Romney's 47%: What Other Rights Would The GOP Deny Them?
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Leaked video of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney telling donors that 47 percent of Americans vote because they are "dependent on government" and "believe that they are victims" might help explain why restrictive voter ID laws have attracted Republican support -- because "these people" can't be trusted with the vote.
Mother Jones published video of Romney speaking freely with a closed-door gathering of donors earlier this year, where among other things he said:
"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what . . . I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
For a man who is running to become president of the entire United States, the statement taken alone is shocking. But it may help shed further light on the motivations behind the wave of restrictive voter ID bills that have been introduced in 37 states across the country since 2011.
If nearly half of Americans vote only to preserve their freeloader status, the reasoning might go, it could seem less offensive to impose burdens on their voting rights -- and indeed, voter ID laws disproportionately affect the same Americans Romney believes can never be convinced "they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Those who lack the specific forms of unexpired state-issued ID cards the voter ID laws require are predominantly low-income -- and disproportionately people of color -- people who in many cases live in urban areas and rely on public transportation because they cannot afford cars (thus no driver's licenses), and would have a difficult time obtaining an ID even if it were offered free of charge. Others are elderly individuals who are no longer able to drive and have not renewed their driver's licenses, but depend on Medicare for their basic needs, and who may fear Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's plans for the system. All of these individuals are "dependent upon government," according to Romney.
And as Romney stated, those populations tend to vote Democrat.
Rather than adapting his campaign strategy to reach out to these communities and show how a Romney presidency might benefit their interests, Romney went on to say in the leaked video that "my job is is not to worry about those people."
And it would certainly be convenient if a few hundred thousand of "those people" were not able to vote at all.
In June, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai (R) tipped his party's hand when he explained the reasoning behind that state's voter ID law: it "is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania."
In 1980, right-wing activist Paul Weyrich was even more blunt about the conservative electoral strategy, telling a group of white conservative evangelicals that "I don't want everybody to vote" because "our leverage in the elections goes up as the voting populace goes down."
Among other institutions, Weyrich founded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill-mill that is pursuing his strategic vision by serving as a source of much of the voter ID legislation that swept the country in recent years.
Since well before 1980 there has been precedent for the idea that some Americans are better qualified than others to participate in our democracy. But over time, the United States has gotten closer to the democratic ideal, eliminating hurdles to voting rights based on whether one owns property, or has white skin, or is male, or can afford to pay a poll tax.
Yet apparently there remains a sentiment among some that, in Romney's words, "those people" -- nearly half of the United States -- can never be convinced "they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives" and their democratic preferences can justifiably be ignored, or even suppressed.
UPDATE Sept 20:
That didn't take long. Pennsylvania State Representative Tim Metcalfe, an ALEC member and the sponsor of that state's voter ID law, has used Romney's reasoning to justify the law's impact on the voting rights of the most disadvantaged members of society:
"As Mitt Romney said, 47% of the people that are living off the public dole, living off their neighbors’ hard work, and we have a lot of people out there that are too lazy to get up and get out there and get the ID they need. If individuals are too lazy, the state can’t fix that."