Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Tancredo's Civics Test for Voters

Vanessa, a black conservative blogger, wrote a strong reaction to Tom Tancredo's apparent call for a "civics test" for voters in his opening speech at the Tea Party last weekend. Given this country's history with the Jim Crow laws, I understand her reaction - while at the same time remembering that it was Democrats by and large who passed and staunchly defended such laws.

While I think Tancredo is something of a political opportunist and that he was saying stuff to appeal to the jingoist elements of the tea party movement (and thereby earn himself some gratifying applause), at the same time, to be fair, he wasn't quite proposing a return to Jim Crow laws. Jim Crow was about organized financial and racial voter discrimination, not about discrimination based on understanding of how our government works. Ironically, Jim Crow depended on ignorance of the constitution for its long life in the South. Voter laws have historically been discriminatory to the poor, uneducated and to people who are of a certain race or who are "foreign".

I think Tancredo meant to point out that the Democrats focused their appeals for support toward uneducated and illiterate people and did a con-job on them and he is right. The Democrat message is not intellectual but a "feel good" message against which no amount of reason can prevail with folks who cannot because of language barriers or intellect or cultural bias, respond to reason. They don't know where the money is going to come from, but they are certain Obama has a "stash" of it somewhere because they trust him and no amount of logic will ever convince them their feelings are wrong on that.  Unless we can find a more powerful emotional argument, we are, in effect, trying to play a phonograph record with an I-pod.  It ain't gonna work!

It is important that we teach civic responsibility to our kids and we do a miserable job of it. Because we do, we have a very real problem, in that, a quite large segment on both the right and left respond only to gut level emotional appeals. They avoid what does not appeal to their emotions. Besides living by your emotion's is easier than living by your wits. Tancredo's sin is using the Democrat's emotionally based tactics to appeal to our own right wing kook fringe for quick applause.

We really need to do emotional appeals, don't get me wrong.  Without a powerful emotional element, we cannot reach half the voters in America who live primarily by their unexamined emotional beliefs. BUT lets make our appeals based on emotions like pride in country, love of freedom or fear of tyranny and NOT on fear of foreigners or of people not of our color or religion or culture.

I don't think Tancredo was really proposing intellectual Jim Crow laws. I think he was pointing out that a lot of Obama voter's weren't really thinking about what they were doing, just voting emotionally.  Also, he was flattering the audience that, of course, we all know you Tea-Party folks are smarter than those stupid Obama voters. Tancredo was right that much of Obama's support came from the emotional and ignorant, but in appealing to that visceral element of the movement that fears "furriners" he is repeating the very process by which such outlandish laws get written in a moment of high collective emotion.

Don't take Tancredo's awkward attempt to get a big cheer from the kook fringe as evidence that the Tea Party is a bunch of nuts.  The Tea Party is new. As it grows it will adopt leaders who reflect its values and slough off ones who discredit the movement. There are too many people who do think and who did study civics in this movement and they are from all races, creeds, religions and social levels. What they share is a deep love of freedom and the collective intelligence to see what the President and Congress are up to.

Think of a self-cleaning oven. That's pretty much what the Tea Party is and will be - right up until we "organize", then some political interest will try to take it over in order to co-opt the movement to protect their own wealth or political power or social position and then we'll have to start over.

But's that's another blog for another day.

I'm just sayin'


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