In 2004, Arnold Schwarzenegger gave a rousing speech at the Republican National Convention. During his remarks, he made the controversial but hilarious comparison between conservatives, who he said believed in personal responsibility, limited government and individualism, and the Democratic “girly men” who opposed those things.
He was playing on the ancient right-wing stereotype of our politics: that Republicans are the nation’s source of testosterone, the masculine types who build businesses, fight our wars and make tough decisions; while Democrats just sit around like sissies waiting for the government to take care of them.
Yet how does one go about squaring this framing with the right’s ongoing voter suppression effort, which is surely one of the wimpiest initiatives in modern times? Typically when politicians lose an election, we expect them to reflect, pick themselves up by their bootstraps and do better in the future through good policies, well-run campaigns and hard work.
The Republican Party, after losing in 2020, has decided to take a much different approach, and is trying to win back power by making it harder to participate in democracy.
The motivation behind this effort is simple. The right is convinced that Democrats were victorious because of massive voter turnout, which was facilitated by new policies implemented during the pandemic, such as universal-mail in balloting. Leading GOP figures like Sen. Lindsey Graham have warned ominously that if these changes aren’t reversed, “We’re going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”
Of course it’s not a crime for the public to participate vigorously in elections — rather it’s evidence our civic life is strong and should be celebrated. However, conservatives are seeking to win back power by any means necessary. They believe high turnout is a threat to that objective and therefore want to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
According to a Washington Post analysis, GOP state legislatures have introduced more than 250 measures this year designed to erect new barriers to voting. These bills are centered around limiting “mail, early in-person and Election Day voting with such constraints as stricter ID requirements, limited hours or narrower eligibility to vote absentee,” and as a whole, amount to the largest attack on ballot access in over a century.
Republicans have tried to disguise this effort as a good faith attempt to root out the ever-present voter fraud threatening our democracy. Which is of course malarkey, since no evidence exists that fraud is an actual problem, let alone one that requires piles of new legislation.
The Heritage Foundation investigated this subject exhaustively, looking at elections dating back four decades. Their conclusion: Out of nearly 2 billion votes cast during that time period, there were just 1,285 cases of fraud. That’s a rate of .0000007%. In other words, getting struck by lightning is a far more common problem.
Of course the GOP, being a clever organization, will never tell you these facts. Party leaders cannot say aloud the real motivation behind their actions: suppressing votes for partisan gain. It’s just the way of things. When human beings engage in corruption, they rarely have the courage to admit it. In order to keep up appearances, sins must be camouflaged and obscured, lest they inspire outrage from the community.
It all makes conservatives look so weak, like they are too scared to fight fair and win on their merits with better policies. These new measures don’t send a message of strength and toughness to everyday Americans. Instead, they reek of insecurity, and a cheater’s mentality that seeks winning at all costs.
An essential principle of manhood is the idea of fighting fair. More specifically, when you lose in life, whether in an election or some other competitive endeavor, you’re supposed to congratulate the other guy, learn from where you failed and try again. That’s what it means to be tough and honorable, as our fathers and grandfathers were. The GOP has disregarded that ethic and instead is responding to defeat by trying to corruptly suppress votes.
Parents would never tolerate such misbehavior from their kids. If you see your son lose a basketball game, and in response he tries to win the next one by putting holes in the other team’s sneakers, how are you going to respond? With shock and horror, of course, and Americans should feel no different when analyzing the modern conservative movement.
If history teaches us anything, it’s that those who fear the voice of the people are never on the side of the angels. The party of “manliness” now acts like the kind of craven, self-interested villains that John Wayne used to bring to justice in his movies. What a sad state of affairs for our country.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays and rotates among local Democrats.