Saturday, November 17, 2012

The thin blue line

Like a cat finding itself unexpectedly wet, the Republicans have spent the last week and a half trying to figure out what the hell happened.  According to Mitt Romney, people voted for Obama because he bribed them..  Karl Rove is pretty sure arithmetic itself has been revamped by leftists.  The Republicans of the Georgia State Senate heard a presentation about mind-control techniques developed by the Rand Corporation and apparently disseminated by microwaves.  The chairman of the Maine GOP reports sightings of black voters in his state, dozens of them; since Obama carried Maine by a hundred thousand votes, this may not be all that significant, but it sure makes you wonder.  Could the Saucer People be involved?

Would you like me to tell you what happened?  The Republicans underestimated the willingness of Americans to stand in line.

For a long time, standing in line was something people did over there in those socialist countries.  The British, it was said, were especially fond of queueing as it reminded them of the glory days of World War II, and the austerity that lasted into the 1950s.  There was a joke that if you stepped into a doorway in London to light a cigarette, you would find twenty people lined up behind you.  In Moscow On the Hudson, the Robin Williams character joins every line he sees and only then tries to find out what it's for.  ("Shoes?"  "Toilet paper, I think.")  On first entering an ordinary New York supermarket, he literally faints at the sheer variety of coffee, an abundance that Americans take for granted.  We used to think it was an assault on our freedom to be asked to wait for anything.  Gas lines in the 1970s doomed Jimmy Carter to a one-term presidency. 

How times change.  Or maybe Americans have more time to spare these days.  A company that announces two hundred job openings will get ten thousand applicants.  When doctors and dentists set up a temporary free clinic, far more uninsured Americans show up than they can treat.  Waiting to board a plane, it is hard not to think of our ancestors (some of them) lined up at Ellis Island hoping for admission to the New World.  The TSA doesn't care if you limp or your eyes are bad, as long as you don't have more than three ounces of toothpaste or object to being examined like a Pomeranian at a dog show.

We're happy to stand in line voluntarily, even for items that are not limited like World Series tickets.  Fans complain about the more recent Star Wars movies, but if George Lucas announced a new one they would already be at the gigoplexes.  People who grew up standing in midnight lines wearing wizard hats for the latest Harry Potter installment are happy to line up for days in order to obtain the newest doo-dad from Apple, with trail mix, bottled water and last year's Apple doo-dad to sustain them.  So what in the world made the Republicans think that creating long lines would discourage people from voting?

They worked on this for two years at least, making the registration process in some states as complicated as trying to get a patent out of Dickens's Circumlocution Office.  People had to spend time and money they could hardly afford tracking down birth certificates and applying for photo IDs.  Thousands of perfectly legal voters were "purged" for having suspiciously foreign names or failing to respond to form letters.  Early voting hours were sharply curtailed or cancelled outright.  On Election Day, voters stood in line from dawn to dusk; in one Florida county, the last ballot was cast at 1:30 in the morning.  To be fair, authorities in Arizona and Florida tried to shorten the lines by mailing out materials in Spanish which gave the election date as November 8, on the theory that people who read Spanish are idiots.  That didn't work, either.  Nor did scary billboards in non-white neighborhoods threatening would-be voters with prison.  They did everything but hire snipers to shoot people lined up at the polls, and I'm sure they considered it.  That this was an artificially created "problem" was clear from the relative ease with which people voted in the Democratically-controlled states, even the most populous.  No problems in California, where the ballot was clogged with propositions and initiatives easily understood by anyone trained in Constitutional law.  No problems in New York, parts of which still had no electricity.  No problems in Washington, where you can vote by mail.

People just said, no, they won't take my vote.  The right to vote has been symbolic of full citizenship for women, for African-Americans, for naturalized citizens, and it's where Americans dug in their heels this year.  As clear as Barack Obama's victory was, it would have been more impressive without all the chicanery.  We must hope his promise to "fix this" is not a hollow one.     



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