Wake up, folks: the campaign against democracy continues

Opinion: Columns

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Bill Dwyer

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In a speech 40 years ago to a group of conservative preachers, Heritage Foundation founder Paul Weyrich said, "Now many of our Christians have what I call the 'goo-goo syndrome.' Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don't want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now.

"As a matter of fact," he continued, "our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

Weyrich's idea continues to animate the GOP today. In dismissing a Democratic push for reforms, including vote-by-mail, same-day registration, and early voting to assist state-run elections in the midst of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, Donald Trump opined, "They had things, levels of voting that if you'd ever agreed to it, you'd never have a Republican elected in this country again."

Starting with Nixon's "Southern Strategy" in 1968, through Weyrich's candid acknowledgement in 1980, to Donald Trump's numerous rants, the GOP has consistently stood against reasonable voter registration laws and fair and equitable access to the polls — because they know they lose in a battle ideas.

What was that about believing someone when they tell you who they are? Republicans have been telling us who they are for half a century. Weyrich is gone, but his Heritage Foundation and voter suppression efforts endure. The GOP continues to do everything they can to keep Democratic turnout as low as possible.

Republicans have also consistently shown they have no respect for the very concept of governance. Weyrich called good governance "goo-goo." Ronald Reagan said government is "not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." Anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist said his goal was to starve government until it was so small he could "drown it in the bathtub."

You don't work with people like that. You work to defeat them. Or you lose. It's just that simple. We don't have to demonize Republicans, but we certainly can't trust them either.

Former George W. Bush speech writer David Frum doesn't trust his old Republican colleagues. In his 2018 book, The Corruption of the American Republic, Frum writes, "If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy."

When Stacey Abrams lost the Georgia governor's office after a 2018 election that saw blatant voter suppression by GOP officials, she channeled her outrage into a tireless campaign to recruit and organize voters. In less than two years, she altered the Georgia electoral landscape by registering 800,000 new voters and mounting a massively effective get-out-the-vote campaign.

That's the path forward to a government that serves all the people. 

Illinois Democrats are far from perfect. I personally disagree with some of their policies, and I do not support the corruption Michael Madigan has engendered during his 40-plus-year reign over the Illinois House. I have also criticized the lack of ethics and outright cronyism of state Rep. Emanuel Welch, who was appointed to oversee the Illinois House's investigation into allegations against Madigan.

But Illinois Democrats at heart believe in small "d" democracy and in government's ability to "promote the general welfare," to be there for people in times of crisis when individuals are overwhelmed by circumstances, as so very many are now. 

Trump Republicans, to paraphrase Norquist, seek a democracy so limited at the state and national levels that it can collectively be "drowned in a bathtub."

Most former Republicans support democratic values, if not all Democratic policies. Frum writes, "The stability of American society depends on conservatives' ability to find a way forward from the Trump dead-end, toward a conservatism that cannot only win elections but also govern responsibly, a conservatism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible."

In other words, working to utilize the power of government for the common good, not "drown it in the bathtub" for the exclusive benefit of the privileged few.

And both Democrats and democrats need to keep turning out to vote until that happens.

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