Saturday, August 6, 2011

Americans for Prosperity... democracy, not so much

A few years of years back, inadvertently, I offended a couple of acquaintances of mine here in my home town of Holliston, Massachusetts. I was walking along the street. It was the week just before an election. I think this was 2006 and I had been canvasing, phone bank calling, holding signs on street corners, the whole deal we do sometimes when we're advocating for a candidate. So this couple I know drove up in a very impressive looking Rolls Royce convertible, top down, it was a beautiful day and the machine was a dazzling display. I waved hello, Holliston is a small enough town that we generally do that sort of thing and this was on a small enough side street that these folks could slow down and stop to say howdy, and maybe show off the Rolls a little. I dutifully commented on the swanky looking ride and I recall one of them in turn politely remarked that they had seen some opinion piece of mine about the election that was just days away.

I didn't know this couple well enough to really have a sense of their political views and I didn't see the situation then and there as the best place to engage in what I like to call the better debate... what with the possibility of another car turning down the street and us blocking traffic. So we were each set to go about our ways, having exchanged our pleasantries, when I went and offended them both.

I didn't mean to. I meant only to make a joke of it, as we were parting, I looked the Rolls Royce convertible up and down once more with a show of awe and admiration and advised that voter turnout was expected to be so high the next week that the Town Clerk had decided to deal with the volume by asking Democrats to vote on Tuesday and (wink, wink) Republicans like you all on Wednesday.

I meant it as a dry bit of sarcasm, an allusion to the obvious wealth on display with their rolling status symbol and the political leanings we so often associate with such. They were both offended and I now know it was wrong of me to assume as I did, based upon my cartoonish preconceptions, that these people were Republicans. They made it plain to me that they were shocked and more than a bit hurt by the very suggestion before they drove away, their hood ornament glinting in the clear mid-autumn light.

Of course I wasn't actually trying to confuse my fellow citizens about the proper time for them to show up at the polls and vote. The preposterousness of such a move was actually something of the joke I intended, lame as it was. But the recent news item that brought this all back to mind for me... that's another story.

This story, out of Wisconsin just this past week, as it is about to hold a number of important recall elections, might involve some of the same wrongheaded assumption with which I disserviced my Hollistion neighbors. (We should never assume who is a Democrat and who is a Republican after all.) But that preposterous joke? That one where you dupe someone out of their vote? It appears the good people at the "super pac" Americans for Prosperity don't see that as such a bad idea at all, no kidding.

Over the last few weeks, the organization, backed by the same billionaire Koch brothers who bankrolled a good amount for our own Junior Senator's very special election campaign back in 2010, has been sending out absentee ballot applications in primarily Democratic districts in Wisconsin. One might think of this as simply a charitable act of wholesome fellow citizenship. On the surface that would sure be what it seems like. One problem though... actually a couple.

Here's how comedian Stephen Colbert recounts things on one of his recent programs:

Americans for Prosperity has even sent out this actual, helpful absentee ballot applications to Democratic districts. Now, they had to rush these to print, so some people have complained about inaccuracies, but it’s minor stuff like…instead of instructing you to send your ballot to the local municipal clerk where ballots are officially collected, the address on this ballot is ‘Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center,’ which, and this is interesting, does not exist.

Oh and one more thing. The date recipients of these fliers are advised to mail in their ballots by is August 11th.

As Colbert puts it:
"Here's a little rhyme to help you remember when it's due: On August 11th make your selection. That's just two days after the actual election! —Okay? —that sticks in the brain! —Nothing nefarious here!"

Colbert handles the story well, he delivers it with his trademark dry sarcasm and ironical facade for optimum comical effect, sort of like I was going for with that couple in the Rolls Royce convertible those years ago. Going for and getting the laugh. I guess I'll never be such an accomplished comedian. The problem is the deliberate fraud and voter suppression that the folks at Americans for Prosperity and the Koch brothers are underwriting these days in Wisconsin, to me that's no joke. What I see it as is a cynical criminal assault and insult upon American democracy, with nothing the least bit funny about it.