By Bob Cesca: By way of a follow-up to my column yesterday about the Republican effort to disenfranchise millions of poor, elderly and working class Americans by passing Voter ID laws that require a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, I’d like to cover a well-worn Republican political tactic that’s suddenly been tossed into the ID mix by everyone’s favorite nitwit, Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Rewind to last week. I’m not sure how I missed this, but Attorney General Eric Holder rightfully described Voter ID laws as a poll tax — a primary feature of the century-long Jim Crow era in which white lawmakers disenfranchised black voters by passing laws that made it extraordinarily difficult for them to vote and, ultimately, to be harassed, arrested and enslaved (see Douglas Blackmon’s extraordinary Slavery By Another Name) in the white South.
Specifically, Holder referred to laws that forced voters to pay a fee to vote, thus making it difficult for low-income black voters to cast a ballot. In Louisiana, for example, only one-half of one percent of the black population was actually allowed to vote in 1910 due to Jim Crow laws. Jefferson Parish in Louisiana charged a fee of $1 to vote, the equivalent of around $18 today. Now, if you’re dirt poor and you’re faced with a choice between feeding your kids for a week and voting in a comparatively trivial election, which would you choose? Clearly, you stay home on Election Day. Mission accomplished.
Likewise, and as I argued yesterday, Voter ID laws force potential registered voters to pay a fee to attain a photo ID. They’re also forced to lose wages by missing work in the process and they have to arrange a transport to the state government ID location or DMV — and, in the case of driver’s licenses, they actually have to pass the test while providing a stack of documentation to prove their identity. All for the right to vote.
If this isn’t a poll tax, I don’t know what is. And the Republicans know it. They did this to prevent potential Democratic voters from entered a voting booth and casting a ballot against the GOP — and they admitted it, too.
Yesterday, Texas shit-kicker and George W. Bush 2.0 proto-doofus Rick Perry said, “In labeling the Texas voter ID law as a ‘poll tax,’ Eric Holder purposefully used language designed to inflame passions and incite racial tension. It was not only inappropriate, but simply incorrect on its face.”
See, this is precisely how Modern Republicans play the game. They engage in one tactic or another that deliberately injects race into the discourse. Let’s do the list: President Obama is a Kenyan and a foreigner; Limbaugh called the president a “little black man child”; “Obama Isn’t Working” banners — the decades-long, well-documented Southern Strategy. In this case, it’s a specific law that will prevent African Americans from voting for their likely candidate, President Obama. More broadly, Republicans have systematically sought to make the process of voting a privilege of those who have the means to jump through the exponentially increasing series of bureaucratic obstacles before pressing the dubiously privatized electronic touch-screen for their candidates of choice. The greater the financial means, the more likely the voter is going to choose a Republican. (Incidentally, it’s worth noting that the Republican Party putatively hates government bureaucracy. But waiting in long DMV lines and enduring piles of state and local red tape is totally okay.)
But as soon as they’re called on their glaringly obvious efforts to alienate and suppress minority influence in politics, they insist that liberals are the ones who are playing the race card.
It’s yet another example of the Pee-Wee Herman “I Know You Are But What Am I?” strategy. And it’s been hugely successful. For example, during the eight years of the Bush administration, the Republicans stacked up piles of deficit-spending and debt, while subverting democracy and augmenting the unitary executive by granting the president nearly unfettered war powers. All of those things I just noted about George W. Bush? Karl Rove and the Republicans have accused President Obama of the exact same thing, but without any real evidence to back it up. They’re petulant children playing a silly round of payback.
So we’re to understand that whenever they employ a tactic that deliberately incites racial tension, Democrats and liberals who take notice are actually the ones injecting race into the debate. Uh-huh. Put another way, let’s say the Republicans are punching kittens and someone says, “Hey! That pack of mouth-breathing Republicans are punching a kitten!” And one of the mouth-breathing Republicans replies, “Why are you always talking about violence against kittens? [Punch, punch, punch.]”
Subsequently, in the aftermath of the back and forth, people — especially press people — who happen to be exhausted with race and racism as an issue sigh and resign themselves to the “it’s so hard to determine racism so who the hell knows?” cop-out. But the reality is clear: where there’s Southern Strategy smoke, there’s racially-oppressive politics and policy.