is “voter fraud” a new political buzzword in the rightwing blogosphere?

WELCOME TO SIDE 4. Follow in your book and re­peat after me as we learn three new terms in Turkish: ‘buzz­word,’ ‘voter fraud,’ and ‘viral news story.’ Ex­cel­lent! Now, be­fore we go any fur­ther in the book, I have here a bit of back­ground on two topics: voter-fraud and pop­ular Amer­ican po­lit­ical buzz-words.

Then we will stroll through a day in the life of a viral ‘news story’ (the quote marks should tell you that they’re not re­ally sto­ries with fac­tual news) as it wends its way through the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere and finds its way into the wel­coming em­brace of FoxNews and maybe even to the bosom of corporate/mainstream media. 1

A buzz­word is a word or a phrase that means some­thing other than what it seems. In this way, it is a form of irony. Buzz­words are used in all walks of life as a means to reach a tar­geted au­di­ence who un­der­stands that the words have mul­tiple mean­ings, some of the nudge-nudge, wink-wink variety.

Here we will con­cern our­selves solely with their use as po­lit­ical jargon. 2

 

This 1938 car­toon is by John Mitchell Jr. The man sym­bol­izes the local au­thor­i­ty’s lack of com­mit­ment to bet­tering the sit­u­a­tion. The scroll rep­re­sents the Fed­eral Anti-Lynching Bill that was passed in 1922 with little en­force­ment. (Landon Burkhart)

States rights

Simply, the pur­pose of a po­lit­ical buzz­word is to pass off so­cially un­ac­cept­able con­cepts in a so­cially ac­cept­able manner. For ex­ample, a much-used term of the past fifty years with which every lit­erate Amer­ican should be fa­miliar is states’ rights.

On its face, states’ rights means keeping as much power in each in­di­vidual state as pos­sible and keeping the fed­eral gov­ern­ment from in­ter­fering in state and even local af­fairs. It means as­suring that the fed­eral (cen­tral­ized) gov­ern­ment re­spects the rights of states’ (de­cen­tral­ized) gov­ern­ment to see to their in­di­vidual af­fairs as they see fit.

Politi­cians who use the term states’ rights often link it to the Tenth Amend­ment, which is an­other story for an­other time. 3

Which seems em­i­nently reasonable.

But be­neath the sur­face, states rights is gen­er­ally un­der­stood to mean anti-black and even white su­premacy—a con­cept that is so­cially and per­son­ally un­ac­cept­able to the over­whelming ma­jority of Americans.

 

Car­toon by Stuart Carlson of The Mil­waukee Journal Sentinel.

Right to work and welfare queens

An­other fa­miliar term is right-to-work—and who doesn’t want the right to work where and when he pleases?!!? But that’s not all it means: as a buzz­word al­most everyone un­der­stands that right-to-work means a state that is Rep*blican-dominated and ac­tively anti-union/anti-labor (anti-poor) and just as ac­tively pro-owner/pro-management (pre-wealthy).

A par­tic­u­larly foul po­lit­ical buzz­word is Wel­fare queen, now for­ever linked to Pres­i­dent Ronald “No More Mr Nice Guy” Reagan. It is a pe­jo­ra­tive term used in the U.S. to refer to women who al­legedly col­lect ex­ces­sive wel­fare pay­ments through fraud or manipulation.

Or in the minds of many white folk, by having as many ba­bies as pos­sible with no re­gard for how many fa­thers it takes.

Note that while the two words Wel­fare queen do not imply race; they simply refer to a fe­male on Wel­fare. Yet everyone knew that Reagan was re­fer­ring to black women living in cities, not white women living in the sub­urbs. 4

Note that in here the United States, po­lit­ical buzz­words are far more often em­ployed by the right-of-center than those on the other side. (You wanna guess why?) 5

 

For "Buzzword" this i a picture of Barbara Ehrenreich's book NICKEL AND DIMED.

Bar­bara Ehren­reich went un­der­cover to in­ves­ti­gate the im­pact of the 1996 wel­fare re­form act on the working poor in the United States. Her find­ings stand in con­trast to the rant­ings of rightwingnuts who claim that women on wel­fare live like queens.

“Voter fraud” as a buzzword

The term voter fraud is bandied about the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere so fla­grantly that it is al­most meaningless—at least to a non-rightward-leaning ob­server. When it is used in­cor­rectly, it is usu­ally out of ig­no­rance or ma­li­cious­ness. It varies from web­site to web­site and is al­most im­pos­sible to dif­fer­en­tiate without di­rectly in­quiring of the writer.

Conservative-leaning readers who don’t take the time to re­search voter fraud be­lieve that any im­pro­priety in­volving the casting of bal­lots or the counting of bal­lots is a case of fraud.

Not so!

Project Vote, a non­profit working on voter reg­is­tra­tion, de­fines voter fraud as the in­ten­tional cor­rup­tion of the elec­toral process by the voter. It’s when a voter know­ingly blows off the Amer­ican prin­ciple of one person-one vote in an ef­fort to in­flu­ence an election.

You’ve heard the fears: people will vote using a fake iden­tity, vote more than once, sell their votes, or vote when they’re ac­tu­ally in­el­i­gible. Voter mis­takes, how­ever, are not fraud. Even bad judg­ment and pranks aren’t fraud if they aren’t part of an ef­fort to sway the vote.” 6

For all in­tents and pur­poses (an idiom I love, even if it’s re­dun­dant), voter fraud in the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere means “them there li­brulls are cheating again.” Yet every re­li­able in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the issue finds that the in­stances of voter fraud in na­tional elec­tions in the US is so minuscule—less than one-half of one per­cent (>.5%)—as to be ef­fec­tively non-existent!

 

This is the rare first issue of Hate Radio comics! This issue was hur­ried into print in 1994 when the Re­pub­lican Party won con­trol of Con­gress and the freshman Re­pub­lican class awarded Rush Lim­baugh an hon­orary mem­ber­ship in their caucus. Due to the haste, nei­ther a price nor a date was printed on the cover. As both a first issue and an “origin issue,” it is prized among col­lec­tors of misog­y­nist comics. 7

Those incredible viral “new stories”

Buzz­words are ubiq­ui­tous on the world­wide web, but since they rarely em­anate from a pow­erful source, their im­pact is neg­li­gent. But the in­ternet has proven a blessing (a fa­cil­i­tator?) to orig­i­na­tors of jokes, hoaxes, and out­right (and often ma­li­cious) lies. Many of the latter are po­lit­ical, and most of them ap­pear to orig­i­nate in an al­ter­na­tive uni­verse that makes Bizarro World look normal: the rightwingnut blogosphere.

Made up of Grom­mett only knows how many per­sonal blogs, the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere is a self-contained uni­verse where ru­mors, in­nu­endo, gossip, and plain old-fashioned lies are ac­cepted with arms open and frontal lobes on vacation.

As long as they are anti-Democrat or anti-liberal!

Many of these bits of mis­in­for­ma­tion are easily dis­proven with a few min­utes worth of re­search, some so patently un­be­liev­able that looking them up isn’t even required!

All of them are will­ingly dis­sem­i­nated from one blog to the next, hope­fully to find a spot on FoxNews.

 

For "Buzzword" this is a very old poster warning against spreading tuberculosis.

They spread like infectious diseases

The word viral orig­i­nated with in­fec­tious dis­eases caused by viruses, but now also means a mes­sage, image, meme, etc.—hell, even an oc­ca­sional fact!—that is cir­cu­lated rapidly and widely on the in­ternet. This in­cludes email. These viral, meme-like sto­ries are often cir­cu­lated as ‘news’ without any fact-checking, as they re­flect the per­sua­sions (often hate) of the person passing them along.

While viral ‘news sto­ries’ of sus­pect origin can be found all over the in­ternet, they are so com­mon­place in the rightwingnut bl­o­gos­phere that they can ap­pear to be the sole raison d’etre of its ex­is­tence. Here’s how it works:

1. Some ob­scure blogger posts a story/rumor (say, some­thing about Hillary Clinton’s health): say the blogger over­heard someone say some­thing, or in­ter­preted a story or a photo in a unique manner, or—dare I say it?—was passed some dirt by a source who is never named.

And faster than you can say “Grover Norquist” it’s picked up by other sites of the same ilk. Think of the site as ground zero and the blogger as pa­tient zero: like a viral in­fec­tion, the mo­mentum builds and thou­sands and thou­sands of sim­ilar sites run the story without a single site doing the most el­e­men­tary fact-checking.

Since these are ‘blogs’ and not news-sites, there is no con­cern for ac­cu­racy or ac­count­ability. The ‘news story’ is now a phe­nom­enon in the rightwingnut blogosphere—and yet no one has proven any of it to be true!

2. Then rightwingnut talk-radio be­gins chat­ting it up—and as these are just talk-shows ex­pressing opin­ions, there is no con­cern for ac­cu­racy or ac­count­ability. First the little guys with shows on tiny sta­tion no one’s ever heard of and then, after enough of them talk about it, it’s picked up by the Big Boys—Rush, Glenn, Michael, etc.

3. Next, a sup­pos­edly ‘re­li­able’ (Hah!) site like the Drudge Re­port (Hah! x 2) picks it up be­cause, after all, it’s now on thou­sands of sites and all over the AM bands, so it must mean something!

4. Then it’s picked up by some small FM radio or cable-network ‘news’ out­lets with a dis­tinctly right-of-center per­spec­tive and a ‘no-questions-asked’ attitude.

Be­fore you can say “When’s the next Con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Beng­hazi?” it’s on Fox News!

5. Since the corporate/mainstream media has rec­og­nized and there­fore le­git­imized Fox News, it next finds its way onto Fox and it’s treated se­ri­ously by ABC! NBC! CNN!

As news.

And so everyone talks about it as though it’s ac­tual, fac­tual news!

Ex­cept it’s not.

It’s lies.

It’s pro­pa­ganda. 8

 

This is a pub­licity photo of Daryl Hannah as psy­cho­pathic as­sassin Elle Driver from Quentin Taran­ti­no’s Kill Bill (2003). Long known for her en­vi­ron­mental ac­tivism, she has also been ar­rested sev­eral times in protests, such as sup­porting Amer­ican farmers and not sup­porting the Key­stone pipeline. For ca­sual fans of Ms. Hannah who only know her big hit movies, find a copy of Crazy People with Dudley Moore (1990) and enjoy yourself.

Fairness and accuracy

Re­member, ac­cu­racy and fair­ness and bal­ance are not the aims of these viral ‘news sto­ries.’ As these sto­ries have more in common with weapons than with any normal con­veyor of in­for­ma­tion, doing as much damage to the target as fast as pos­sible is the goal.

And many of these sto­ries are quite simply un­be­liev­able to anyone with even a rudi­men­tary ability to ratiocinate—which somehow doesn’t pre­vent tens of mil­lions of voters from be­lieving it. 9

Then, after it’s done its damage, and it’s proven false, or er­ro­neous, or merely yet an­other com­plete fab­ri­ca­tion (Bre­it­bart News anyone?), it’s gone. 10

For­gotten by all but the true believers.

And then it’s time for the next virus … 

 

FEATURED IMAGE: For decades, there have been ru­mors of Gov­ernor Bill Clinton having dozens of people who pos­sessed in­crim­i­nating ev­i­dence about him mur­dered and buried some­where in Arkansas.

“We shouldn’t have to tell anyone not to be­lieve this clap­trap, but we will anyway. In a fren­zied media cli­mate where the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive couldn’t boff a White House in­tern without the whole world finding out every nig­gling de­tail of each en­counter and de­manding his re­moval from of­fice, are we se­ri­ously to be­lieve the same man had been having double hand­fuls of de­trac­tors and former friends mur­dered with im­punity?” (Snopes)

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   Rightwingnut and rightwing are not syn­ony­mous by de­f­i­n­i­tion, al­though it’s al­most im­pos­sible to tell the dif­fer­ence any­more, es­pe­cially on the in­ternet (and doubly es­pe­cially so in Trump’s Amerikkka).

2   Irony is “the use of words that mean the op­po­site of what you re­ally think.” (Merriam-Webster)

3   The Tenth Amend­ment in its en­tirety reads, The powers not del­e­gated to the United States by the Con­sti­tu­tion, nor pro­hib­ited by it to the States, are re­served to the States re­spec­tively, or to the people.The best way to read the Tenth Amend­ment we ac­tu­ally have is that its words mean what they say, and not what they don’t say. The Con­sti­tu­tion grants Con­gress all the im­plied powers nec­es­sary and proper to using its enu­mer­ated powers.” (The At­lantic)

4   If you want to read the only in-depth in­ves­ti­ga­tion into wel­fare and the working poor, I sug­gest Bar­bara Ehrenreich’s book Nickel And Dimed – On (Not) Get­ting By in America.

5   Go to your browser and type in “po­lit­ical buzz­word” and you will find nu­merous ar­ti­cles on the first page about terms that have been used in the 2016 cam­paign for both the nom­i­na­tions and for the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. Even though we have been hearing them for months, some have mean­ings that are baf­fling to out­siders but are easily un­der­stood by the target audience.

6   Voter fraud is so rare as to be ef­fec­tively nonex­is­tent. But the claim that voter fraud threatens the in­tegrity of Amer­ican elec­tions is wide­spread, and is it­self a de­cep­tion. Ad­di­tional reading: “The Myth Of Voter Fraud” and “The Voter Fraud Myth” and “No, voter fraud ac­tu­ally isn’t a per­sis­tent problem.” Also, voter fraud is not the same as elec­tion fraud or voter sup­pres­sion.

7   I found this clever piece of satire on the In­ternet Weekly Re­port; I al­tered the image for my use here.

8   I’m not saying that there is left­wingnut non­sense making the rounds of the in­ternet. There is, just nowhere near as many. And I’m not saying that there aren’t any left-leaning people willing to be­lieve the dumbest things. There are, just nowhere near as many.

9   One of my per­sonal faves in­volved the ‘fact’ that in many states you can make more on Wel­fare than you can at a min­imum wage job! The ‘study’ re­vealed that a person on Wel­fare in Hawaii could make more than $60,000 a year! The study failed to men­tion that figure would need to qualify for and re­ceive Sec­tion 8 housing al­lowance, med­ical and dental care, food stamps, yada yoda blah blah, along with the Wel­fare check. (Thanks, Cato!)

10   Un­less it’s about the Clin­tons, in which case it can take on a life-after-death quality and linger on from here to eternity. I am gonna go out on a limb here and pre­dict that it will be the same for Obama.

 

 

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