Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Republican Party's Assault on Freedom

George Orwell would love the way Republicans proclaim themselves the party of freedom while making a sustained attack on individual freedoms.

Republicans work feverishly to protect their wealthy and corporate benefactors’ freedoms from taxes, industry freedom from the regulations designed to keep some relative purity in our air, water, and food, freedom for Big Pharma from stringent regulation of experiments and labeling, banks’ freedom from regulations limiting dangerous financial manipulation, and freedom for oil drillers from worrying much about what they do to our land and water.

Meanwhile the Republicans are attacking on all fronts the rights and freedoms of women, laborers, and poor folks.

Women have a constitutional right to protect their health and decide when and whether to have children.

But abortion implicates strong emotions on both sides, and runs counter to most religions. Republicans use and abuse religion to induce voters to vote against their own interests. They make abortion a major issue, outshining trivial concerns such as the economy, wars, joblessness, and global warming.

Citizens have a constitutional right to vote.

But that right is troublesome for the Republican Party, when exercised by those who traditionally vote Democratic.

Republicans are attacking those rights in novel ways.

On the abortion front, the most current and vicious example is the Texas law that requires that in order for a woman to exercise her right to an abortion, she must first let the state put her through an invasive, highly unpleasant, and wholly unnecessary medical procedure. Some have analogized the forced procedure to rape.

The Texas requirement is vile and intrusive – and potentially quite effective in discouraging the exercise of a constitutional right. Obviously I’ve never had a vaginal sonogram, forced or otherwise. However, I’m pretty sure that if New Mexico said that men who wanted to vote in elections would first have to undergo a colonoscopy while listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio,a lot of us would choose to play golf on election days.

(Two recent bills by female Democratic legislators fight back. A Georgia bill would prohibit vasectomies, aping language used in an anti-abortion bill: "A vasectomy may only be performed to avert the death of the man or avert a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function." Virginia State Senator Janet Howell proposed amending an ultrasound bill to require that men be forced to undergo a digital rectal exam and a cardiac stress test before being prescribed medication for erectile disfunction.)

Meanwhile in almost every state in which Republicans have taken control of state government, they have tried to make it tougher for poor folks to vote.

The most obvious is the requirement of a picture ID. That seems innocuous. Don’t we all have drivers’ licenses? Most of us do; but the folks who don’t are most likely to be poor, particularly the urban poor. Requiring folks to make a special trip to DMV and wait there to get an I.D. will effectively diminish the Democratic vote. Some folks won’t hear of the new requirement, some folks won’t be able to spare the time from work, some folks (renters) won’t have what the state requires in order to grant an identification card. It isn’t merely showing up and waiting an hour or two at DMV. It’s writing away for a birth certificate, figuring out whom to write away to, knowing which hospital you were born in, maybe even paying a fee . . . oh, nuts – I think I’ll pass.

Other new steps in the Republican program to curtail voting include decreasing numbers of polling places (so that folks have to travel further, a problem mostly for those who lack a car or can’t be away too long from work or child-care).

I’m not saying the citizen who declines to jump through the various new hoops to vote is right.

I’m saying that Republicans are consistently making it harder for poor folks to vote.

I’m saying that their reason isn’t "voter fraud," which is extremely infrequent, but penalizing the people most likely to vote against them.

Meanwhile, drug-testing for welfare applicants is another wonderful example of misplaced priorities. Despite the deficit, Rep. Steve Pearce wants us to shell out for drug testing of all welfare applicants. He makes it sound fiscally sound . It ain’t. In Florida Republican Governor Rick Scott pushed for such testing, claiming it could save $77 million; but 98% of those tested passed.

Scott’s program will save about $3,400 to $5,000 per year that would have been paid out to applicants now rejected because of the test; but a year of testing all applicants will cost $178,000. If Pearce thinks that’s good government, I’m glad he doesn’t teach math to my kids.

Pearce recently filed two house bills that would require arbitrary drug testing as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

For the pleasure of kicking needy people when they’re down, Pearce would sign us up for expensive drug-testing likely to cost much more than it saves. We’d spend a bunch more on lawyers to defend a Constitutional challenge to this pointless testing – and probably lose. In October, a federal judge temporarily blocked the Florida law; and a 2006 lawsuit in Michigan overturned a similar law in Michigan. Further, unemployment is money a formerly employed person has already earned.

There’s a certain meanness to many of these Republican maneuvers. Yeah, the point is to con "average" folks into voting Republican even though Republican policies favor the wealthy and corporations; but these political games could have serious impact on people’s lives – and on what’s left of our democracy.


[The column above appeared today, Sunday, 29 April, in the Las Cruces Sun-News.]

1 comment:

  1. Peter, hi. A possible (and maybe not) typo about whom to right away to. Maybe it should be write away. Only a couple more weeks here.