Voter-Shaming Finks Should Mind Their Own Business
“The privacy of the ballot booth is a core American value,” declared James Valvo, director of government affairs for Americans for Prosperity, two years ago. “Allowing individuals to make their own decisions about their government … free from coercion from either side, is paramount.”
Valvo was criticizing “card-check” legislation to let unions organize through other than secret ballots — and he wasn’t alone. Ballot secrecy, declared AFP Virginia’s Ben Marchi, was “the bedrock of our democracy.” AFP waged a loud and sustained campaign on behalf of the secret ballot in union fights.
Too bad AFP doesn’t practice what it preaches. If it did, then it would not have sent out “voter audits” tattling on people who, AFP believes, do not vote with sufficient regularity.
As the Chesterfield Observer reported last week, county resident Steve Serrao got one such report card in June. It listed him as a non-voter. His wife, Renee, who teaches government, strenuously disputes that. “We’re contacting you and your neighbors today to let folks know who does and who doesn’t vote,” the report card says. “As you can see below, your neighbors who have voted are concerned about the community’s well-being. Are you?”
Nancy Meacham of Roanoke got a similarly ominous audit from the group in November — as did others around the state. Many of them felt, quite rightly, that the mailings amounted to rank voter intimidation.
AFP wasn’t the only group this year to employ such tactics. So did the Democratic Party of Virginia. “The chart below shows your household’s public voting record in past elections as well as an empty space which we will fill to indicate if you vote in this year’s election on Tuesday, November 5th,” reads that party’s mau-mauing missive. “We intend to mail you an updated chart after the election that will show whether or not you voted. We will leave the space blank if you do not vote.”
According to state officials, the left-wing Voter Participation Center likewise sent out similar letters to citizens it deemed “BELOW AVERAGE.” “After the election,” the VPC wrote, “we will re-evaluate your voting record and hope to share it with your neighbors to see if there is improvement.”
The VPC gained notoriety last summer when, as The Times-Dispatch reported, it sent 200,000 voter registration forms, many to “already registered voters, as well as to children, non-citizens, the deceased and family pets.”
This was not fraud itself, but it was a long way from seemly. In 2008, a felon used a form sent by the VPC to vote illegally, for which she received a (suspended) 10-year sentence. Is AFP proud to emulate the tactics of the VPC? For that matter, is the liberal group proud to emulate the tactics of the conservative one?
None of the senders should be proud of invading other people’s privacy and harassing them to do something they are under no obligation to do: The right to vote also entails the right not to vote.
No one should have to justify exercising a right; rights, by definition, justify themselves. Nevertheless, for many people, not voting is an entirely rational choice: The cost of learning about the candidates and the issues often outweighs the benefit to be had from casting a ballot whose odds of making a significant difference in the outcome are infinitesimal.
Many people make a much bigger difference through other means — mentoring kids, volunteering, charity and civic groups. Government is far from the only avenue for doing good.
Yet the threatening tenor of the mailings suggests there is something shameful about exercising such a right. Public shaming of this sort is nothing new; it has been used often throughout history — usually by exceedingly undemocratic and illiberal regimes, such as ancient Rome, Puritan America, contemporary Iran and 20th century communism.
It is the communist culture — citizens informing upon citizens, show trials for dissidents and backsliders — that echoes most loudly in the letters: “Comrade Jones has squandered the opportunity he has been provided to strive for the betterment of the People. The People have a right to expect that Comrade Jones will direct his every effort to the class struggle. By setting his own ego and contentment above the interests of the proletariat, Comrade Jones has demonstrated behavior unworthy of a Bolshevik. He has betrayed his fellow citizens, who have committed themselves completely to the collective good. …”
Many people — harried single mothers, fathers working two jobs, adult children caring for sick parents — simply have more pressing things to do on Election Day than vote. AFP and Co. might think otherwise. If so, too bad: It’s not their call to make — and none of their business in the first place.
N.B.: Ben Marchi is no longer with AFP-Virginia. He writes: “Like the Roanoke Times, who published the names and addresses of conceal carry permit holders, AFP-VA’s actions are unfortunate and not in keeping with its past record of forcing Speaker Howell to record subcommittee votes, pushing successfully for specific spending cuts and exposing legislators’ abuses of the working papers exemption to FOIA laws.”
Virginia’s Libertarian Moment?
Unless just about every polling outfit in the country is wrong, Terry McAuliffe should cruise to victory in Tuesday’s election. If he does, says Tarina Keene, “he will owe his victory to the women of Virginia — women who want to own their own bodies. Who want to be able to make their own reproductive health-care decisions.”
Keene directs NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, so she has a vested interest in this argument: Making McAuliffe’s victory contingent on pro-choice support makes McAuliffe beholden to pro-choice activists. But the vested interest does not make the argument wrong. In fact, given the lopsided gender gap in the gubernatorial contest, it is hard to refute.
The McAuliffe camp has flogged Ken Cuccinelli relentlessly on social issues, particularly abortion — something the Republican candidate opposes in every case except when the mother’s life is at stake. And the flogging has hurt: In August, McAuliffe enjoyed a 12-point lead among women. By October, the spread had increased to 24.
Keene’s remark is interesting not only for its political implications, but also for its philosophical implications. Talk of owning your own body has strong libertarian overtones. Many libertarians start by embracing the concept of individual autonomy or “self-ownership” — a notion that goes back at least to John Locke (“every man has a Property in his own Person. This nobody has a right to, but himself”). Then they adopt policy positions that logically follow from it, such as legalizing drugs and opposing motorcycle-helmet laws. It’s your body, libertarians say, and nobody else can tell you what to do with it.
Granted, pro-choice groups do not apply this concept with any sort of consistency — witness NARAL’s support for Obamacare’s insistence that every individual buy an insurance policy, whether she wants one or not. But their inconsistency does not impeach the broader point that Cuccinelli’s stance on abortion has slammed into a wall of resistance from those who don’t want him imposing his personal views on them as governor.
And it’s not just abortion. The Republican’s stance on homosexuality also has scared away potential supporters. Homosexuality “brings nothing but self-destruction, not only physically but of [the] soul,” Cuccinelli said five years ago. The next year, he insisted “homosexual acts … should not be accommodated in government policy.” His views “haven’t changed,” he said earlier this year.
It’s true, as he also says, that many other Virginians share these “sincerely held beliefs.” Yet Cuccinelli has let those beliefs drive policy: Early in his term as attorney general he told state universities they had no authority to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and he has defended with Ahab-like mania a state sodomy law doomed by the Supreme Court a decade ago.
Among those who share Cuccinelli’s beliefs is Virginia’s current governor, Bob McDonnell — whose master’s thesis at Regent University amounted to a socially conservative catechism. Yet McDonnell convinced voters he would eschew social issues and focus on jobs. Once elected, he generally did. (He even countermanded Cuccinelli’s anti-anti-discrimination order.) Cuccinelli talks about jobs too — but the public can see his heart lies elsewhere.
So some who otherwise would have supported Cuccinelli have found refuge in Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian Party nominee. Sarvis has been polling well for a third-party candidate, scoring as much as 10 percent in some polls. If he clears that bar on Election Day, then the party will win automatic ballot access for state and local offices through 2021.
A sizable proportion of Sarvis’ support has come from Republicans. Hence, there has been a last-minute effort to bring Republicans who lean libertarian back into the fold. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul recently went to bat for Cuccinelli, saying “a lot of the things” the candidate talks about “are free-market, limited-government, leave-me-alone government.” In The Washington Examiner, columnist Tim Carney has written that if he won, “Cuccinelli would arguably be the most libertarian governor in the United States.” The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis has seconded the motion, asking “Why Are Libertarians Helping Elect Crony Capitalist Terry McAuliffe in Virginia?”
They have a point: McAuliffe is no economic libertarian. On the other hand, he is not about to nationalize the railroads. His deviations from laissez-faire orthodoxy are driven by opportunism and indifference rather than doctrinal hostility. You can’t say the same about Cuccinelli’s views on social issues.
True, Cuccinelli does take the libertarian position on economic questions, property rights and the role of the federal leviathan.
Unlike many other Republicans, he also opposes corporate welfare ladled out under the pretext of economic development. All most excellent. (Not so excellent: Cuccinelli’s hard-right stance on immigration — which contradicts the libertarian idea that people, like goods, should be able to cross borders freely.)
To Cuccinelli’s conservative defenders, his economic libertarianism ought to suffice. Ed Crane, former president of the libertarian Cato Institute, heads a PAC spending $300,000 on Sarvis’ behalf. According to Carney, “Crane’s only critique of Cuccinelli” was that the Republican “ ‘is a socially intolerant, hard-right conservative with little respect for civil liberties.’ ”
“Only”? To conservatives, economic freedom is paramount, the rest no big deal. But to libertarians, personal and civil liberties are no less vital: Big government has no place in either the boardroom or the bedroom.
If Cuccinelli shared that view, then he would have a better chance of participating in the gubernatorial inauguration Jan. 8 — rather than merely watching it.
Another Glaring McAuliffe Inconsistency
In his last debate with Ken Cuccinelli, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe refused to say whether the Washington Redskins should change their offensive team name: “I don’t think the governor ought to be tellin’ private businesses what they should do about their business,” he said.
To his discredit, Cuccinelli took the same line.**
This defense simply doesn’t hold water.
First, McAuliffe clearly does support telling private businesses what they should do — witness his support for Obamacare and for the new EPA regulations on coal-fired power plants, to cite two of many examples.
Second, if a California business were moving to the East Coast and trying to decide between Virginia and Maryland, would McAuliffe say he should not add his two cents to its deliberations? Not likely.
Third, there’s this just-in bit of news: McAuliffe has slammed a private group for putting up a Confederate flag on private land:
“This is not representative of the values that we as a Commonwealth hold dear,” [McAuliffe] said. …
“While we can’t force this group to take down the flag flying over I-95, we can join together as a community to express our displeasure and commitment to fighting for justice and tolerance,” said Mr. McAuliffe. He encouraged everyone to “take a moment and fly an American flag to show the world the true spirit of Virginia.”
If McAuliffe can condemn a private group for flying the Confederate flag, then he equally can condemn a private group for sticking with a racial epithet as a team name.
The only reason he does the former but not the latter is that the Confederate-flag group is small, electorally insignificant, and wouldn’t vote for McAuliffe anyway. The fans of the D.C. football team, however, are legion, and many of them don’t want to see its name changed.
** N.b., the transcript at 19:54:59:00 wrongly attributes Cuccinelli’s comment, which includes the remark about RGIII, to McAuliffe.
A Real-World Test of Conservative Theory
Conservatives have a ready explanation whenever the GOP loses an election: The Republican candidate was too liberal.
You heard this again and again after Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama. “When conservative principles are the focal point of the election, they win,” wrote Michael Walsh in National Review. “When ‘electability’ and ‘reaching across the aisle’ are personified in a middling candidate at the presidential level, they lose.” The trouble with Romney, Walsh continued, was that he “spectacularly refused to engage the Democrats on an ideological level.”
Red State’s Erick Erickson seconded that motion: “Romney barely took on Barack Obama,” he wrote as the electoral dust settled. “He drew few lines in the sand, made those fungible, and did not stand on many principles.” A few days later, he repeated the message: “Mitt Romney tried to blur lines with Barack Obama. He did not defend social conservatism. …”
Chris Chocola, president of the Club For Growth, concurred: “The (Republican) party is rarely in a position to determine the best candidate. When you have someone who can articulate a clear, convincing, conservative message,” he wrote, “they win.”
“We wanted someone who would fight for us,” complained Jenny Beth Martin of Tea Party Patriots. “What we got was a weak moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club establishment wing of the Republican Party. The presidential loss is unequivocally on them.” Martin delivered that judgment at a D.C. news conference where she was joined by other conservative luminaries such as direct-mail maestro Richard Viguerie and Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group.
Thirty-four days from today, the Old Dominion will provide a real-world test of that theory. When Virginians go to the polls, they will have the opportunity to vote for the most conservative slate of statewide candidates in modern times.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli — for whom “tea party favorite” has become an all but official agnomen — outmaneuvered the Virginia GOP establishment to seize the gubernatorial nomination from the more moderate, less confrontational Bill Bolling. Bolling has since announced the creation of the Virginia Mainstream Project “to call our party back to a more mainstream approach.”
Cuccinelli’s conservatism is unadulterated: He fought the EPA over climate change and filed the first state suit against Obamacare. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest; considers homosexuality “intrinsically wrong”; supports school choice, gun rights, and tax cuts; and takes a hard-line stance on illegal immigration. Three years ago, he even handed out lapel pins to his staff bearing a more demure version of the state seal — one that covered up the otherwise exposed breast of the Roman goddess Virtus. (Racy stuff, if you squint really hard.)
State Sen. Mark Obenshain, running for Attorney General, is less pugnacious but no less conservative than Cuccinelli. He has supported both fetal “personhood” legislation and requiring an ultrasound as a precondition of abortion; favors requiring a photo ID to vote; wants to drug-test welfare recipients; has a 100 percent rating from the American Conservative Union; and once introduced legislation permitting state regulators to yank the license of any business employing an illegal alien.
And then there is E.W. Jackson, the nominee for lieutenant governor, whose pronouncements on social issues go too far even for his running mates. An August Times-Dispatch profile summarized some of them, noting that Jackson has “linked homosexuality to pedophilia, called gays and lesbians ‘sick’ and ‘perverted,’ ridiculed President Barack Obama’s Christian faith and accused the Democratic Party of being ‘anti-God’. … Jackson (also has) said … ‘the Democrat Party and Planned Parenthood are partners in this genocide’” — i.e., the aborting of black children. Sunday before last, he suggested people of non-Christian faiths practice a “false religion.”
Talk about drawing lines in the sand. These are not milquetoast conservatives, hand-picked by country-club RINOs. These are red-meat conservatives of crystalline purity and adamantine resolve — picked at a tea party-heavy convention attended by 13,000 of “the most strident voices in” the GOP, as a Bolling spokeman put it back in May.
After years of enduring candidates too moderate for their tastes, fire-and-brimstone conservatives have the ticket they always dreamed of — precisely the sort of Republican ticket, they insist, that wins elections. It is also precisely the sort of Republican ticket dreamed of by Democrats — who, believing the GOP slate is far too extreme for any rational voter to support, have made its conservative principles the focal point of the election.
In 34 days, we’ll find out whose theory is right.
The Third-Party Catch-22
News stories are supposed to report new information. By that standard, the recent Washington Post article “McAuliffe, Cuccinelli race drips with venom” failed. It reported in detail that which everyone already knew, while leaving out a key detail not many do.
The piece quoted Virginia political scientist Robert Holsworth: “What I hear just from ordinary folks is, ‘This is a tough choice — I wish I had a third choice. Are we really going to have to choose between these two?’”
The article then moved on with its main theme: the “negative tone” of the fight between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli. It never pointed out that voters actually do have a third choice: Robert Sarvis, who is running for governor on the Libertarian ticket, will be on the ballot as well.
It’s not just the Post. National Journal committed a similar sin two days later. “Pity the Virginia voter,” began a piece on the “historically unpleasant” contest. The article quoted an unnamed voter thoroughly disgusted with the Cuccinelli and McAuliffe: “Jesus, who the hell am I supposed to vote for?” It also quoted Leslie Campbell, a 53-year-old homemaker: “I wish I had more than two candidates,” she said. “I wish there was a third choice.”
The article doesn’t mention Sarvis once.
This isn’t just bad journalism. It makes for bad politics as well.
Last month, Cuccinelli declined to participate in a debate sponsored by the Virginia branches of AARP and the League of Women Voters. He called it a “left-wing, stacked debate.” The groups chided Cuccinelli for ducking out. According to League president Ann Sterling, “all voters in Virginia deserve a chance to see the candidates who want to be their governor debate.”
So the two groups invited Sarvis to participate, right? Wrong.
Their rationale: They invite only candidates who are polling at least 15 percent. (Virginia Tech, which will host an October debate, sets the bar at 10 percent.) According to AARP, this ensures only “viable candidates” debate in “cases where many” candidates are on the ballot.
Ignore the dubious notion that three equals “many.” Never mind that in 2011 the Republican Party managed to hold presidential primary debates with as many as nine candidates at once. Instead, consider the Catch-22 this puts third-party candidates in: They are denied the public exposure they could receive in debates until they reach a level of popularity they can scarcely attain without first getting more public exposure. They don’t get into debates or news stories because their poll numbers are low, and their poll numbers are low partly because they don’t get into debates or news stories. (Incidentally, The Times-Dispatch has run several pieces about Sarvis, including a front-page Sunday profile.)
It’s bad enough for the AARP to take such a position. For the League of Women Voters, it is inexcusable. The group considers voter education essential to its mission. Well, then: A debate between Sarvis and one or both of the other two candidates would be highly educational. Clearly, many Virginians not only know nothing about Sarvis — they do not even know of him. Yet given that he is on the ballot, shouldn’t they?
At least the AARP and the League can cite an objective standard. Not so the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, which will host a gubernatorial debate Sept. 25. It has not invited Sarvis, either. Why not? “It’s our tradition,” says a Chamber spokeswoman, that these debates “include the two major party candidates.” Isn’t there some other reason — any other reason at all? “Nope, no other reason other than our tradition to provide a forum for the two major party candidates.”
That won’t do — not when many Virginians are so fed up with the other two candidates but haven’t even heard about the third one.
The only other potential rationale for excluding a candidate who will appear on the ballot is that the Libertarian’s ideas fall so far out of the mainstream they must be shunned. This is wrong for two reasons.
First, Sarvis’ platform combines the social views of liberal Democrats with the economic views of conservative Republicans. That’s it. No conspiracy theories, no birtherism or trutherism, no alternative history or racial bigotry. And on a host of issues — from gay rights and marijuana legalization to school choice and deregulation — the Libertarian Party often has been not on the fringe, but on the cutting edge — with the other two parties playing catch-up.
That is a contingent argument. Here is an unconditional one: Even if debate organizers think Sarvis’ views fall beyond the pale, denying him a place on the stage denies the voters the opportunity to hear and consider those views. The organizers have every right to do that if they wish. But if they do, then they cannot claim to be merely neutral facilitators of the democratic process. They are, instead, activists trying to influence the outcome of the election for their own ideological reasons.
Now that’s a stacked debate.
Dear GOP: It’s not Latinos — It’s You
Well-known conservative insider Phyllis Schlafly says the GOP should write off Latinos because “there’s not any evidence at all that these Hispanics coming in from Mexico will vote Republican.”
Hispanics are hardly unique in their voting behavior. With the exception of Cubans and Vietnamese, no minority—rich or poor, on or off the dole—has much love for the GOP.
Consider Indian Americans: More than 85 percent voted for Barack Obama, and 65 percent generally vote Democratic. This despite the fact that, like Jews (another anti-Republican minority), Indian Americans are wealthier and less likely to receive government support than the overall population. What’s more, Indian Americans should be natural allies of limited-government politicians, given how much government dysfunction they’ve witnessed back home.
So how do Republicans manage to alienate nearly every minority? By applying limited-government principles very selectively. During the last 50 years the GOP has opposed welfare handouts, racial preferences, and multiculturalism. Yet the Party of Lincoln has looked the other way when the government has oppressed minorities through racial profiling, discriminatory sentencing laws, and, above all, immigration policy.
America’s immigration laws are an exercise in social engineering that should offend any sincere believer in limited government. They strictly limit the number of foreigners allowed from any one country, largely to prevent America from being overrun by Hispanics and Asians.
The result: Highly skilled foreigners from India and China have to wait up to two decades to convert their temporary work visas (H1-Bs) to green cards or permanent residency. During this time, they can’t change jobs, and their spouses can’t work. But they have it good compared to low-skilled Hispanics.
Latin American immigrants can’t even get permits to legally enter the U.S. for work. Uncle Sam is extremely tight-fisted with visas for unskilled non-agricultural foreigners. Even if they manage to obtain visas they have no way of applying for green cards because, unlike H1-B workers, the law offers them no avenues to do so. Unless they have close relatives in America, the only way holders of H2-A or H2-B visas can live here permanently is illegally.
Rather than demanding stricter enforcement of these irrational rules, Republicans could have made common cause with the Hispanics and Asians who are victimized by it. Instead of urging the Obama administration to add to its record-breaking deportation numbers, they could have led the charge against the visa raj that shackles immigrants and the businesses that hire them. Instead of pushing border drones and electric fences, they could have made more compassionate immigration laws a civil rights crusade.
Democrats may resort to bribery, handouts, and fear mongering when wooing immigrants to their side. But Republicans could go a long way simply by staying true to their limited-government principles.
Obama campaign petitioned IRS to investigate conservative groups
Well, well! Lookie here!
Obama’s use of the IRS to bully his enemies started before he even became the President. In 2008, during his first Presidential campaign, his campaign wrote letters to the IRS demanding that they investigate Obama’s political opponents.
from Wall Street Journal:
On Aug. 21, 2008, the conservative American Issues Project ran an ad highlighting ties between candidate Obama and Bill Ayers, formerly of the Weather Underground. The Obama campaign and supporters were furious, and they pressured TV stations to pull the ad—a common-enough tactic in such ad spats.
What came next was not common. Bob Bauer, general counsel for the campaign (and later general counsel for the White House), on the same day wrote to the criminal division of the Justice Department, demanding an investigation into AIP, “its officers and directors,” and its “anonymous donors.” Mr. Bauer claimed that the nonprofit, as a 501(c)(4), was committing a “knowing and willful violation” of election law, and wanted “action to enforce against criminal violations.”
AIP gave Justice a full explanation as to why it was not in violation. It said that it operated exactly as liberal groups like Naral Pro-Choice did. It noted that it had disclosed its donor, Texas businessman Harold Simmons. Mr. Bauer’s response was a second letter to Justice calling for the prosecution of Mr. Simmons. He sent a third letter on Sept. 8, again smearing the “sham” AIP’s “illegal electoral purpose.”
Also on Sept. 8, Mr. Bauer complained to the Federal Election Commission about AIP and Mr. Simmons. He demanded that AIP turn over certain tax documents to his campaign (his right under IRS law), then sent a letter to AIP further hounding it for confidential information (to which he had no legal right).
The Bauer onslaught was a big part of a new liberal strategy to thwart the rise of conservative groups. In early August 2008, the New York Times trumpeted the creation of a left-wing group (a 501(c)4) called Accountable America. Founded by Obama supporter and liberal activist Tom Mattzie, the group—as the story explained—would start by sending “warning” letters to 10,000 GOP donors, “hoping to create a chilling effect that will dry up contributions.” The letters would alert “right-wing groups to a variety of potential dangers, including legal trouble, public exposure and watchdog groups digging through their lives.” As Mr. Mattzie told Mother Jones: “We’re going to put them at risk.”
The Wall Street Journal describes Obama as the “pioneer” of using the IRS to bully political opponents. And somehow we’re supposed to believe that the IRS targeting didn’t start with Obama himself?
We know for a fact that Obama met with the head of the Treasury Employees Union in the White House the day before the IRS targeting started in the Exempt Organizations branch. Now we can see that was just a continuation of a deliberate strategy that Obama set out using in the campaign.
It’s time for a special prosecutor. It’s time to subpoena all communications between the White House and the IRS. And it’s time to start deposing everybody who worked at the White House and Obama’s campaign since day one.