When South Carolina legislator Alan Clemmons saw an email comparing poor and black voters to "bees going after a watermelon" - and answered "Amen!" - he didn't just tell the world how stupid he is. He didn't just let on that he's a bigot. He didn't just reinforce all the old stereotypes of racist white Southerners (as if THAT needed any more reinforcing! More on that later - whew!). Clemmons also let the cat out of the bag about what these voter ID laws are really all about: keeping poor folks from voting.
You see, Republicans and Dixiecrats (including the DLC, Blue Dogs, and others who espouse similar tripe) generally dislike high voter turnouts. It's bad for them. They lose when lots of voters, especially newbies, show up. Most especially-specially when poor people show up of any skin color. Oh, I know there's a lot of jibber-jabber about how stupid low-income people are in America, how unemployed and working poor Americans vote against their own interests, but the numbers say that - actually - the restless rabble tend to elect more left-leaning candidates when they show up. That's why Jim Crow was so awfully important (hint: it didn't just stop black people from voting, although that would be bad enough; but poll taxes and literacy tests stopped a lot of poor whites from voting, too.) And when turnouts are low, the right gets in (although when there's little difference in the candidates, there's little difference in the results - more on that later.)
Some Republican supporters of the voter ID laws have admitted, in a round-about way, that it's not just about stopping blacks from voting - because even they don't want to be labelled racists in public anymore - it's about stopping all colors from voting. Sure. That's a lot better. Besides the fact that South Carolina's own records show that the law will still mostly stop bill author Chip Campsen's "racial and ethnic minorities" from voting - but the facts don't really matter if you are one of the few who can see how the Department of Justice is biased against white people (!) - it's all good as long as you also limit the white trash?
That's why ACORN had to be stopped. The amount it had to do with actual real-live voter fraud adds up to just about ZERO. Sure, ACORN activists turned in some bad voter registration forms - largely in states where the law required them to hand in anything they got - but they warned state officials that the cards were bad, and the officials turned around and accused them of fraud. There were also a few lazy ACORN employees who turned in some bad forms to try to cover up their loafing. But not much more. Now, there is absolutely no evidence that anyone ever voted who did not deserve to vote based on one of those registrations. None. In fact, there's very little evidence that there's ever very much of that. There is plenty of evidence, however, that plenty of legitimate voters do get turned away at the polls by crusaders and their rules, or otherwise get filtered out by them. The truth is, ACORN registered poor people to vote - and turned them out to vote. That amounts to a high crime in this country still.
It's why the same people who support these laws fought tooth and nail against Motor Voter Laws and Early Voting.
But for the vote suppressors, there's more than one way to skin a cat. There's discouraging them with pointed politicking, reflected Boehner's recent 'just-don't-vote' jackassery. There's mudslinging, which generally decreases turnout. And there's the nothing-left-to-vote-for barrier: the part of voter de-mobilization that's least talked about: intentionally not talking about the issues that people care about.
WHA-A-AT? Why would a politician do that, you ask. Well, consider two politicians. One badly wants the rich vote (and their money), so he (or she) says everything they like, talks about what they like to hear about, speaks their language: dividends, investments, whatever. He (or she) wouldn't be talking about how hard it is to get food stamps, or trying to get a job after a criminal conviction, or why minimum wage sucks, -- his big campaign donors wouldn't like that. So what about his/her opponent? Well, he/she could rush right out and start yapping his fool head off about some stuff poor people give a damn about - as Mondale's advisers advised him in 1979 (to no avail) - or he/she could play it safe, take a more nuanced approach, hey, profits are vital, everybody needs to get off their asses and work, walk 50 miles to school in the snow, barefoot, etc., and then we need some social programs, too. Poor people are not stupid.
And 'the-poor-don't-vote' is just an excuse. But of course it's true. So are we stuck in a vicious cycle? Well, as we say in Mississippi, you can wish in one hand and shit in the other and see which gets full faster. Most people won't just jump and start something because it needs starting. They want to see that there is some hope of it going somewhere. And every time somebody takes advantage of that it makes it harder the next time. But it can be done. The unemployed and working poor have to be mobilized. Organized and mobilized. To demand better, and then show up to make sure. The movements of the unemployed and industrial unionists, the Welfare Rights Organization, and ACORN, used to do that. We need a movement like that again. It doesn't need to be about voting. In fact it probably shouldn't be. That can come after we get strong enough to attract politicians who need our votes, like all the above movements did. The trick is, after that, to keep fighting for the basic principles. The votes help, but they are not enough. Not nearly.