Posted on December 2, 2003
An Electoral Con Game
Dems alienate the law-abiding
These are difficult times for the party of "tolerance" and "diversity." A half-century ago, about as many people identified themselves as Democrats as identified themselves as Republicans, Independents, and members of minor parties combined. Today, the Democrats have lost so much ground that they are almost in a statistical dead heat with Republicans alone. When Independents are factored in, the percentage of Americans who call themselves Democrats has dropped from approximately one-half in 1952 to one-third in 2002. The Democratic Party does not now occupy the White House, nor does it control either house of Congress, and its prospects for reversing these trends in 2004 are looking bleak.
Those suburban women the media call "soccer moms," who voted solidly Democrat for about a decade, are telling pollsters that their chief concern is national security. Meanwhile, members of their own party are whipping up hyperbolic protests against the Patriot Act, and promising to bring our soldiers home from Iraq, with no detectable concern for the consequences.
While the Democrats' advantage among women is dwindling, they are failing to gain support from men, who are less likely to share that party's view of government as a provider. In recent presidential elections, political analysts have hyped the "gender gap" that favored Democrat candidates among women, while usually ignoring the disadvantage for those same candidates among men. It is that side of the gap which is now by far the greater of the two.
Democrats are losing their lopsided advantage among Hispanics as well, and if their treatment of judicial nominee Miguel Estrada is their idea of damage control, they're in big trouble. Rep. Bob Menendez (D, N.J.) explained his opposition by saying, "being Hispanic for us means much more than having a surname." Never mind that Estrada was born in Honduras, Rep. Menendez has decided that he's not entitled to be called Hispanic, just because he's not a liberal. When a political party claims ownership of an ethnic group in this way, some members of that group are bound to recoil.
Cuban-Americans, already estranged from the Democratic Party, were shunned completely by the Castrophiles in the Clinton administration during the Elian Gonzalez episode. A civil lawsuit revealed that the INS offices at that time were littered with paraphernalia declaring Little Havana a "banana republic," and depicting a Cuban flag with a diagonal line through it (meaning, apparently, that they ain't fraida no Cubans).
Jewish voters have favored Democrats by very wide margins for decades, but their loyalty to that party is not being reciprocated. Democrat congressmen have appeared at "anti-war" rallies, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most virulent anti-Semites in America, and hypothesizing that the Bush administration has been "captured" by those dastardly "neoconservatives," a term which is roughly interpreted by many to mean Jewish Republicans. Since the start of the war, many American Jews have been discovering common ground with Christian conservatives, and supporting a president who refuses to pretend that Yasir Arafat is a legitimate head of state.
Even the Democrats' overwhelming support among black Americans, their most reliable constituency of them all, is slowly eroding. They can expect this trend to continue, as black Republicans become destigmatized by their growing numbers.
... And then, there's the South.
Sen. Zell Miller (D, Ga.) has written a book called, "A National Party No More: The Conscience of a Conservative Democrat." In it, he warns his party that, "Once upon a time, the most successful Democratic leader of them all, FDR, looked south and said, 'I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill clad, ill nourished.' Today our national Democratic leaders look south and say, 'I see one-third of a nation and it can go to hell.'"
Helping Miller make his point was a Nov. 3rd editorial on The New Republic Online, which criticized the outspoken lame-duck senator for his recent appearance on Meet the Press. Miller had told host Tim Russert that, "In 1960, John Kennedy carried the state of Georgia by a larger percentage than he carried his home state of Massachusetts. ... He could have been re-elected because he stood up to the Russians, and he cut taxes. He was a tax-cutter, and Southerners liked him. ... And if you look at all the cycles since then, in four of those elections they [the Democrats] didn't carry a single Southern state."
The New Republic's response: "John Kennedy carried the South because he stood up to the Russians and cut taxes? Um, yeah. And because he didn't have to deal with the fallout of the Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which led to a massive out-migration of old white racists (and easily frightened non-racists) from the Democratic Party and made it extremely difficult for Democrats to win the South ever since."
Both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act passed with overwhelming Republican support. Racist motives would not have driven a mass migration to the party that was largely responsible for enacting those initiatives, from the party whose shenanigans necessitated the Voting Rights Act, and whose senators staged a historic filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of '64. If liberals don't think that taxes and anti-Communism are comprehensive enough explanations for their decline in the South, they could add to that list many Southerners' principled opposition to Lyndon Johnson's massively expensive "War on Poverty," as well as the hard left turn the Democrats have taken on issues like criminal punishment, gun control, abortion, and free expression of religion.
Rather than examine why they're failing to win the South, Democrats tend to accept it with a certain degree of perverse pride, by caricaturing Southerners as almost uniformly racist, and presenting their own party as a foil, in order to display their virtue. They often even take Nixon's and Reagan's success in the South as prima facie indictments of those men, invoking the term "Southern Strategy," as if "Southern" were synonymous with "racist."
For decades, the Democrats have played divide-and-conquer politics, only today, it's more like divide-and-scatter. They are now busily repelling most subgroups within the electorate, through a variety of attitudes ranging from condescension to outright hostility. There is still one group of Americans, however, which they see as an untapped gold mine of reliable Democrat voters.
In 1994, Rep. John Conyers (D, Mich) introduced a bill that would have overridden many state laws barring convicted felons from voting. That legislative effort ground to a temporary halt when Conyers' party was wiped out of the majority later that year, but the issue has re-emerged in a public relations campaign, which threatens to build momentum in the coming months.
A liberal advocacy group called The Sentencing Project conducts studies designed to characterize the denial of voting rights to criminals as a civil rights violation. That organization's website complains about the "disenfranchisement" in 12 states of "ex-felons," who are finished serving their sentences. Notice that it doesn't call them "ex-convicts," which simply means that they are no longer incarcerated, but instead declares them "ex-felons," a term that grants ex-cons a clean slate, while cheerily assuming a recidivism rate of zero. Inevitably, TSP is including in this category career criminals, some of whom have become "ex-felons" more times than Liz Taylor has become an ex-wife.
Nevertheless, this aspect of TSP's activism would not strike most people as unreasonable. In fact, the organization points to poll numbers which show that 80 percent of Americans think a felon's right to vote should be reinstated once he's done his time. George W. Bush even signed a law while governor of Texas that repealed that state's two-year waiting period for ex-cons to regain voter eligibility.
That said, there remain six states that forbid felons from voting for life, and they are not without their reasons. In some states, for instance, judges are elected, not appointed. The authorities' interest in preventing felons from deliberately weakening the criminal justice system is both obvious and legitimate. Furthermore, establishing a lifetime voting ban as part of every felon's sentence is not inconsistent with denying a felon the right to own firearms, or requiring a child molester to announce his arrival in a new neighborhood. A criminal's debt to society is not necessarily paid in full by the time he's released from prison.
When TSP moans that 3.9 million Americans have lost their voting rights due to felony convictions, it is including parolees and probationers among that number, as well as those who are still doing time in the clink. It would alarm many Americans to learn that violent felons in Maine and Vermont are actually allowed to cast ballots from prison, but that's what TSP, and like-minded activists from the ACLU and other left-wing organizations, would like to see as the norm. In fact, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D, Ill.) wants to allow prisoners to vote through passage of a constitutional amendment.
Of course, Democrats claim that what they're really doing is defending the voting rights of black Americans -- especially in Florida, where they claimed that registered black voters had been deprived of their right to vote in 2000, but were unable to produce an iota of evidence before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Undeterred, they are trying to create the illusion of a racist voting system by equating blacks with felons, and then complaining that the felons have been unjustly denied their voting rights. The problem with this formula -- apart from the fact that it freely associates blacks with the worst elements of society -- is that the numbers don't add up.
The Brennan Center for Justice (named after former Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, who coined the term "living Constitution") is a litigant in an effort to force Florida to change its election laws so that ex-convicts can vote. In its suit, the Brennan Center attacks the Florida law as racist against blacks, but in its own literature, it estimates that 613,000 felons in that state were prevented from voting in the 2000 election, and that only 167,000 of those were black.
That's just over 27 percent. By comparison, about 23 percent of our armed forces are black, yet Democrats did not let their racial sensitivity stand in the way of their efforts to disqualify overseas military ballots from that very same 2000 Florida vote. To them, when America's soldiers and sailors are prevented from voting, that's just political gamesmanship, but to bar convicted rapists, thieves and drug-pushers from the polls is an outrage.
Democrats know that felons tend to favor their party for the very reason that they are felons, and not because any particular percentage of them belongs to a particular race. Left-wing activists focus on the estimated 167,000 black felons who were barred from voting in Florida, but those white felons among the remaining 446,000 could have made Al Gore president just as easily.
According to a study by sociologists Christopher Uggen and Jeff Manza, if all felons had been allowed to vote over the past three decades, the Democrats would now hold not only the presidency, but also the Senate. That means they would have the power to fill any upcoming Supreme Court vacancies as well. Therein lies the impetus for this movement, which is sure to become more visible over the next eleven months. The Democratic Party has finally found a large bloc of potential voters it has yet to alienate -- criminals.
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