Commentary Magazine


Topic: American Legislative Exchange Council

John Oliver and the Sum of All Liberal Fears: Local Government

The saddest trend among left-liberal political “comedians” is not that they have become a source of actual news for leftists who find the real world a scary place–though the influence of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and others is certainly disturbing. Far worse, however, is that instead of making those in power uncomfortable or seeking to overturn society’s taboos, they are merely working in the service of political correctness and the powerful federal government that seeks to regulate speech and, increasingly, thought. They are the opposite of subversive; they are court jesters.

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The saddest trend among left-liberal political “comedians” is not that they have become a source of actual news for leftists who find the real world a scary place–though the influence of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and others is certainly disturbing. Far worse, however, is that instead of making those in power uncomfortable or seeking to overturn society’s taboos, they are merely working in the service of political correctness and the powerful federal government that seeks to regulate speech and, increasingly, thought. They are the opposite of subversive; they are court jesters.

I’ve written about this in the past, specifically with regard to the Giacomo of American politics, Stephen Colbert, who will be taking his palace service to David Letterman’s soon-to-be-former perch at CBS. It’s not that Colbert’s succession there will change anything material; the point is that it won’t. But Colbert’s talent and creativity is undeniable, to me at least, and I think that’s something of a saving grace among many conservatives who will still watch him entertain the king or queen. The same cannot be said for another Daily Show alumnus, John Oliver, who now has his own show making fun of the news (read: flattering the political leanings of his audience), mostly by yelling at the screen.

Despite that, Oliver has his fans on the left, who don’t seem to notice Oliver’s, shall we say, resplendent ignorance on some of the topics he covers. But in a recent episode, Oliver revealed just how frightening the idea of American participatory democracy is to the left.

The segment was on state legislatures, and how elections for those are crucial yet overshadowed by the congressional midterms. He opened the segment with about five minutes of clips of state and local legislators doing and saying absurd things, to lay the groundwork for the argument at the center of his show: the danger of self-rule of those who don’t think like Oliver. After showing the clips, Oliver said the following:

Look, state legislatures are hilarious. There’s only one problem: increasingly, they are the places where most legislation is actually taking place.

That is a pretty succinct sum of all liberal fears. The people are hilarious–as long as they have no power. Democrats tend to feel this way about Congress too, not just local governments. But Oliver and his ilk don’t fear Congress the same way. That’s because, he continued:

So far this session, Congress has passed just 185 laws. State legislatures have passed more than 24,000.

Just 185 laws? How many new laws should the United States Congress enact per session? In any event, Oliver goes on to castigate the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a favorite bogeyman for the conspiratorial fringe of the left, which connects issue-based NGOs and private-sector groups with legislators. The left has sought to demonize and blacklist such groups, the way they have with regard to much political speech and action.

Oliver’s conspiratorial authoritarianism is perfectly calibrated to the American left today, which helps explain his success. But liberals are also allowed to participate in local government, so what scares them so much about the building blocks of participatory democracy? Via Dave Weigel, we get the answer:

Remember the number: 69. That’s how many state legislative bodies Republicans are trying to win this year, out of 99, up from the 60 they control right now. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature, composed entirely of senators, a bit like Rome but with fewer coups.) That would give them a “state legislature supermajority,” and allow them to push through the sort of policy reforms that will be quickly gummed up in a Washington that—let’s be honest—will spend six or seven months passing bills before everyone gets excited about 2016.

“We’re on offense this year,” says Jill Bader, a spokeswoman for the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee. “We’re confident in the path not just to a supermajority, but in a more diverse group of elected Republicans.”

The RLSC groups this year’s elections in a couple of tiers. The first tier is composed of New Hampshire‘s House of Representatives, where Republicans lead the generic ballot and have been closing the gap in statewide races; Colorado‘s Senate, which was reduced to a one-seat Democratic majority by pro-gun 2013 recall campaigns against Democrats; Iowa‘s Senate, which Republicans can win with one more seat; Nevada‘s Senate, where Democrats hold a one-seat majority in a year that turnout has been suffering; West Virginia‘s House, where an easy win for the GOP’s Senate candidate may elect the four Republicans needed for a swing; and New Mexico‘s house, where Republicans need three gains, and expect to benefit from a strong win for Gov. Susana Martinez.

Well that explains it. Republicans are having a good year, and are–unlike the Democratic Party–not pretending that the president is an elected king and thus the only office that truly matters. Of course, Democrats are pursuing congressional seats as well. But that’s to block Republicans’ ability to check President Obama’s power. When Democrats held the majority in both houses of Congress in Obama’s first term, they used it to simply increase Obama’s power. Congress, for Democrats, is really about the presidency.

What about the local level? That’s where Americans can influence the way their communities are governed. Thus, the whole idea of local governance is terrifying. John Oliver has exposed a massive conspiracy at the heart of the American project: here, the people rule. And he can’t believe no one’s doing anything about it.

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Poll Shows Americans Support Photo ID Voting Requirement

Americans support a photo ID voting requirement, and by a pretty definitive margin, according to a Rasmussen poll out today. While liberals have downplayed the impact of voter fraud and warned that photo ID requirements will disenfranchise minority voters, 73 percent of the voting public says that these laws are not discriminatory:

Despite his insistence that voter fraud is not a serious problem, Attorney General Eric Holder was embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of someone illegally obtaining a ballot to vote under Holder’s name in his home precinct in Washington, D.C. Most voters consider voter fraud a problem in America today and continue to overwhelmingly support laws requiring people to show photo identification before being allowed to vote.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 64 percent of Likely U.S. Voters rate voter fraud at least a somewhat serious problem in the United States today, and just 24 percent disagree. This includes 35 percent who consider it a Very Serious problem and seven percent who view it as Not At All Serious. Twelve percent are undecided.

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Americans support a photo ID voting requirement, and by a pretty definitive margin, according to a Rasmussen poll out today. While liberals have downplayed the impact of voter fraud and warned that photo ID requirements will disenfranchise minority voters, 73 percent of the voting public says that these laws are not discriminatory:

Despite his insistence that voter fraud is not a serious problem, Attorney General Eric Holder was embarrassed last week when a video surfaced of someone illegally obtaining a ballot to vote under Holder’s name in his home precinct in Washington, D.C. Most voters consider voter fraud a problem in America today and continue to overwhelmingly support laws requiring people to show photo identification before being allowed to vote.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 64 percent of Likely U.S. Voters rate voter fraud at least a somewhat serious problem in the United States today, and just 24 percent disagree. This includes 35 percent who consider it a Very Serious problem and seven percent who view it as Not At All Serious. Twelve percent are undecided.

It’s not a surprise the public is supportive of these laws, as photo IDs are already required for so many day-to-day activities that it seems odd they aren’t already necessary for voting. Progressive activists must sense they’re facing an upward battle to convince Americans that photo ID laws are discriminatory, since they’re now redirecting their attention to convincing corporations. They’re pressuring companies to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, which supports voter photo ID laws. And the campaign has been fairly successful so far:

Some of America’s best known brands are dropping their membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council at least partly in response to controversy over the group’s backing of voter ID laws. Coca-Cola quit on April 4 and Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Intuit, McDonald’s and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation followed them out after a coalition of left-wing groups launched pressure campaigns. Nine states have passed strict voter ID requirements just since 2011, which opponents say could result in millions being unable to cast ballots in November.

Polls like the Rasmussen one today debunk the idea there’s a vast public groundswell opposed to voter photo ID requirements, but unfortunately, committed groups of noisy activists can still make private companies uncomfortable associating themselves with these laws. At the moment, there isn’t really a comparably-organized counter-movement of voter ID law supporters to push back, but one appears to be in the works. Dave Weigel reports:

The conference will feature some mainstays of the conservative voter integrity circuit. James O’Keefe; former DOJ lawyer/anti-New Black Panther crusader J. Christian Adams; and so on. But the star is Artur Davis, the former Democratic congressman from Alabama who has started irritating his old party by ringing bells about voter fraud.

Artur Davis’s involvement is pretty significant, at least in terms of drawing attention to the campaign. A group of conservatives arguing in favor of voter ID laws is predictable, but Davis can provide a much more persuasive counter-argument as a Democrat and progressive.

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