Sometimes you can follow the bread crumbs through the dark forest of politics and find clues to what's really going on. Today's example is the word "disenfranchisement."
If you're disenfranchised, you have in the political context been deprived of voting, either legally or illegally (although "legal" disenfranchisement may be the result of cynical political manipulation, at least until courts rule on the matter). Historically, disenfranchisement in this country has been a condition afflicting categories of voters including racial, ethnic and economic class. Felons, too, have been disenfranchised, either in whole or part, because once a bad guy you're always a bad guy, according to some.
But now, the word has been hijacked by conservatives who are applying it not just to a narrow category or set of categories of citizens, but to Republicans in general.
Letter writers and bloggers from the political right have on numerous occasions over the past year insisted that their voting rights and even actual votes are being "disenfranchised" by the Wisconsin recall campaigns to remove Gov. Scott Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and four GOP state legislators. Never mind that recalls are enshrined in the Wisconsin Constitution as a legitimate way for citizens (including unregistered voters) to cut short the term of a highly disfavorable lawmaker, and for any reason. The mere act of trying to mount a recall is now, at least on the political right and on some conservative newspaper editorial boards, as a kind of disenfranchisement.
Logic and reason are sufficient to make obvious where this notion emanates, but now we have circumstantial evidence. Go to the recently revealed emails share among Republican legislators, their staffs and the Michael Best & Friedrich law firm that Republicans hired to gerrymander -- er, "reapportion" -- legislative districts based on the 2010 U.S. Census. In those emails, exchanged early last year, the participants to the secretive project refer on numerous occasions to the possibility that their remapping of legislative districts might "disenfranchise" some voters, including Hispanics in Milwaukee and some 300,000 voters who were moved by the remapping and thus going to miss being able to vote in an entire election cycle because of timing issues. [See URL below for more.]
Catch that? In private, state Republicans were trying to figure out if they could get away with disenfranchising a large, large group of voters, many of them inclined to support Democrats. And then, just months later, some putative rank-and-file Republicans begin spouting off in public about how the recall petition process would "disenfranchise" them.
From where did those pundits obtain that hardly colloquial term? It, wasn't from Democrats, who tend to instead argue that GOP reapportionment and Voter ID are efforts at "vote suppression." [Full disclosure: I used the term in a blog post here a month or so ago, in reaction to those pundit complaints.]
On its face, this is another case of conservative projection, as in: We're busy disenfranchising you, so obviously you are trying to disenfranchise us, and, oh by the way, we never tried to disenfranchise you. The GOP blast-fax talking points surely shared the term at some point with wingnut radio hosts and bloggers. Do I have proof of such talking points? Nope, but the proof is in the pudding.
[Special hat tip to DonkeyHotey, artist whose progressive sketches and caricatures are must-see viewing, and whose art adorns this post. See URL below for more of his work.]