What We Can Look Forward To

2 comments October 6th, 2008at 10:05pm Posted by Eli

A Rick Perlstein blast from the past, from the 2006 elections:

Republicans cheat. To what extend did their cheating on Election Day keep the will of the people from being fully registered? Just how close did it come to keeping the new majority from arriving? And what does the kind of cheating we saw Tuesday — and its antecedents in the past and its likely echoes in the future — portend for the project of turning liberalism once again into the dominant force in American politics?


In California’s 50th District — where Democrat Francine Busby had hoped to win a rematch against incumbent Brian Bilbray in Republican felon Duke Cunningham’s former seat — Busby staffers shut down their phone banks because they were reaching so many callers enraged at the “Hi-I’m-calling-with-information-about-Francine-Busby” deluge. The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported receiving a tearful call from someone in Ohio explaining that she could no longer keep an open phone line to the hospice where her mother was dying on account of the calls. As for the calls’ political effect, a spokesman for Lois Murphy — who ended up going down to a narrow defeat against GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach in Pennsylvania’s 6th District — relayed, “Some of our biggest supporters have said, ‘If you call me again, I’m not voting for Lois.'”

NRCC spokesman Ed Patrus offered the defense of scoundrels, not citizens: they’d checked with their lawyers; they weren’t doing anything illegal. They were “drawing contrasts” between Democrats and Republicans, he told The New York Times…. Another NRCC spokesman said: “We are a federal organization campaigning about a federal race. We feel that New Hampshire law does not apply to what we are doing.” A third added: “Phone banking is used by campaigns of all stripes and all these calls are made between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.” They also said the megavolume was the fault of their contractor, not the party; “It could be some kind of glitch.”

According to federal filings, the NRCC spent about $2 million on these contractors: some glitch. I’m guessing this whole project was the inspiration for President Bush’s eerily confident pronouncement on October 25: “We’re not going to lose.” Or maybe he had a panoply of dirty tricks in mind. In Maryland, homeless men recruited from out-of-state shelters were recruited to pass out flyers meant to trick voters in black neighborhoods into thinking the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Robert Ehrlich, and Senate candidate, Michael Steele, were Democrats…. In North Carolina college students asked voters if they were registered Democrats, and if they said yes, handed them a list of “our” judicial candidates — actually a list of Republicans. A California “information guide for Democrats” told voters to vote “no” on propositions backed by Democrats. Poll watchers brandishing handguns intimidated Latino voters in Arizona — a Republican trick there going back to 1962, when the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was allegedly involved. On election day in Colorado’s 5th District, the campaign of Democratic candidate Jay Fawcett reported finding that their office reeked of skunk, impeding the ability of the staffers and 200 volunteers to do their work. Police looked into the matter and believe that over-the-counter chemicals had been sprayed in the office.


In Virginia, the FBI continues to investigate calls received by Democrats in the final days of the campaign such as the following, to a man registered to vote there since 1998: “This is a message for Timothy Daly. This is the Virginia Elections Commission. We’ve determined you are registered in New York to vote. Therefore, you will not be allowed to cast your vote on Tuesday. If you do show up, you will be charged criminally.”

How many Democratic votes died aborning thanks to chicanery like this? We may never know…. Calling out one of America’s two major parties for potential election theft is not the preferred activity of a timid media.

That’s a colossal problem. Cheating is by now a constitutive part of Republican culture. Such false-flag harassment was a crucial part of “ratfucking” operations in Richard Nixon’s 1972 presidential campaign — to take just one example, Nixon agents circulated fliers in the Milwaukee ghetto advertising a non-existent “free lunch” sponsored by the Democrats. The Watergate hearings in 1973 and 1974 were full of these kinds of revelations. It didn’t shame Republicans into retreating. It just made them more careful practitioners — more careful, yet at the same time more brazen: consider those NRCC spokesmen. They could have denied the hustle. Instead, they owned up to it.

From now on there should be no excuse: anticipating such inevitabilities has to be made an active part of Democratic strategizing…. The narrative should teach even low-information voters to sniff out the signs of a dirty trick…. That way, the dirty trick boomerangs: “Oh, yes. That‘s what the Democrats mean when they say Republicans cheat. God, I distrust those Republicans. I don’t want them back in power ever again.”

I would love to think that there will come a day when Republican dirty tricks backfire on them, but for now I would settle for aggressive prosecutions and stiff sentencing.  I know, I’m easy to please.

Entry Filed under: Blogosphere,Corruption/Cronyism,Elections,McCain,Politics,Republicans


  • 1. Cujo359  |  October 6th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Can’t we have both? In fact, I suspect some well-publicized prosecutions might make these tactics backfire.

  • 2. Eli  |  October 6th, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Both would be good, perhaps even necessary.

    If there are no successful and painful prosecutions and/or negative electoral outcomes, then there is no disincentive to keep doing it again and again and again.

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