A Case Study in Identity Politics

Pundits and commentators have made much hay out of the demographic trends in the Democratic primaries. This is really to be expected given the candidates and their policy. Never have voters had to choose between a woman and a biracial (yes, Virginia, Obama’s mother is white and from Kansas — it doesn’t get much whiter than that) man. Given the haphazard coalition that the Democrats have cobbled together to form a working majority, it would make sense that identity politics would take center stage, especially so in this historic election.

To further strengthen those politics based on race, age, or gender, Sens. Clinton and Obama do not substantively differ on almost any issue. As much as the “we’re the people we’ve been waiting for” crowd thinks their candidate is an outside-the-beltway reformer, his platform is essentially the same stale, center-left package that we saw from Kerry and Gore. This is why the ABC debate debacle occurred; asking questions on the economy, social issues, etc. doesn’t get ratings when the candidates agree on just about everything, not to mention the questions did need to be dumbed down for a network television audience. I recall Ralph Nader calling the 2000 Bush-Gore debates “a cure for insomnia”. The previous Clinton-Obama debates were no different. And come on — voters have had all the time in the world to figure out the issue positions of the candidates and make a comparison. Anyone still on the fence might as well flip a coin.

These wide demographic swings were to be expected given the Democrats’ consistent flirtation with identity politics and the lack of substantive disagreement on the issues. What else are voters supposed to use in order to make their decision given two practically identical candidates? Now, whether these rifts heal or not and the coalition regroups by November is still an open question.

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Crossing Over Illegal in Ohio?

Apparently more than a few northeast Ohio Republicans decided to cross over in the March 4th primary and presumably vote for Hillary Clinton by choosing a Democratic partisan ballot.

We’re used to hearing about partisans trying to game the system by voting insincerely for a candidate that they don’t support. Democrats attempted exactly the same thing in Michigan by voting for Mitt Romney since they knew their votes for President would not be counted due to DNC rules. But Ohio law is very different from Michigan law regarding the procedure in primary elections.

In Ohio, one is registered as a member of a political party by choosing that party’s partisan ballot at the polls. ORC3513.19 states:

It is the duty of any [poll worker] … to challenge the right of that person to vote … [if] [t]hat the person is not affiliated with or is not a member of the political party whose ballot the person desires to vote. (emphasis added)

Michigan, as well as other states, has no such provision that demands closed primaries for both parties.

In recent years, poll workers have not been challenging a ballot selection because there was no reason to cross over. Usually the nominees for President were all but known by the time we voted. A recent court case (Maschari v. Tone) affirmed that this provision was important and needed to be enforced.

Poll workers are instructed to look at the previous partisan status of a voter before determining whether or not a voter may receive a partisan ballot. If there are any questions as to whether or not the voter is sincere in changing his/her partisan registration, the voter is asked to sign a statement affirming that they support and desire to be affiliated with the party in question. If a majority of poll workers still don’t believe the voter, he/she must vote a provisional ballot.

Signing an affirmation doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but lying about one’s partisanship is, under Ohio law, prosecutable as election falsification — a 4th degree felony which can fetch up to 6 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The Cuyahoga county Board of Elections will be voting shortly on whether or not to issue subpoenas to people who they believe lied when they signed their partisan affirmation statements.

I honestly hope there are some indictments over this. Mucking around in another party’s internal affairs is not only low, but it violates their 1st Amendment right to free association. People would be up in arms if enough Klansmen showed up to an NAACP meeting in order to change their policy, but for some reason we as a country not only don’t mind such gamesmanship, but actively encourage when such tactics suit our political goals.

What really bothers me is the horrid drafting of the law by the Ohio General Assembly. If they want open primaries, they should have open primaries. If they want closed primaries, then there needs to be a stronger mechanism for protecting the integrity of the process. Perhaps requiring those who want to be affiliated with a party to declare their preference 30 or 60 days in advance. That would reduce insincere voting due to the fact that the nominees are not likely to be known by then.

The Constitutional Priority

Often we hear from the President that his first duty is to protect and defend our country from those who would harm us. We hear from not only the President and other Republicans, but even Chris Dodd that civil liberties must be given up in face of increased security to help prevent any further terrorist attacks. But is this really so? Let’s check the oath of office for the President of the United States:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Nowhere does it say that the President may put security about civil liberties. It says that his duties are to execute the office of President and to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution. Security and defending the Constitution are on par with each other; no one is more important than the other. That is to say, security must be done within a constitutional framework — at all costs. No matter the situation, the Constitution must be protected.

One must also notice how the oath was written. Since the two duties of the President are co-equal, the founders are implying that in carrying out the oath one duty would never impact the other. No trade-off between liberties and security is needed, because the two are not orthogonal; the fallacy of the false dilemma rears its ugly head again. Basically, if you can’t do security without contravening the Constitution, you’re not doing it right. You can always protect the Constitution without sacrificing security, just as you can protect the country without sacrificing its foundations.

What’s in a name?

Some might have an idea where I got the name for this blog. It’s from a good book by one Douglas Adams:

‘On [that] world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.’

‘Odd,’ said Arthur, ‘I thought you said it was a democracy?’

‘I did,’ said Ford, ‘It is.’

‘So,’ said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, ‘why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?’

‘It honestly doesn’t occur to them,’ said Ford. ‘They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.’

‘You mean they actually vote for the lizards?’

‘Oh yes,’ said Ford with a shrug, ‘of course.’

‘But,’ said Arthur, going for the big one again, ‘why?’

‘Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,’ said Ford, ‘the wrong lizard might get in.’

I think the final sentence adequately describes why we continue to vote, but get worse leaders. We vote for the better of the two lizards.