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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Conservative claims of vote fraud have just become vastly more sinister. Activists have committed criminal vote fraud to “prove it’s possible.” The next logical step will be to commit fraud, blame Dems and use the fraud to try and overturn elections.

This item by James Vega was originally published on January 15, 2012.
Last weeks’ story — reported in Huffpo and elsewhere — about a group of James O’Keefe’s confederates who attempted to vote in the New Hampshire primary using falsified ID’s “in order to prove voter fraud is possible” has not gotten the attention it deserves.
In principle, the perpetrators’ actions are no different than walking into a church and robbing the minister at gunpoint (while covertly filming the crime) in order to “prove” the need for metal detectors in church doorways.
As it happens, the perpetrators in O’Keefe’s criminal conspiracy didn’t even get away with it. A poll watcher recognized one of them as using a false ID and alerted the authorities. The debate is now whether O’Keefe’s criminal “perps” should be prosecuted for committing a serious crime that carries a jail sentence.
But the deeper issue that has not gotten any attention yet is the profound moral red line that the O’Keefe gang has now crossed. To understand it, one just has to look back at the past.
The history of political extremism in the 20th century offers a vast number of examples of actions by groups traditionally called “provocateurs” – extremists who pretended to be members of some opposite group and then committed crimes in their name in order to discredit them. In American history the most extensive use of this tactic was by anti-union forces in the 1930’s who infiltrated union demonstrations and then attacked police or bystanders in order to provoke a violent clash and police crackdown on the demonstrators. Another example were covert payments by segregationists to Black teenagers to throw rocks and bottles during some civil rights demonstrations.
The inescapable fact is that the moment that any group decides it has the moral right to commit covert illegal acts in order to “prove they are possible,” it then becomes morally reasonable and even obligatory to take the next step and commit illegal acts while pretending to be members of some other group because “our opponents are going to do it anyway; we’re just exposing the real truth about what they are going to do.”
Just consider how small a step it would have been for the O’Keefe gang to have used African-American or Latino fraudsters and then release the video as proof that actual voter fraud had occurred, rather than as proof that fraud is technically possible. Even if the video at some point identified the fraudsters as actually working for a conservative group, once the video began to circulate on the internet, the distinction between “staged” voter fraud and “actual” voter fraud would be completely lost.
In fact, this is already happening with the video filmed by the O’Keefe gang. On many conservative sites the video is being presented as documentation of actual voter fraud not “staged” voter fraud. Before long, tens of thousands of people will be passionately citing this video as “smoking-gun proof” that actual voter fraud is occuring.
(O’Keefe has deliberatied encouraged this kind of confusion about his videos and has also directly falsified them in the past. Images of the famous “pimp suit” he claimed to have worn during covert taped interviews with members of ACORN were actually edited into his videos after the fact, dramatically altering the viewers impression of what the people being interviewed were seeing. Any moral line between adding phony pimp suits to a video after the fact and hiring African-Americans or Latinos to act as fraudsters is quite literally impossible for normally honest people to distinguish).
Right-wing “provocateur” actions of even greater malevolence are already being committed in the Wisconsin recall campaign. Opponents of the campaign to recall Governor Scott Walker are openly boasting on conservative websites of misrepresenting themselves as petition gatherers for the recall and throwing out the signatures they collect or of providing misleading information to people who wish to sign. Other opponents brag that they have deliberately signed petitions with false names in order to invalidate the petitions and the recall process in general.
There is no reason to mince words: these are nothing less than right-wing extremist attacks on American democracy itself. The perpetrators can be called with perfect justice both “subversives” and “un-American.” Democrats should not only demand that they be punished to the maximum extent of the law but that conservatives and Republicans should publically denounce these acts and join in the demand for forceful prosecution. Anything less on their part will represent a shameful wink of tacit approval and repugnant evidence of moral complicity.

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