FROM THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT: Enough with "disenfranchisement," already | WisCommunity

FROM THE ENGLISH DEPARTMENT: Enough with "disenfranchisement," already

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.' -- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass

Good day, class. Today we're discussing the Republican penchant for rearranging the English language to suit its rhetorical needs. Lately that practice has been getting out of hand, what with "death panels" and "food stamp presidents" and worse. But the eye-opening Republicanese of the moment is the intentional misuse of the word "disenfranchisement."

[img_assist|nid=129754|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=125|height=137]This is as when bloggers and numerous letter writers to newspapers -- echoing blast-fax GOP talking points and wingnut talk radio -- claim their vote is being taken away illegally because of the recall process. For instance, Mr. Chris Bryan of Wauwatosa recently wrote the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and complained: "I helped vote Walker into office, and now my vote is being canceled and made meaningless outside of the normal election process."

Welcome to the old normal, Mr. Bryan. Because, while rarely used, recalls aren't some brand new tactic that is beyond the pale. Nor are recall elections voter disenfranchisement (or, if you prefer a simpler variation of the word, disfranchisement). And neither are they, as many of the letter writers claim, anti-democratic. Recalls are in fact so democratic that they're enshrined in the Wisconsin constitution -- and have long been permitted by 18 other states, as well.

And no, even though some of our fellow citizens on the right remain convinced to the contrary, recalls aren't intended just to remove officeholders accused or convicted of crimes and other misdeeds. There's a legal system available to look after that, and there is also a separate impeachment provision in the Wisconsin constitution that doesn't even require the consent of voters at large (talk about your disenfranchisement!). Recalls, in fact, can be attempted for any unspecified reason that motivates a sufficient group of voters. And Republicans who have tried recalls of their own used to claim to know that.

What actually constitutes disenfranchisement? Well, it may occur explicitly through law, as when states decided to create poll taxes, or voter ID laws that suppress voting rights, or as when they decide that anyone convicted of a felony can't vote, even if that citizen completed his or her sentence or probation. Or, a voter can be disenfranchised implicitly by intimidation or misdirection, as has happened in recent years with misleading and threatening robocalls, scary guys or cops standing outside polling places, and the like.

On the other hand, recalls don't disenfranchise voters; after all, your vote always counts if it is legally cast. And guess what, in a successful recall election, you'll get another bonus vote!

But here's the thing, class: No vote lasts forever, nor is there any guarantee a person you help vote into office will remain there for his or her full term. That's could happen due to any number of circumstances. For instance, there was a long time in Wisconsin when governors were only elected to two-year terms. Did that mean that voters of that era were disenfranchised because later votes for governor counted for four years? Nope. If a lawmaker resigns before his term ends or dies in office, does that mean your vote is disenfranchised? Nope.

Conservatives have this increasingly odd perception that they are the natural rulers of the American republic, and thus are always entitled to the mantle of power. When they abuse that power, citizens and the legal justice system have every right to consider remedies available under the law. Recall is one of them. Walker should consider himself lucky to face a recall, instead of an impeachment or a criminal indictment. On the other hand, he could just disenfranchise himself by resigning and saving us the trouble of recalling him.

So, moan all you like about the unfairness of it all. We get it: You love Scott Walker and want him to be governor forever. But stop acting like recalls are some gross injustice. I do suppose that if Republicans get really crazed, they might try to get their conservative majority on the state Supreme Court to pull a Bush v. Gore and simply declare recalls unconstitutional, even though they're part of the constitution. But then we'd have to vote out, or recall, or impeach the justices who voted that way.

And, finally, be glad you don't live in a country with a parliamentary form of government, like Britain. There, in addition to scheduled elections, the ruling party can call an unscheduled election whenever it chooses, and sometimes it is forced to choose by a crisis of confidence in leadership. That's what I call real democracy: Highly responsive, with no waiting around while the political paint dries.

Hat tip to Democurmudgeon for the Humpty image

Published

January 31, 2012 - 12:58pm

Author