You have to love the sheer effrontery of the Trump Administration’s new Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, set up to validate Trump’s absurd claim that he only lost the popular vote because of the votes of millions of undocumented immigrants. Headed by Kris Kobach, longtime crusader against the hordes of “illegal aliens” descending on Kansas to try swinging elections (an alleged effort that based on results must be deemed a flat failure), this “commission” is requesting that every state in the Union turn in personal and public data on its voting rolls to the federal government. (For a frightening deep dive into the history of Kobach’s campaign of voter suppression see https://resistancesuffolk.blog/2017/07/03/if-you-care-about-the-right-to-vote-here-are-six-things-you-need-to-know-about-kris-kobach/)
Sure, let’s create a national database of the nation’s 200 million voters including names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliations, voting records, felony convictions, and the last four digits of social security numbers. What could possibly go wrong? Our friends in Russia, Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, not to mention Crouching Yeti, must be drooling. All of this data on 200 million American voters on one big database in one place! At last! No more pesky state and local databases to deal with, with their tiresome different standards and formats.
So glaring is the blatant stupidity of this enterprise that it threatens to drown out the blatant hypocrisy behind it. Remember when the Republican Party was the supposed stalwart defender of “state’s rights”? Remember the fear and terror that the federal government might somehow acquire a serviceable national registry of gun purchases? Which is why the ATF is hog-tied by restrictions prohibiting the consolidation or centralization of records, severely hampering law enforcement efforts to gauge and combat gun violence. Last March the House (including our very own Lee Zeldin of course) voted in favor of ending federal checks preventing more than 167,000 veterans deemed “mentally incompetent” from keeping or purchasing firearms. This was an effort to reduce the shocking incidence of veteran suicide by firearms. It seems the problem with preventing these individuals from acquiring firearms was that it relied on a less than perfect Social Security database, which flags individuals incapable of handling their own affairs. Same reasoning when Congress refused to bar individuals on a terrorist watch list prohibited from boarding aircraft from purchasing firearms. In spite of all this fuss and bother about federal government “overreach” in these cases and the worries about “due process” (not to mention “Second Amendment rights”), the Republican administration has no issue with putting every registered voter in America on a centralized database when the political stars align its way. The blatant hypocrisy of this led even Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, to state (to his credit) that he would not co-operate with Kobach’s commission: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
There are plenty of other examples of this hypocrisy. On June 28 of this year the House passed H.R. 1215, a bill which overrides state laws on medical malpractice by placing a federal cap of $250,000 on “non-economic” injuries (which includes such things as trauma, elder abuse, or reproductive harm) as well as overriding state joint and several liability laws. The following day the House passed H.R. 3003 which tramples on the Fourth and Tenth Amendments of the Constitution in its haste to punish cities and states using “community trust” policing policies and failing to do the bidding of ICE to arrest and detain all undocumented immigrants contacted by law enforcement officials, no matter what. No problems with “due process” here. Welcome to the big government Republicans; limited government ideals have mysteriously gone missing! In the words of a writer for the right-leaning libertarian Cato Institute, this bill “violates a basic principle of federalism, which many conservatives have long championed, that the federal government should leave states to experiment with their own policies. I wonder whether Republican members of Congress would still support this legislation if they could imagine Democrats applying this same principle to federal gun laws in the future.” Even so, it passed in the House of Representatives with a mere seven Republicans voting “No” (Rep. Zeldin, needless to say, was not one of the seven, although Rep. Peter King, a fellow Long Island Republican, was, on the grounds that the bill endangers anti-terrorism funding that would go to New York City).
What are we to make of this blatant hypocrisy? The lesson to be drawn, I believe, is that all the protestations about “state’s rights” and the Constitution are tactical only, quickly abandoned when politically expedient. Such “principles” are not really principles at all, they are merely tactical gambits.
In fact there’s a pattern here. For decades the GOP has been a fierce defender of “strict constructionism” and “originalism”, i.e. the view that the Constitution should be interpreted according to the original meaning of its writers in 1787. Yet when the opportunity arose to blockade President Obama’s constitutional right to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Scalia Sen. Mitch McConnell jumped at it, Constitution be damned, declaring “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.” Never mind that this is flagrantly at odds with the clear meaning of the Constitution, which specifically does NOT provide that the selection of Supreme Court Justices be contingent on a popular vote. So much for “strict construction” and “original meaning”. What about the “principle” of limited government, particularly at the federal level? Kobach’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity simply dumps this principle – a mere inconvenience.
More broadly take the supposed “principle” of wholesome “family values” that is supposedly at the heart of the Republican brand, at least if we are to believe what Republicans love to tell voters. Is it possible to imagine a less wholesome and family-value oriented President than Donald Trump? A man who openly brags about sexual assault, prides himself on bullying his detractors, has no discernible religious or spiritual beliefs, worships material success only, has an insatiable lust for self-enrichment, has no scruples about lying his head off, mocks the disabled, despises service and self-sacrifice in general and the service of military heroes he doesn’t like in particular, and seems to violate every value that earnest educators attempt to instill on impressionable young children. Family values? Really? Yet party leaders as well as most of the Republican rank and file in Congress (with a few honorable exceptions of which Lee Zeldin is not one) have no problem overlooking all this as long as it doesn’t impede the implementation of their “agenda” (aka deregulation and tax cuts for the rich). No, the only way to understand the so-called “principles” of the Republican Party is as propaganda, designed to throw dust in the eyes of voters, not to be taken seriously and acted on consistently. Where is the “integrity”? In the words of the immortal Bard: “words, words, no matter from the heart.”