and insightful. He is hardly unaware of the ongoing effort on the part of conservatives to tamp down the vote and of the danger of anyone inciting the GOP bear by hinting that masses of individuals should vote.

It is easy to bend to intimidation and Stewart should not shoulder the entire blame, of course. The Democratic Party, which seemingly has a motive in calling out the opposite party for its active, or at least passive, subversion of democracy, generally has been silent. The left blogosphere would have Stewart's back on this- but, as anyone listening to the mainsteam media or the Administration, knows, the professional left is only a bunch of self-important whiners.

Still, if not Jon Stewart (and Colbert), then who (or whom)? If not someone with an adoring base and the adoration of the mainstream media, then who (or whom)? If not someone who could take a few body blows and remain standing- and still rich and powerful- then who (or whom)? Jon Stewart has outstanding attributes. Courage is not one of them.

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