Rationalizing Voter Suppression

Sometimes I run across an article that causes my jaw to drop in amazement that anybody would write such a thing.    A recent article at the website “American Thinker” is one of them.   In that article they say registering the poor to vote is un-American because the poor don’t pay taxes.    The article itself, apparently trying to rationalize voter suppression and create resentment of the poor, is a mess.   Most of the time it focuses on hard core Marxists of over forty years ago and even Trotskyists.   Apparently the author wants to somehow link these to Barack Obama and current democrats.

There are three especially perverse aspects of that argument.

1.  The article suggests that the Democrats want the poor to be poor in order to get votes through bribery.  In other words, all the rhetoric about wanting equal opportunity, helping those who have difficulty, insuring people get access to quality education and health care — as well as food for children — is a lie: to them, the Democrats don’t care about the poor except to get votes.

That would be despicable if it were true.   But Democrats from hardcore activists to people whose political action doesn’t go beyond voting are motivated by a desire for justice and to help people improve their lives.   Now, it may be that the Democratic approach is wrong — there are many good arguments one can make against a myriad of social welfare programs.   But the argument made in the article in American Thinker does go that route.   They say that the poor are just being bribed, that the Democrats are shaking down the rich to buy off the poor.

That is a fascistic argument.  I’m not saying that to call names, but fascism essentially operates by trying to deny the existence of politics.   Fascism sees politics as mob rule, destined to fail as politicians play populist games to get votes.   Therefore fascists try to deny the legitimacy of political differences and instead paint their opponents are morally depraved or fundamentally dishonest.   In the article the real issues of how to deal with social problems are defined away; rather you just have bad Democrats trying to bribe greedy poor people.

It’s also an insane argument.   The poor rarely vote.  You’re not going to win elections by trying to simply give to the poor.   The reason Democrats want to register the poor is to get them involved in the process.  The more involved you are in the process the more likely you are going to take your community seriously and improve your life.   The poor voter is more likely to work his or her way off welfare than one who is alienated.  The writers’ argument is not only wrong, if followed (dissuading the poor from voting) it would make the poor more likely to stay dependent on the state.

2.  It is clear class warfare, an effort to breed resentment of the poor and cause middle class folk, especially whites, to think that the Democrats simply represent lazy freeloaders.   Some poor folk may be lazy,  but most working class poor have recently lost a job, have had unexpected health care costs, or really want to find a way to make it on their own.    If their kids don’t get a solid education, health care, and basic nutrition, they won’t have a real opportunity to succeed — meaning a perpetual cycle of poverty and an increased chance of crime.

For the rich to resent the poor is perversion.  It’s the “haves” looking down their nose and scoffing at those who do not do as well, and then telling them “you should have no voice in the political system because you’re a loser.”   When President Obama wants to close a few loopholes people scream that he’s demonizing the rich — which he’s not.   The rich do very well in the US, we have the wealthiest top ten percent of income earners in the world by far.   Our bottom 10% are closer to third world states, and even our bottom sixty percent aren’t that well off relative to other countries.  If there’s class warfare, it’s coming from the right.

3.  The argument ignores reality.   Another blogger linked an article the other day from the CATO institute.   Like the American Thinker article, it plays rhetorical games but ignores reality.    Their claim:

Did you know that in Denmark, the poorest 30 percent pay 14.1 percent of all taxes and the richest pay 48.7 percent, while in the United States, the poorest 30 percent pay just 6.1 percent of all taxes and the richest 30 percent pay a whopping 65.3 percent?

From there the author asserts that our poorest pay less and get more, while our wealthy are bled.  Of course, the reality is quite different.    First, Scandinavian countries have poor pay in and then get more reimbursement — it’s only the reforms of Ronald Reagan that actually ended the poor paying in first.   Reagan was proud to get the poor off the tax roles.

However, to measure progressivity the only way is to look at the GINI index and see the before tax and transfer and after tax and transfer rate. The GINI index measures income distribution. 0 would be everyone earning the same, 1.00 would be one person with everything and another with nothing.

The US pre-tax and transfer GINI index is at .46, while Sweden is at .43, and Denmark and Norway are at .42. That means pre-tax they are slightly more even in income distribution, but not much. Germany has a bigger pre-tax gap between the rich and the poor than the US at .51.

After tax the US GINI index moves to .38 — a modest improvement.  After taxes and transfers Denmark is at .23. That’s right, taxes and transfers equalize wealth dramatically, the gap between the rich and the poor is least in all the industrialized world. This means the poor are much more even with the rich in Denmark. Sweden is also at .23, Norway is at .28, while Germany’s disparity narrows from .51 to .30. All of those systems are much more progressive than the US.  Most wealth stays with the rich here, the gap between the rich and the poor is higher in the US than ALL other OECD states except Portugal, with which we’re tied.  Poland is slightly better at .37 after taxes and transfers.

These arguments are signs that far right are relying on false arguments, based on distortion.   They do not have facts on their side.    It isn’t bad for the poor to vote, we do have the largest gap between the rich and poor, and our wealthy are doing very well.

This doesn’t mean Democratic programs work.   This doesn’t even mean that the Republicans don’t have better ideas.  It’s only that people making these kinds of arguments (glibly, talk radio style arguments) don’t even try to engage Democratic ideas or support Republican ones.   They evade the real issues and appeal to emotion, often with very misleading information.   The left spins as well, neither side is immune from the temptation to twist things their way.  But these examples are a bit over the top, especially the desire to demonize the poor in the American Thinker article.   It’s another example of how the far right is ‘jumping the shark’ and may be past its peak.

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  1. #1 by Alan Scott on September 5, 2011 - 23:31

    Scott,

    Your title is voter suppression . The article in many things, but how is complaining about Democrats bribing the poor, voter suppression ? And I happen to agree with the article . You mix theory and reality. Let me see if I can explain this coherently . I agree with you that being poor is no crime. Unless of course you are old and poor, then it is a crime against yourself. Just kidding .

    But lets look at the poor we are talking about. First you have the good poor. The hard workers, the people that circumstance has frowned on .The hard working, the ones just trying to take care of their families . Maybe they are political, maybe not . Those are not the poor Democrats target when they try to get the poor involved in the process.

    Lets look at the apathetic poor .These are the ones ACORN and the Democratic Party machine do bribe to show up and vote .Most of these people only care about politics if they can get a handout. So an ACORN person shows up and says we will drive you to the polls, vote for Democrats, they will get you money and stuff. ACORN and Obama will take it from the rich guy and give it to you.

    • #2 by Scott Erb on September 6, 2011 - 01:00

      Accusing the Democrats of bribing the poor is ridiculous. There is also no evidence to support such a vicious smear. Do be sure, many on the left accuse Republicans of racism, wanting to keep the blacks in ghettos, or exploiting the poor so they can be rich. That smear is that the Republicans are racist and hate the poor. That’s the mirror image of the smear that the Democrats just want to bribe the poor. Neither are true. That’s emotion, the stuff of talk radio on each side, not reason.

      Now, there is a chance that you are right about how best to deal with societies problems, that social welfare programs are misguided and Republicans have the best ideas. There is a chance the Democrats are right. Smearing the other sides’ motives is a pointless anti-democratic way to make that argument. Instead, one should argue about the policies. Most Republicans and Democrats are good honest people who have different perspectives. It’s a shame when emotion drives them to see the other side as somehow bad.

  2. #3 by pino on September 6, 2011 - 00:43

    In that article they say registering the poor to vote is un-American because the poor don’t pay taxes.

    I absolutely believe that the Democrat Party, in general, are trying to mobilize the poor in order to win elections. If they were trying to HELP the poor instead, the programs that they champion would not be such epic failures.

    The article suggests that the Democrats want the poor to be poor in order to get votes through bribery.

    Partially true. They want people to be dependent upon the government.

    It is clear class warfare, an effort to breed resentment of the poor and cause middle class folk, especially whites, to think that the Democrats simply represent lazy freeloaders.

    I don’t think so. Class warfare would be to resent the lazy freeloaders. I resent the elitists who curry the favor of lazy freeloaders.

    From there the author asserts that our poorest pay less and get more, while our wealthy are bled.

    CATO is making the point that our poor pay less. Which is certainly true. CAT is not describing the income disparity, simply the income TAX disparity.

    If you would like to discuss INCOME disparity, that is a valid point [i think] and worth discussing [i think]. But to rebut an argument on topic A with evidence supporting topic B doesn’t seem logical.

    But these examples are a bit over the top, especially the desire to demonize the poor in the American Thinker article.

    I do admit that the argument the Thinker made that perhaps we not allow a segment of our population to vote is on the other side of moderate. But there is something to be said about the fact that people who are net income tax earners shouldn’t be allowed to vote.

    • #4 by Scott Erb on September 6, 2011 - 01:16

      Oh, and the level of poverty in 1960 compared to know is MUCH less. There was so much rural and urban absolute poverty in the early sixties that were eradicated by the programs put in place especially during the Nixon and Ford years (that’s right, most of our social welfare system came into being with support of Republican Presidents — Clinton made the biggest cuts).

      I believe if you are measure tax progressivity you need to take into account pre and post taxes and transfers. The poor paying more is irrelevant if they also get much more back. What matters is their NET outcome. If they pay $50 and get $200 back, they’re doing better than if they pay nothing and get $75.

      • #5 by pino on September 6, 2011 - 01:22

        I believe if you are measure tax progressivity you need to take into account pre and post taxes and transfers.

        I agree. I’m trying to run a series over at my place on just that. Disparity, or GINI, on pre-tax, post-tax and then social entitlement programs.

        I hope I can find the information; I suspect entitlement expenditures to be hardest to find.

  3. #6 by Scott Erb on September 6, 2011 - 01:05

    Again, your beef is with Ronald Reagan’s tax reforms, he’s the one who said the poor shouldn’t pay taxes.

    I also reject ABSOLUTELY the idea that somehow Democrats want their programs to fail or the poor to remain poor. That’s like saying that Republicans are racists who want to bleed the poor so they can maintain their lifestyles. Again, you don’t like it when the left makes unfair arguments about the right, but you don’t notice it when you make a similarly horrific claim about the left. Many on the left notice those, but don’t notice how some of their arguments are simply ad hominems against the right. Both sides do it, but really Democrats and Republicans almost all want to solve problems, they just disagree on how to do it. It is gutter politics to suggest either that the Republicans are racists who don’t care about poor blacks (or hispanics,), it’s gutter politics to say that the Democrats don’t want to really help the poor but just bribe them for votes. Such claims have no basis in fact, no evidence, and are emotion-driven — made by people who don’t want to compromise or actually find ways to work together. Please, Pino, I know you’re a very reasonable person with solid ethics – I know you’re not racist or hateful of the poor, please accept that even if you think Democrats are wrong in how they think the problems should be solved, they’re not evil creatures who want to keep the poor poor and who don’t believe their claims about social justice. It’s one thing to say they’re wrong; it’s another to suggest they are evil.

    • #7 by pino on September 6, 2011 - 01:19

      That’s like saying that Republicans are racists who want to bleed the poor so they can maintain their lifestyles.

      Fair enough.

      Can I ask you, have you ever seen a Liberal organization build a “get out the vote” program for the typical republican demographic? Or rather, put it this way. Why does ACORN only motivate the poor and the minorities to vote?

      • #8 by Scott Erb on September 6, 2011 - 01:39

        Both sides what to register those likely to vote for them. But for groups like ACORN the goal is to try to improve life for minorities and communities, not keep the poor poor. Especially committed liberals — they believe their ideals as much as free market conservatives believe their plans are better for the economy. And you know — I suspect neither side is anywhere close 100% accurate, and each sees aspects of the issues the other does not, which is why it’s good for the two sides to compete and argue.

        I agree that if anyone wanted to keep the poor down just to get their votes that would be horrible, even evil. But I just don’t think that’s the case for 99.9% of Democrats or liberals.

      • #9 by pino on September 6, 2011 - 01:53

        not keep the poor poor.

        Oh, I don’t think they wanna keep the poor poor. I think they wanna give the poor other people’s money. And that by doing this, will ingratiate those folks to vote for them.

  4. #10 by Scott Erb on September 6, 2011 - 02:43

    But that’s not the point — the point is not to keep the poor poor, just as the GOP doesn’t want to just help the rich stay rich. The point is they think this will help the poor become more productive citizens able to lead a better life and have success, just as free marketers think the point is to allow the rich to better create jobs and build a thriving economy. Neither side has evil motives, each just has a different point of view about how the world works.

  5. #11 by Alan Scott on September 6, 2011 - 09:09

    Scott,

    ” Accusing the Democrats of bribing the poor is ridiculous. ”

    I disagree and I accuse them of far worse. ACORN, the shut down organization, was so focused on getting out the poor vote for Democrats, that they did not care if the poor even existed. They did not care if the poor they employed committed voter fraud . ACORN existed to get out the vote and also gather in government money, which they used to fund themselves .

    But ACORN is only the symptom . Democrats have a symbiotic relationship with the poor.Democrats send money down to the poor with their programs and the poor that vote, vote for them .Inner city projects are one of those. I lived in one as a kid . We got out after 4 years .Those who came after us, totally trashed it . But they are a trap. You stay poor if you stay there . And you vote Democrat .

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