The End of Democracy

Losing America's birthright, the George Bush way

The bottom line: Posner's precedent gives much more discretion to states like Ohio and Florida to take action to restrict voting opportunities, especially for working people. And it was handed down, conveniently, two weeks before Election Day. —R.P.


Both sides are not equally bad, and any reporters who don't recognize that conservatism's very core has become shot through with a culture of mendacity should turn in their press badge. For example: The former head of the Arizona Republican Party and Christian Coalition, Nathan Sproul, in an operation paid for by the Republican National Committee, has set up "voter outreach" efforts that register Democrats, then allegedly shred their registration forms.

illustration: Korinne Jenkins

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  • It used to be that we could count on the conscience of conservatives to protect ourdemocratic institutions. The modern conservative movement was founded by idealists, who defined themselves in opposition to the one man most indelibly associated with the anything-to-win, image-is-everything excesses of the Republican Party's moderate wing, Richard Nixon.

    One of those idealists was Richard Viguerie. He pioneered the use of political direct mail back in the days of Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign. He's still at it. "A nine-hour day at age 71 is a short day for me," he says in his Manassas, Virginia, office. He admits that, yes, some Bush campaign tactics have been downright Nixonian; shown the famous flyer with "BANNED" stamped on an image of the Bible, then the words "This will be Arkansas . . . if you don't vote," his face curls in disapproval. "I mean there, there is so much material—legitimate, credible, honest material—to use against the Democrats." That flyer was put out by the Republican National Committee, though he's quick to assure that movement conservatives—the idealists—would never do such a thing.

    There are two problems with this picture. The first is that plenty of such material is sent out from return addresses belonging to Viguerie's direct-mail customers ("That kind of stuff is his stock-in-trade," Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates laughs, before faxing the Voice a letter from the Traditional Values Coalition, with which Viguerie has a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract, that claims "babies are being harvested and sold on the black market by Planned Parenthood Clinics"). The second problem is that, sadly, it's hard to take any protestations of good faith from a conservative seriously these days.

    "Evangelicals are trained to recruit from the cradle," observes one witheringly astute expert on Christian conservative culture. Call this informant Deep Faith: A Ph.D. student in divinity, he grew up in the rural South in an intensely pious Pentecostal community and still believes its creeds after five years at an Ivy League university. He has not, however, kept faith with his ministers' injunction that evangelicals must devote themselves to building a Republican America. The notion, in fact, horrifies him. In college, the first time he spent extended periods outside evangelical circles, he says, "I realized the main thing that separated us evangelicals from them was that they believed in dialogue and compromise. And we believed in taking no prisoners. . . . Democracy can't function in an environment where one party will not sit down and play by the rules."

    He uses a saying of the apostle Paul, beloved of evangelicals, to drive home the point: "Be all things to all people." A missionary, he says, might interpret that to mean that it's OK to swear on a visa application that she's not a missionary: "Technically, it's illegal and you're lying. But if you honestly believe that you're going to save somebody from eternal torture and damnation, and deliver them into a life of eternal bliss, then you're going to do what you have to do." So, he thinks, might people who claim to be "registering" voters—for such means-justifies-the-ends thinking now also marks evangelicals' political attitudes.

    "Whenever you think that there are eternal, apocalyptic stakes, and that you can make a difference, you can rationalize a whole lot of stuff to yourself," he says. "I think evangelicals really don't like democracy much at all, especially when it's not going their way."


    That kind of decomposition would help explain the rot of right-wing political culture at the grassroots. A website called bushcountry.org ("promoting the ideals of conservatism") suggests, after the school massacre in Russia, a banquet of reforms for the U.S.: "Any criminals are to be rounded up and locked up the day they are identified"; "Anyone on the terror watch list is put into solitary confinement immediately"; "Anyone who registers as Muslim should be required to take a loyalty oath. The U.S. or Islam."

    And at altitudes one might have presumed loftier than that fever swamp, U.S. News and World Report columnist John Leo thanks author Michelle Malkin for initiating "our first national discussion on the wisdom and fairness of interning 100,000 ethnic Japanese during World War II," a "reasonable" policy that shouldn't be ruled out for Arabs now.

    These are the people whose candidate just might win this election. If he does, he will have proven but one thing: Those who are willing to do anything to win can win.

    George Bush is not a fascist. He really isn't. And thank goodness for small favors. For what if he were? The people who run Democratic campaigns might dismiss his suspension of constitutional provisions as yet another boring old "process story," not fit to upset the voters with. The talking heads would assure themselves that the truth would out in a couple years anyway—faster still, now that we have the Internet.

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