Whenever someone on a news show asks a panel of experts that includes both Democrats and Republicans a question about how unpopular an agenda item is, such as their health care plan, or cuts to Medicare, or cuts to food stamps, or cutting taxes on the wealthy, Republicans always point to their overwhelming control in the states. And they do have control in the states. In 30 states they control the executive and legislative branches of government and so have pretty much complete control. In three other states they have at least partial control. I began to tune into the Republican strategy of winning in the states in 2012. At that time they controlled 23 states. They have control because Republicans cheated.
We are all given gifts, either from nature or from nurture, which give us sensitivities in certain areas. I was gifted with a talent for being sensitive to what is fair and what is unfair in human endeavors such as governments or societies or even less formal social interactions. I will not explore the possible personal roots of my “gift” and this same gift has been given to many other people. If the Republicans were winning fairly in the states I would have had no sense of outrage about this trend towards “red” states. But that it not the case. There is nothing natural about what Republicans have accomplished in wooing and winning states to the “red” side.
Did it begin with Talk Radio or did it begin with wealthy donors like the Koch Brothers?
Not all wealthy people bother with spending enormous amounts of money on politics, but as the Koch Brothers got wind of (get it) the shift away from fossil fuels they had solid profit-based reasons for meddling in our government. They cooked up a campaign and even “fake” data to fight the growing concerns about what the use of fossil fuels was doing to our atmosphere and therefore our planet.
They got laws passed, first a law that made corporations people, then a law that allowed corporate people to contribute to political campaigns (Citizens United vs. the FEC, 2010). (Money is speech.) This meant that big money could pour in to political campaigns in such quantities that corporations could always exercise more influence on elections than individuals. It allowed forces of industry to spend money right down into the local level with polished negative ads against Democrats who dared to run in states that already leaned red. They had ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) write actual legislation that the newly elected “army” of local and state reps sometimes passed verbatim.
In 2014 the Supreme Court passed a decision named McCutcheon vs the FEC which ended limits on the amount of money that could be contributed to campaigns. Conservatives moved their apparatus into blue states. My fairness radar thinks these laws that favor corporations are bad for “we the people” and are therefore bad for our Democracy. My fairness radar also thinks that this progression of laws that favor corporate spending in elections was no accident, but a carefully planned, one-step-at-a-time plan to benefit Republican candidates in elections. The Democrats were against these rulings and have fought to overturn them.
Which brings us back to Talk Radio? As the affluent Conservatives were creating a web of interconnected organizations to create top-down strategies, Talk Radio was tackling bottom-up strategies for turning a nation into ardent conservative “patriots”, a virtual army of discontented Americans feeling the pinch of a recession and a changing economy.
These Conservative talkers whispered and yelled into the ears of unemployed workers from their radios (old technology) in their trucks, their cars, their workshops, their kitchens. They used time-tested propaganda techniques like name-calling, blaming, repetition; they harangued their listeners, touched again and again on the sore spots of their audience, twisted history to make it sound like Democrats were liars and bigots by reminding people that there were Democrats (the Dixie Crats) who were violently opposed to the Civil Rights Act and who were still nursing grievances from the Civil War. They neglected to tell their listeners that these particular Democrats left the party and joined the Republicans when they saw that the Civil Rights Act would become law. Talk Radio was so effective at whipping certain citizens into a frenzy (the Tea Party proved this) that the powerful media members on the right created Fox News to pursue this tactic in living color just about around the clock.
Voting Rights Act
Oddly enough all of this was happening right around the 5oth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act which made all of the resurgence of the hate and bigotry that we were supposed to have overcome all the more bizarre and distasteful. This led to a test of the Voting Rights Act (supposedly no longer necessary) in the Supreme Court and to the overturning of the section that mandated clearance procedures which stated that some states had used unfair tactics to deny minorities the vote and that these states would have to seek clearance from Congress before they could change anything about their voting procedures.
As soon as the Supreme Court overturned the need of several states to seek clearance there was a rush to change voting procedures in ways that made it less likely for minority voters to go to the polls or, in the case of requiring voter ID’s, less likely to be able to vote. It was really quite shocking to witness if you happen to be one of those folks who has a talent for ferreting out unfair practices. Republicans claimed that they were suppressing Democratic votes, not minority votes and although some of their activities were reversed by courts many were allowed to stand.
Republicans, since they had the majority in Congress, were also allowed to draw the voting districts in the states. Extreme gerrymandering is not new. Political parties have tried to draw districts that give their own crew a distinct advantage before in our history. But it is not considered an ethical way to win votes and the practice has been frowned upon for some time. The Republicans were happy to resurrect it and drew some districts that excluded minority votes on a house by house basis with the rationale that minority voters tend to be Democrats. So, they say, we are not bigots, just cheaters, but only in ways that the Democrats had also been known to cheat.
So every time I listen to a Republican empaneled by the media on a liberal network they feel the need to remind us all of their great successes in turning states red, both in terms of governors and legislatures and they leave it up to us to conclude that America is mostly Conservative and that means Americans have given them a mandate to pass any old law they want even if it hurts the very Americans who have been led astray by or brainwashed by Republican money, propaganda and talking points. I call these “turned” Americans the “pod” people after the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and I despair because there is no referee in a Democracy, except for “we the people”, and many of us have been manipulated and sold a bill of good that has us choosing policies that are against our own interests. It is not universally argued that the Republicans are winning by cheating (and these points may just be the tip of the iceberg) but I, and my sense of what is fair and what is not, say that Republicans did not win in the states (or in the 2016 election) fair and square; they cheated.