Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Random Political Musings

I've stayed away from being overtly political in my last few posts, instead discussing issues. I figured that as the race turned ugly, I'd be better served to stay above the fray. If you didn't see my earlier posts on science and social justice issues, take a few minutes to read them. I'll wait here.

Are you back now? Good. I couldn't resist throwing out a few political topics on the day of the last debate, so I'll just ramble a bit to get them out there.

First, ACORN. Lots of mud flying about Obama's relationship to ACORN, voter registration fraud, their "quasi criminal" status, etc. And of course a lot of that is pure FUD. First, Obama's relationship has been distorted, even though (as with William Ayers) it's been a matter of public record for some time. His law firm represented a group (which included ACORN as well as a little organization known as the U.S. Department of Justice) in their attempt to enforce a voting rights law, and an ACORN-related group did some set up for the Obama campaign at events here in Indiana. (As far as I've read, that set-up didn't even include voter registration drives.) So, in my mind at least, while the organization does lean Democrat because of its charter, it's not an Obama surrogate.

As far as voter registration goes, there have been some huge mistakes. "Let's hire prisoners to register voters in Nevada. What could go wrong?" Um, yeah. So they register the Dallas Cowboys. Matt Drudge made a big deal about "Mickey Mouse" being on a voter registration form in Florida. Clearly there are problems. But do you know what? ACORN has been addressing those problems.

When a voter registration card is submitted, it is ILLEGAL for the submitting organization to pass judgement on it. They do not have the right to say if it is valid or not. If they had that right, they could dismiss forms for any number of reasons, political or otherwise, and there would be no accountability. It is not their place to say if Tony Romo (QB for the Cowboys) lives in Nevada or Mickey Mouse lives in Orlando. In fact, there are 32 people listed in the white pages in this country with the name "Mickey Mouse" -- 2 of them in Florida. So throwing out a card with a funny name may disqualify a real voter. When ACORN has discovered problems, they have fired the people involved (charges are pending against them for breaking election laws) and flagged the suspect forms for review by local election boards. Sure, it's a burden to leave the locals with so much work to do before election day, and ACORN's local offices should have vetted their workers more, but when problems were found, they acted properly.

Now here's the thing: fake voter registrations don't hurt anyone in the election. Why? Because unless Mickey Mouse shows up to vote in person (with ID), it's just his name on a voter list. It's a pain in the ass to process and investigate these bad forms, but a fraudulent voter registration form itself cannot vote. There is no danger of an election being thrown to one side or the other because of thousands of fake registrations. I think the most attention should be paid to voter intimidation and removal, which can have real effects on the people who turn out to vote on election day.

Update 10/20: Slate has an excellent article on why voter registration fraud is merely a smokescreen by the Right to attempt to undermine voter confidence in the electoral system when in fact voter fraud itself is almost nonexistent. Along with voter ID requirements, faulty databases removing registered voters from the rolls, and threatening to arrest people at polls with outstanding parking tickets, some Republicans are now also resorting to threatening early voters in North Carolina. Huh? Since when is following a state law that allows early voting "cheating?"

Speaking of voting, I voted early today in my home state of Indiana. To anyone voting anywhere, this word of advice: keep the t-shirts, buttons, hats, and other campaign swag at home. There were signs all over the courthouse saying that NO campaign material can be displayed while voting, and they would not allow anyone to vote if they had anything visible on them promoting a candidate. So avoid the hassle of being sent home or back to your car to ditch the t-shirt and wear a Colts jersey or something instead.

I've been shocked by the racism and violent outbursts at McCain/Palin rallies in the past week or so, and I've been disappointed that McCain's efforts to tone them down have been so slow and so weak (and I still haven't seen Palin scold anyone). There's not much I can say that hasn't already been said, so I'll just point to this excellent op-ed piece by Frank Rich instead.

After PBS announced a documentary critical of the Iraq war earlier this year, the Bush administration threatened to cut public funding for PBS in half for 2009, by 56% in 2010, and eliminate funding in 2011. The threat seems to have been heard, because now PBS is holding off broadcasting a documentary on torture until after Bush has left office. I can only hope this kind of crap stops on January 21, 2009. I'm amazed it's been allowed to go on this long.

Finally, The Daily Show was the only place to call McCain's "new" stump speech, unveiled this past Monday, for what it is: not new at all, but a rehashed version of his convention speech. On Tuesday night they brilliantly juxtaposed his "new" speech with the convention speech, showing many sections were the same, word-for-word. Now, maybe that's not a bad strategy for McCain since that was the last time he rose in the polls, but it's been bothering me that his campaign announces yet another strategy and newspapers all over the country tout it as his "comeback," often parroting the exact talking points he wanted them to quote. So I leave you with Jon Stewart:


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