Fraud

>> Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Digby points out a ThinkProgress item regarding poll watching by a teabagger group. Digby's take is that the teabaggers are being mendacious, but I'm not sure that's quite true. Though what I suspect is maybe as bad in its own way.

Because I don't think the teabaggers are necessarily lying, or at least knowingly lying. I think quite a lot of them sincerely believe--despite the lack of direct evidence--that voter fraud is a pervasive issue and is the reason they're underrepresented in government. Indeed, I've just stated their circumstantial case for pervasive voter fraud: the fact the teabaggers aren't in complete and total control is proof enough, for these folks, that fraud must be occurring.

They are, after all, the true Americans. It's simply inconceivable to them that there's a diversity of opinion about anything. Everyone they know, everyone they interact with, everyone they look to for news and opinion, falls into a fairly narrow range of belief with a few eccentric outliers.

And even the eccentrics can't possibly mean what they say; I once had a well-intentioned conservative friend (this was before the teabagger movement, and I can only hope she hasn't subscribed) get indignant when I reminded her I was a liberal: "No you're not!" she said to me, as if I'd admitted to an unnatural attraction to children or some other deviance. She didn't mean badly by it; she was honestly offended on my behalf and thought I was saying something awful about myself.

If you think your beliefs and values are the norm, everything else is part of some kind of fringe and/or the manifestation of a problem. People who support liberal economic measures are at best mistaken or misinformed and at worst are up to something. Atheists are people who just haven't made up their minds yet, perhaps because they don't know enough about the topic. Foreigners may have quaint customs, but eventually they'll learn how to act "American". People who are given the opportunity to get with the program and refuse to are obstinate, and people who are obstinate for long enough are deviants, and deviants who can't be straightened out are evil. It all makes sense.

The problem, of course, is that the teabagger crowd are a minority, and conservatives more generally comprise a plurality. The country has always been an ethnic and religious hodgepodge, a diversity of economic and political customs living in tension with each other. And those divisions are, at the moment, as deep as they've been any time since the Vietnam War, and divisions during that era were probably worse than at any time since the American Civil War; it is quite possible, indeed, that we are more fractious and less cohesive now than at any time since the Civil War.

If you believe in diversity, you see this as a problem to be solved by education and compromise. But if you believe you're the standard, you don't see this problem at all; rather, you see conflict as being the product of troublemakers trying to stir dissent where it shouldn't exist. And evidence you're misunderstanding the world--evidence that the country is more diverse and opinions more divided than you're capable of grokking--can only be indicative of malfeasance.

There are two explanations for Barack Obama winning the Presidency in 2008, for instance. One explanation is that a majority of Americans thought he was a good candidate and saw something in him that led them to vote for him. But that explanation requires you to understand that some people like him and value his values and some people don't, and (broadly speaking) you're in one group or the other (n.b. you may also accept there are thousands or millions of groups, loosely or closely aligned with one of the binary options). The other explanation is that there are shenanigans at work, that millions of votes were the product of fraud and/or that millions of voters were deceived; this explanation, you know, is curiously comforting even if it seems it shouldn't be, because while it postulates wide-reaching evil, it also means you're right, and your values could only be thwarted through deception and treachery.

To accept the possibility that more people disagree with you than agree with you is depressing and alienating. Trust me, I know: I'm an economic leftist, socially libertarian atheist living in a state that is largely Christian and conservative. Realizing that lots and lots and lots of people voted for George Bush in 2004, for instance, was sort of shattering, because surely how much of a lousy President he was was self-evident. But accepting diversity and believing in democracy means accepting people and outcomes you really don't like, no, that understates it, it means accepting people and outcomes you might passionately loathe.

The teabagging crowd finds its own self-righteousness especially self-evident; they're outliers and extremists in this regard, even in the context of the conservative movement, which by its nature leans towards some embrace of authoritarianism and absolutism. (After all, isn't respect for tradition an appeal to authority? And doesn't a suspicion and mistrust of change lend itself to a certain suspicion and mistrust of dissent, which implies advocacy of change? This is not to say that all conservatives are authoritarians and/or absolutists; but the more a conservative questions, the finer the line he walks, the more he risks accidentally becoming liberal, at least in approach if not perspective.) To disbelieve in Democratic malfeasance stealing the vote would require them to ask whether their self-righteousness is as self-evident as all that after all. Of course elections are being stolen; if they aren't, the teabaggers might be wrong, and they know they aren't wrong.

In many ways, this is more unfortunate than the cynicism displayed by those Republican legislators who know they've failed to sell their ideas and have resorted to voter ID laws as a way to disenfranchise the opposition. There's a good bit of that going on, of course: see, for example, Pennsylvania State Representative Mike Turzai's infamous admission that the Pennsylvania's voter ID law is intended to skew the vote towards Romney. The cynics at least know they're on the defensive and are fighting a losing war against demographics, finally paying the price of Ronald Reagan's alliance with social conservatives and for their party's inability to convince everybody the New Deal was an all-around bad idea. The idealists--the teabaggers--are never going to understand they're a minority within a party that itself faces some danger of becoming a minority, and so every election they lose (whether it's 2012, or they win 2012 and it's another year's races) will be a sign to them the enemy has gotten wilier; they won't think the problem is they're wrong, they're going to think the problem is the frauds are far more insidious and widespread than they dared imagine, and they'll get worse and worse in their attempts to weed it out. Imaginary enemies are as hard to kill as they are perversely comforting to have in the first place.

You could almost feel sorry for them.




3 comments:

Janiece Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 10:15:00 AM EDT  

You could almost feel sorry for them.

No, I couldn't. This is the price they pay for their parochial, narrow-minded outlook. They're on the wrong side of history on this, and their rabid, xenophobic fear of the browns, the gays, the liberals - basically anyone who's not them means that I have some trouble drumming up compassion for the the fact they're being overcome by events.

David Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at 12:33:00 PM EDT  

Well analyzed.

And I agree with Janiece - I don't feel sorry for them at all. I feel sorry for the rest of us, slowly being strangled by the chokehold they've got on national political debate and watching the republic sink into theocratic tyranny while they applaud.

History has a way of not respecting who's on what side of it, and the fact that they are on the wrong side of demographics and cultural trends doesn't mean they'll be on the outside looking in when it comes to power anytime soon.

Anonymous,  Friday, August 31, 2012 at 12:08:00 AM EDT  

Enjoyed your well-written post. Living in Arizona is a constant bombardment by the right-right-wingnuts--and *they're* the ones in power. I think the atmosphere during the past 4 years has been more contentious now than it was during the Vietnam War, although it may be that we are just noticing it more now due to Internet and news channels.

Lorraine

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