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June 08, 2014 10:48 PM The Right’s Turn Away from Representative Government

By Martin Longman

Of all the unhealthy developments in this country, I think the following is the most depressing:

As partisan divisions solidify, the [Democratic] party’s electoral chances increasingly depend on turning out its core supporters—racial minorities, young voters and unmarried women, among others. That’s much of the reason for the big drop in the party’s recent performances in midterm cycles compared to presidential years.

It’s a reality the GOP understands just as well—hence the party’s efforts to make voting harder. As DNC spokesman Mo Elleithee put it while speaking to reporters in March, Republicans “know that when the electorate is large, they lose, when the electorate is smaller, they win.”

In announcing the Arbor Project, the Democrats are demonstrating their focus on increasing voter participation. This is certainly in their self-interest, but it’s also wholly consistent with traditional American values about both the right of everyone to vote and the importance of citizen involvement in politics. There is no corresponding effort to prevent likely Republican voters from registering to vote or to kick registered Republicans off the voter rolls.

The Republicans have concluded, as Mo Elleithee said, that the path to electoral victory isn’t to craft the better campaign or come up with the most broadly appealing policies, but to control the shape of the electorate by making it smaller. This puts their entire political party at odds with the cherished ideals of representative government. It also has an inevitable racial component, since the best visual predictor of how someone will vote is the color of their skin.

Part of this is explained by the fact that the GOP has a lot of rotten people in it, but I understand that if you are socially or fiscally conservative you want to have your views prevail, and if your views aren’t prevailing you’ll begin to devalue other objectives like determining the true will of the people. If everything I cared about was at risk because my party couldn’t win elections, I might start to waver on this whole democracy thing, too.

I understand that it’s easy to be for the broadest possible electorate when that clearly advances your political goals, and that it becomes hard when it doesn’t. But what’s so depressing about this is that this country has sorted itself into a political alignment where one party sees disenfranchisement and disengagement as their best hope.

I also see this as a consequence of the Conservative Movement’s fervent desire not to have to change their core beliefs about anything. They don’t want to moderate their positions on gay marriage or abortion or immigration, and as those positions become giant liabilities they feel that their only option is to turn against individual voters and try to keep them from casting their votes.

This is related to all the calls for secession, for example, in the rural areas of Colorado and California. It’s really taking on an ugly tone, with expressions of racism and xenophobia combined with a growing disdain for our democratic system of government. When you combine it with the libertarian strain in the GOP, it really begins to resemble fascism, because it’s nationalistic, race-based, often pro-corporate (although it has populist anti-corporate elements, too), anti-immigrant, and basically revolutionary in its opposition to the central government. Add in the attraction to pseudoscience and “creating their own facts,” its basic anti-intellectualism, its source of strength with the “job-creating” small entrepreneurs (anti-communist bourgeoisie) and you begin to see too many parallels with the fascists of old.

Admittedly, it more closely resembles the fascism of Franco or Mussolini than the death-camp fascism of the Nazis, but it’s a strain of politics that had to be destroyed once at great cost. And it’s growing right here in our neighborhoods and metastasizing throughout our legislatures.

Martin Longman is the Web Editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune. He has worked as a community organizer for ACORN/Project Vote and as a political consultant for Democracy for America.

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