Wednesday, April 28, 2010

That Lovely Arizona Immigration Law

This is interesting.  And terrifyingly logical.

I read an article this morning (via C&L) by Greg Palast.  His argument, which makes a frighteningly large amount of sense, is that the recent Arizona anti-immigration bill is actually about disenfranchising Hispanic voters in the state and it comes as the culmination of a long-term strategy to keep an overwhelmingly Democratic voting block from pushing the Republicans out of power.  The further argument, then, is that the media totally missed the angle because they’re so busy pushing the, “ZOMG, racists!” angle.

At the same time we have news of Michael Steele admitting to the “Southern Strategy.”  This was, for those who’ve been hanging out under rocks, the bit where the Dixiecrats switched to the Republican Party post-Civil Rights Movement and turned the old Confederacy in to a red bloc.  This move, meanwhile, went back to a recently banned form of voter intimidation in the South: the Jim Crow Laws.

We tend to look at segregated lunch counters and things like Brown v. Board of Education when considering Jim Crow.  But the main purpose of those laws wasn’t really explicit public segregation; it was disenfranchisement without violation of the 15th Amendment.  The public segregation would have been impossible without the disenfranchisement.

In order to understand that, though, we need to go back a little further still.  Following the end of the Civil War the North basically occupied the South as a conquering, foreign power.  As long as the North was in charge the freedom granted by the Emancipation Proclamation, then made permanent by the 13th Amendment and the freedoms granted by the 14th and 15th Amendments were rigorously defended.

Then in 1876 the Republicans traded Reconstruction for four more years in the Presidency (which brought my favorite Presidential nickname: Rutherfraud B. Hayes).  The former slaveholder, white, Democrat aristocracy saw this as an opportunity to take back their states.  But the newly enfranchised former slave population voted overwhelmingly in favor of the Republicans.  And the 14th Amendment meant that they couldn’t simply be disenfranchised.

So the Jim Crow laws were enacted.  These usually came in the form of a poll tax, literacy test, and/or requirements to show some proof of residency.  Former slaves were generally poor, illiterate, and lived as tenant farmers, so they couldn’t meet the requirements.

This had the problem of also disenfranchising some poor white voters.  For a while there were Grandfather clauses that worked around it.  But this was largely really not a problem, since the goal was simply to keep those who voted Republican out of the polling places.  If a few poor whites were also barred, oh well.  Besides, poor whites were also more likely to vote Republican.  Southern Democrats were an aristocratic phenomenon.

But, again, when looking at Jim Crow we tend to focus on the segregation of society and ignore the segregation of the voting system.  Quite frankly, it’s how America has handled race for many years.  We’d prefer to cry, “Racist!” and feel better about ourselves or vote for a black candidate so we can say we’re “post racial” and then turn the narrative of “against Obama = racist hick” than tackle the real issues.  And those issues go beyond, “How do we look at race,” to, “How do we look at government,” and, “Is our system really creating laws and programs that benefit us as a whole or simply churning out politicians who are attempting to hold on to power no matter what?”

That’s what we seem to have in Arizona.  There is a strong undercurrent of racism, but the anti-immigration hysteria is what’s needed to keep the attention of the voters who are already in the fold.

The bigger question is the one of, “Who benefits and who loses?”  It’s already illegal to be in America illegally.  Illegal immigrants are deported every day.  This law doesn’t change that.  And the governor has admitted that she has no idea how to identify an illegal immigrant, anyway.  So the anti-immigration people don’t really get anything they didn’t already have.

What changes with this law, though, is the thing that changed with Jim Crow.  Those who want to create a segregated society now have the opportunity to do so.  Those who want to create reasonable doubt to throw out votes now have the opportunity to do so, too.

And the votes that would likely be thrown out would probably go to the Democratic candidates.


Meanwhile, there are two things that interest me in all of this.

First of all, as best I can tell this new Arizona law has been brought to you by the same people who are likely to call Obama a Commie-Fascist dictator.  The irony of the freedom-loving opposition party creating a state where you can be pulled over on a whim and have a policeman ask for your papers is palpable.

Second, talking points from the anti-Obama crowd ever since the election have often sneeringly used the fact that he came from Chicago.  Chicago, in this case, is used to sneeringly refer to sneaky backroom deals, machine politics, and the old, “In Chicago vote early and vote often.”  This is pointed out as political corruption at its finest.

The thing about machine politics is that they are relentlessly local.  It’s a sort of, “I do this for you so long as you vote for our guy.”  That guy is usually going to be running for alderman.  With enough power the machine can put a favorable Mayor in place, then a Representative and maybe a Senator.  The machine can also raise politicians to a national spotlight, but making the leap to putting a President in office is well nigh impossible.  A Chicago machine can deliver Illinois, since whither goes Chicago there goes the state, but one state does not a President make.

Meanwhile, the machine really only has power as long as the ballot is not secret.  If someone says, “Vote for our guy or else,” they can only follow through on the threat if they know you voted for their guy.  And the “vote early, vote often,” thing only works when you can’t keep track of who has and who hasn’t voted already.  In Illinois you register to vote, go to your polling place, then tell them your name, after which they pull your little slip of paper out of the book of registered voters in the precinct and you can’t go back.  It’s still entirely possible to perpetrate fraud, but it’s not nearly as easy.

It is, in fact, much easier to game the system by having votes you know will go against you thrown out or disallowed in the first place than to fraudulently increase your own vote totals.  And if you can find ways to keep those you know will vote against you from going to the polls in the first place, well, more power to you.  Literally.

But as long as “Chicago politics” is given as the byword for electoral fraud that issue will be largely ignored…


Janet said...

Proving yet again that politics is nothing if not practical, and only principled when convenient.

Geds said...


One of the real problems with the issue in Arizona, though, is it's almost impossible to figure out where the lines are drawn. With Jim Crow it's fairly obvious that racism and political expediency went hand-in-hand. In Arizona...well...

On the one side you have the nativists/racists (who I group in the same basic category, as it's all bigotry and nativists usually conflate "white" with "real American"). They're the ones who are genuinely afraid of being overwhelmed by the brown tide from the south. Then you have the Minutemen-types, who are probably 100% nativists and a high percentage of racists.

Then you have the people who just sit back and say that illegal immigration is a problem that must be stopped. They might not actually be racists, but they support the racists in their plots. The fact is that there's a reason we draw a line between legal and illegal immigration and you can argue that we need to maintain and enforce without saying that the brown people are taking over our country.

And then there are the political operators who don't give a shit about immigration or freedom and are willing to cynically manipulate such sentiments for their own gain. When it gets right down to it, we don't know who is who.

The main problem I see is that this particular law is massively dangerous. I do not carry around proof of citizenship everywhere I go, nor should I have to. I'm protected by the Fourth Amendment and I'm pretty sure that this law will be thrown out on Fourth Amendment grounds the first time an American citizen is illegally detained and gets a case to the SCOTUS. But until that happens every American citizen in Arizona has to be aware that they can be arrested and detained (and if you're in Maricopa County, well, you're fucked. I'm officially overjoyed I never got around to moving to Phoenix) if they're not carrying around their birth certificate or passport.

Moreover, until this law is struck down, anyone in any other state where sufficient hatred of immigrants can be whipped up has to be aware of the fact that this can happen to them, too. There's already talk of duplicating the law in Texas, Colorado, Georgia, and, I believe, Ohio.

What's that Franklin quote everyone is so fond of tossing about when hyperventilating about Obama's AmeriCorps death camps? Something about trading freedom for safety and deserving neither?