Conservatives and democracy: a tenuous relationship

How 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, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as voting populace goes down.

—Paul Weyrich
I like to call this statement by Paul Weyrich the Rosetta Stone of the modern conservative movement's attitude towards democracy.  In a few words it encapsulates its world view:  democracy is fine, as long as the right people vote, and the wrong people are either discouraged from voting or prohibited from doing so.

This strategy was borne out in 2010:  it was a normal, mid-term election, in which 50 million fewer people voted than in 2008.  The Obama voters, for a myriad of reasons, stayed home, and the people who vote every time, at every election—overwhelmingly white, middle-aged to elderly, and conservative or conservative-leaning—came out and handed the House back to the GOP.  The elections of 2008 were a horror for conservatives, as new voters flocked to the polls.  The wrong kind of voters.  The 2010 contest was more to their liking, where those new voters fraudulently registered by ACORN and protected by Black Panthers thugs were discouraged to come out, and they had the arena mostly to themselves.

And, of course, after the 2010 elections ceded control of governors' mansions and statehouses to the most right-wing crop of Republicans ever to take power, laws started getting passed that made it more difficult for natural Democratic constituencies to register to vote.  I'm not of the opinion that these new laws make it impossible to vote; it will require much more work to get Democratic voters registered and to the polls. But there is no denying that these laws are aimed at core Democratic groups, and will affect them disproportionately when compared to GOP voters.  They're not the poll taxes or literacy tests of old—thanks to the work done in the 60's—but the message is clear:  if you're not the "right" sort of voter, we'll make it more difficult for you to engage, so just stay home and let your betters handle things.

Thus, the conservative view of a broad, participatory republic is gimlet-eyed at best, a sharp, skeptical position towards the salutary benefits of a general franchise.  But, is the GOP any better with its own, internal democracy?

It's no secret that things aren't going well for the putative front-runner, Mitt Romney.  He's found it impossible to put away the nomination, because the heart of the matter is that no one likes him and no one trusts him.  He has more money than any of the other candidates, but money can't buy enthusiasm.  Money won't drive the hard-core voters of GOP primaries to vote for you.  Money will give you an edge, but it won't close the deal.  The fact that he's behind in one of his "home" states of Michigan is indicative of the loathing with which he's viewed by a significant portion—indeed, by the majority, as he hasn't broken past 50% in any contest this winter.  The Koch Bros. and Karl Rove can funnel as much money as they want in 3rd party advertising towards the Romney campaign; if that money doesn't translate into votes and delegates, it will be one of the most colossal wastes of spending in American political history.

So, Mitt has problems.  But the issue runs deeper.  President Obama's numbers—almost as if on cue—are starting to rise and strengthen.  He demolishes every GOP candidate in a one-to-one match-up.  Even the "most electable" Romney is losing traction at an alarming rate, if the Rasmussen tracking poll is to be believed.  Thus, the GOP is facing a double quandry:  no one will have enough delegates going into the convention to win the nomination outright, and all the existing candidates fare so badly against Obama that the party is looking at a defeat of near-historic proportions.

Now we hear rumors, with all these problems, of a "brokered" convention, of a "savior" parachuting in at the last moment and pipping the nomination.  Karl Rove, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, tried to throw cold water on any talk of such a scenario.  But Mr. Rove doesn't have the influence he once had.  (This is partly due to his former boss, who didn't groom anyone to carry the GOP mantle once his time in office was done, leading to the rise of the Tea Party and the general confusion that rules the GOP now.)  Polling shows that Republican voters are unhappy with the candidates on offer.  They know they're damaged goods, and that they spell a great disaster for Republican electoral prospects across the board in November.

But, how is a brokered convention, with someone new brought in, democracy?  People have voted.  More people will vote.  They've made their preferences known.  Horse trading so that one of the existing candidates can claim enough delegates to win the nomination is one thing; that's what conventions used to be.  But having the party elders drop in a white knight, overriding the will of the GOP primary voters, all in an effort to prevent a complete shellacking, would be another bit of evidence that, at heart, the leaders of the conservative movement, and their political wing in the GOP leadership, see democracy as a mere formality, a pro forma nicety that can be overridden if the desired result isn't achieved.  Even the "right" kind of voters wouldn't be "right" enough.

Which begs the question:  if we have all this evidence of the conservative movement's tenuous belief in democracy, why should the country at large, which is generally opposed to conservative ideology, ever think of giving power to it?  This is not a party or movement that has the best interests of the majority of citizens at heart.  It doesn't even have the best interests of its own foot soldiers at heart.  It's a movement that has no other purpose than to gain and exercise power in pursuit of enhancing its own economic prerogatives.  It's a pathology, not a political ideology.  And that will be its downfall.