Friday, January 25, 2013

History repeats itself

Changing demographics has the Republican Party scrambling to hold on to power in the states and to regain a chance to win the presidency (even if they don't win the popular vote). But, instead of putting forth new ideas with broad appeal Republicans across the nation are pushing various schemes to rig election rules in their favor. If this sounds like trying to deny the will of the people, you are absolutely right. If it sounds like something new in American politics, you are dead wrong.

Voter ID laws designed to limit citizen participation have been and are still being proposed in state after state including the commonwealth. Not satisfied with gerrymandering just every ten years, the GOP members of the Virginia Senate are pushing a ultra-partisan redistricting plan they hope will pump up the number of Republican leaning districts giving them an electoral advantage. And across the country, but most especially in "presidential blue states" where Republicans control the legislatures, they are advocating for changes in how electors are chosen.

When parties fall out of step with the will of people, desperation sets in as politicians try to hold on to power. As is happening today with Republicans, it also happened in the late 1790s and early 1800s as Federalists felt power slipping through their fingers. James Madison words to Thomas Jefferson about Federalists could just as well be written about today's GOP: "The horrors which they evidently feel at the approach of the electoral epoch are a sufficient warning of the desperate game by which they will be apt to characterize the interval."

Jefferson was fully aware of the Federalist's strategy, writing to his daughter, Patsy: "Our opponents perceive the decay of their power. Still they are pressing it, and trying to pass laws to keep themselves in power."

The influential New York Federalist, Alexander Hamilton, devised a plan to get Governor John Jay to change election laws to deny the will of the people in the selection of presidential electors. Hamilton implored Jay: "In times like this in which we live, it will not do to be over-scrupulous."

Flashing forward to today's Republican acts of desperation, it at least fair to point out that some in the party are urging a focus on issues of the American people rather than a strategy of rigging the political game. Even Governor Bob McDonnell and Lt. Governor Bill Bolling are urging the Senate to back off on the redistricting. Perhaps they hear the echo of John Jay's words in response to Hamilton's ploy: "Proposing a measure for party purposes, which I think it would not become me to adopt." Or perhaps they are recalling the fate of the Federalist Party which, although it left a lasting imprint on the young nation, was nearly extinct by the 1820s.

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