Over the past few years, one cannot help noticing the radical measures the Republicans have resorted to in order to defeat President Obama and regain power. The problem is that it is all being done at the expense of our democracy.
I am not referring to the 37 times the House Republicans tried to abolish the Affordable Care Act or to the endless hearings on Capitol Hill to find a scandal to hang around the President’s neck.
It is said that on the very night President Obama was being inaugurated for his first term top Republicans were huddled up over dinner in Washington planning a strategy to obstruct his legislative agenda.
I refer to an obvious 3 point plan the Republicans devised to make President Obama in the words of Senator Mitch McConnell “a one term President”.
The plan was first- to win control of state legislatures, second- use their power over the redistricting process and gerrymander the US House districts in their favor and third- use the redistricting advantage at the presidential level.
The GOP achieved the first part of the plan in 2010 by exceeding expectations in the State Legislative elections by winning 54 of 99 State legislative chambers, its highest since 1952. This gave the Republicans control over the redistricting process in 20 states compared to 7 for the Democrats.
According to Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures “2010 will go down as a defining political election that will shape the national political landscape for at least the next 10 years” ( Republicans Exceed Expectations in 2010 State Legislative Elections -NCSL News, November 3, 2010).
Republican success was attributed mainly to apathy on the part of Democratic voters.
The GOP wasted no time in implementing the second part of their plan to regain power in the US House of Representatives and thus have power to obstruct President Obama’s legislative agenda. How were they able to do this?
The Republicans regained the majority in the US House through the system of gerrymandering, that is to say, the GOP legislatures increased the number of districts in places where the GOP is strong and in Democratic areas they decreased the number by making them bigger.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that the GOP picked up 6 additional House seats in 2012 due to redistricting. In a study by Professor Sam Wang of Princeton University the Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in House races yet the GOP won 234 seats to the Democrats 201. (LA Times, Feb. 6, 2013 by David Horsey- Short of votes, Republicans gerrymander way back to power).
Gerrymandering is highly undemocratic because it causes some votes to carry more weight than others which is contrary to the principle of “one man, one vote” which requires that votes should not be weighted.
The point is that if you get to choose the ground on which electoral battles are fought, you are likely to win them.
Interestingly, in the Senate as well the Republicans are represented far beyond their proportion of the electorate. This is because of the small-state advantage i.e. they have the majority among the 20 smallest states.
The Republicans have used their majority in the House to obstruct the President at every turn. They were aided by the Senate Republicans who although they were in the minority they could block legislative action by the use of the filibuster i.e. endless debate to prevent bills from coming to a vote.
This ploy was originally used in exceptional circumstances by both parties but between 2007 and 2009 it affected a record 70% of major legislation (US News & World Report – The Staggering Rise of the filibuster, by Robert Schlesinger, November 25, 2009). They blocked bills proposed by President Obama though they originally supported them such as Cap and Trade, Infrastructure spending, mandates under the Affordable Care Act, the Dream Act and raising the debt-ceiling.
Through their majority in the House and their manipulative advantage in the Senate the Republicans hoped they could leverage these in presidential elections and achieve the third part of their plan which was to win the big prize – the White House.
After the Republicans gained new statehouse majorities in the 2010 elections, the majority of States introduced proposals to enact restrictions on the right to vote. The name of the game was voter suppression i.e. influence the outcome of an election by preventing the people who might vote against your candidate from exercising their right to vote.
According to The Brennan Center for Justice 25 laws and 2 executive actions were passed in 19 states between 2011 and 2012 to impose ID restrictions, shorten early voting, purge voter rolls or limit registration drives among other measures. They were targeted mainly at minorities who are traditional Democratic voters.
The GOP supported voter suppression as a way of making the electorate older, whiter, and more conservative. But the push backfired when opponents turned out in larger numbers for Obama, cementing a bloc that was younger and more diverse than in 2008, giving Obama a comfortable victory in 2012. The shifting demographics of the country indicate that Obama’s coalition will continue to grow and so the GOP had to find a new way to dilute the influence of Democratic voters.
GERRYMANDERING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE
Stalin once said that the important thing in an election is not those who cast the votes but those who count them. So in the wake of Romney’s defeat and the backfiring of the suppression tactics, the GOP came up with a new voter suppression strategy i.e. gerrymander the Electoral College. They want to extend their redistricting advantage to presidential elections.
Each state can allocate the electoral votes however it wants but in every state, the contest is winner-take-all (except Nebraska and Maine). The Republicans want to change that. They want to award electoral votes by congressional districts. This is undemocratic because it means a candidate can win the majority of electoral votes in a state even though he lost the popular vote.
The reasoning behind the new GOP plan is that in 2012 in all the battleground states, according to Think Progress, assuming Romney won all the Republican congressional districts, the GOP plan would have given Romney 17 electoral votes in Florida, 9 in Michigan, 12 in Ohio, 13 in Pennsylvania, 8 in Virginia and 5 in Wisconsin for a total of 64 additional electoral votes. Add this to the 206 he won legitimately and he would have had 270 and the White House.
According to Dave Wasserman of Cook Political Report, the GOP now hold a majority of House seats in 30 states, compared to 17 for the Democrats giving them a big advantage in any bid to rig the Electoral College (Ari Berman, The GOP’s New Voter Suppression Strategy: Gerrymander the Electoral College, The Nation December 10, 2012).
The Republicans have proposed changes in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where legislation has been introduced and in Michigan and Ohio where the change is being considered.
ABOLISHING LOCAL DEMOCRACY
One of the most radical things done by the conservative legislatures and Governors ushered into power in 2010 was in Michigan where there is a law now giving Governor Snyder the right to abolish local democracy i.e. the right to vote for local officials. The governor can abolish local governments elected by the people and replace them with Emergency Managers, a non-elected appointee of the governor.
Cities and towns, populated primarily by minorities, are targeted and it is estimated that almost 50% of African Americans in Michigan have been disenfranchised. The rationalization given for it is that it provides more efficient government but there is no evidence to support this in Michigan. This is a famous ploy used in other countries by conservative governments to circumvent the will of the people when it is of another political persuasion.
THE IRS “SCANDAL”
We are now almost halfway through the first year of President Obama’s second term and the GOP is now focusing its anti-Obama campaign on so called “scandals” to try to embarrass the administration. On Capitol Hill we have had endless hearings on Fast and Furious, Benghazi and now the IRS scandal. The Press has jumped on the IRS issue and indulged in wild speculation as to how it can harm the Obama administration. Their efforts would have been more fruitful had they focused on what is the real scandal. Let me explain.
The allegation is that Tea Party and other conservative groups were targeted by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Under 26 U.S.C. 501 (c) (4) organizations can claim tax-exempt status if they operate “exclusively” for the promotion of social welfare. Exclusively means 100% involvement.
The Department of the Treasury in 1958 implemented a regulation interpreting exclusively to mean “primarily”. Primarily means 51% or more and less than 100%. This was wrong because the IRS as an executive agency was interpreting (a judicial function) and changing (a legislative function) a statute. Constitutionally, these functions can only be performed by the courts and Congress respectively.
This change created a loophole through which organizations which were involved in political activities such as lobbying up to 49% could claim 501(c) (4) status and thus could increase political contributions without reporting them.
Had the IRS applied the law as WRITTEN there would have been no scandal because 501 (c) (4) excludes any political activity whatsoever.
The Real scandal is that organizations could thwart the intent of Congress and cause problems of political campaign financing instead of serving social welfare and the common good (Urban Law Group-The Real 2013 IRS Scandal, May 23, 2013).
The point of this Article is that the Republicans tried by fair and foul means to defeat President Obama at the polls but are short of the votes so the new strategy is to change the rules. They are replacing democracy with ‘minority rule’.
Most of the voting restrictions were not in place for 2012, thanks to a dozen court actions and the US Department of Justice blocking the majority of them.
It remains to be seen what voter suppression tactics will be in place in 2014 and 2016 as new suppression laws have been proposed or passed and some of the older ones have been cleared for use in later elections.
A notable example of the former is in North Carolina where the Republican legislature has proposed legislation to penalize parents of college students who vote in the town where they go to college. The intention here is clearly to target another group that voted for President Obama – the youth vote.
As regards the push to abolish local democracy it is up to the voters to reverse that at the polls and the effort to suppress the Electoral College should be changed to an effort to abolish it.
If this Article serves any purpose I hope it has highlighted in the eyes of the stay-at-home voters the importance of midterm elections and the far reaching consequences they can have. In the end the onus will be on the people to reverse the inroads into our democracy because it is ours to protect.