August 6, 2015 marked two historic events in television history. On Comedy Central was the final episode of Jon Stewart as anchor of The Daily Show, while Fox News held a Republican debate featuring (literally) front and center Donald Trump. It was a true challenge to attempt to discern what to watch, on the one hand you have one of the funniest human beings in the history of news media and on the other you have Jon Stewart. But lost in the flurry of self-congratulation is an important fact. This election could very well end with a Republican victory. That may go against conventional wisdom, but there are some very disturbing facts to consider.
First, as emphasized by a recent New York Times Magazine article, two major provisions of the historic Voting Rights Act, which turned 50 this week, Sections 4 and 5, were gutted in the 2013 Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, provisions which provided federal oversight to voting districts with a history of disenfranchisement. As a result, these problematic sections of the country, some in key battleground states, are rolling out all types of ridiculous registration requirements that were abolished five decades ago, like literacy tests or voter identification laws. In another haunting development, the window of time for early voting has been decreased significantly, making submission of absentee ballots more difficult.
Already we have seen efforts to heighten voter registration by the Democrats, including Hillary Clinton’s push for enrollment on the campaign trail and David Cicilline’s proposed bill to automatically register people when they go to the DMV, but these are steps that may prove to be too little too late. The disenfranchisement movement has been hard at work for years now and already has one victory under their belt. The supposed default nominee of the Republicans, Jeb Bush, ran a test-run of voter purging as governor of Florida in 2000 that handed his brother those key electoral college votes and thus the election. In 2004, the state of Ohio was handed to Bush with a margin later found by a congressional report to have been rigged. There are now 34 states, including Rhode Island, that require identification at the polling place, cards which are hard to obtain for elder and minority voters who lack transport or time to get to the DMV.
But another fact that people need to consider is what will happen when people Feel The Bern-Out. I can respect the enthusiasm of those supporting Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, but there are no promises that he will gain the nomination, especially with key endorsements from labor and other groups having been sold to Hillary Clinton years ago. If Sanders loses the nomination, he has promised to direct his supporters to Clinton. But what is to guarantee they will follow his directions?
In 2000, traditional Democratic voters, disgusted with the Clintons and unimpressed by Al Gore, defected to the Green Party and cast ballots for Ralph Nader. This time around, the Greens are pushing an alternative first female president, Dr. Jill Stein, a woman of tremendous courage, intellect, and insight who lacks the finances necessary to buy this election. Some have even gone as far to argue that Nader votes were the reason traditional blue states went red in 2000. In our faux-democratic two-party plutocracy, there are not many things that differentiate neoliberals and neoconservatives. But in the minor places they do differ, such as in cases of choice, Affirmative Action, the environment, and labor, there is a dramatic impact to be seen. Already women’s rights are yet again on the chopping block, this time thanks to a series of deceptively edited undercover videos filmed by disciples of James O’Keefe, the ACORN video guru who successfully destroyed a non-profit whose only sin was holding voter registration drives. The entire field of Republican candidates knows that these videos are fake, but they are using them as talking points to boost their campaigns.
This is a foreshadowing of things yet to come should a Republican steal this election, something I worry could very well happen. And part of the fault will lie with the Democrats. Instead of relying on the old methods of gaining electoral victories, such as by hitting the pavement and going door-to-door to register voters, they are obsessing with the wonders of the internet and the myriad of ways they can shovel money into the trough of the Democrats. Lewis Black once had a brilliant comedy routine where he described the Republicans as the party of bad ideas and the Democrats as the party of no ideas. That seems to be coming true as we move towards election day. Instead of #FeelTheBern, it should be #FeelTheRegistrationForm.