New York Times Columnists Take Turns Lamenting Stolen Democracy, GOP 'Dim Bulb...Plutocrats'

October 24th, 2014 9:25 PM

Two New York Times columnists took turns recently insulting Republican leaders as "dim bulbs" and plutocrats, while throwing around accusations of stolen democracy and race-based voter disenfranchisement. Paul Krugman claimed "the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy" because it believes "only the wealthy should have political rights," while former reporter Timothy Egan said that thanks to the Supreme Court decision Citizens United, Americans no longer have "free and fair elections."

"Plutocrats Against Democracy," Krugman's Friday column, compared a Hong Kong leader appointed by authoritarian Communist China to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

So [Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong] is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

For the political right has always been uncomfortable with democracy. No matter how well conservatives do in elections, no matter how thoroughly free-market ideology dominates discourse, there is always an undercurrent of fear that the great unwashed will vote in left-wingers who will tax the rich, hand out largess to the poor, and destroy the economy.

Krugman has been claiming for years that America is in a "new Gilded Age that tax cuts and financial deregulation have created." Krugman, the economist turned partisan Democrat, whose net worth is estimated at $2.5 million and who has an ocean-front condo on a Caribbean island, then asked: "So what’s a plutocrat to do?" (Ask the man in the mirror.)

One answer is propaganda: tell voters, often and loudly, that taxing the rich and helping the poor will cause economic disaster, while cutting taxes on “job creators” will create prosperity for all. There’s a reason conservative faith in the magic of tax cuts persists no matter how many times such prophecies fail (as is happening right now in Kansas): There’s a lavishly funded industry of think tanks and media organizations dedicated to promoting and preserving that faith.

Another answer, with a long tradition in the United States, is to make the most of racial and ethnic divisions -- government aid just goes to Those People, don’t you know. And besides, liberals are snooty elitists who hate America.

Krugman made bizarre claims about GOP attempts to fight voter fraud.

But these strategies for protecting plutocrats from the mob are indirect and imperfect. The obvious answer is Mr. Leung’s: Don’t let the bottom half, or maybe even the bottom 90 percent, vote.

And now you understand why there’s so much furor on the right over the alleged but actually almost nonexistent problem of voter fraud, and so much support for voter ID laws that make it hard for the poor and even the working class to cast ballots. American politicians don’t dare say outright that only the wealthy should have political rights -- at least not yet. But if you follow the currents of thought now prevalent on the political right to their logical conclusion, that’s where you end up.

Yet an essay by two researchers on the Washington Post's website indicates that illegal voting by non-citizens does take place, and it benefits Democrats: "Because non-citizens tended to favor Democrats (Obama won more than 80 percent of the votes of non-citizens in the 2008 CCES sample), we find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in a few close elections."

No less histrionic was liberal reporter turned left-wing columnist Timothy Egan's Thursday online column, "The Disgust Election." According to Egan, America has lost its democracy, and the Supreme Court's 2010 decision Citizens United is to blame, and swing vote Anthony Kennedy in particular, for giving "wealthy, secret donors unlimited power to manipulate American elections."

How did we lose our democracy? Slowly at first, and then all at once. This fall, voters are more disgusted, more bored and more cynical about the midterm elections than at any time in at least two decades.

It’s so bad that Senator Mitch McConnell is paying people to show up at his rallies and pretend to be excited. There should be plenty of applicants; just 29 percent of the electorate said they were “enthusiastic” about voting this year.

What’s not to hate? Start with the politicians on the ballot: a surfeit of dim-bulb partisans pledged to further gridlock. (See McConnell, future Senate majority leader.) But, beyond disdain for this singular crop of do-nothings, the revulsion is generated by a sense that average people have lost control of one of the last things that citizens should be able to control -- the election itself.

You can trace the Great Breach to Justice Kennedy’s words in the 2010 Citizens United case, which gave wealthy, secret donors unlimited power to manipulate American elections. The decision legalized large-scale bribery -- O.K., influence buying -- and ensured that we would never know exactly who was purchasing certain politicians.

Like Krugman, Egan harped on Republicans insisting that citizens have identification before casting a vote.

And it gets worse. At the same time that this court has handed over elections to people who already have enormous power, they’ve given approval to efforts to keep the powerless from voting....We Americans have long boasted of having free and fair elections. Thanks to this Supreme Court, they are neither.