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The GOP’s Hidden Campaign Against Obama

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Posted on Aug 24, 2012
Pete Souza/The White House

By Bill Boyarsky

If the election is tight, two Republican tactics—one well known and the other just emerging from the political sewer—could be enough to defeat President Barack Obama.

The latter is a smear campaign from an organization called Special Operations OPSEC (spy talk for operational security) Education Fund, organized, Reuters reported, by a group of former spies and commandos with “extensive links to the Republican Party.” The group has produced a 22-minute film accusing Obama of leaking details of the Navy SEALs’ killing of Osama bin Laden and taking too much credit for it.

This is a reprise of the Republicans’ 2004 “Swift Boat” campaign in which they belittled war hero Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, for his combat experience skippering patrol boats during the Vietnam War. As improbable and outrageous as the attacks were, their repetition during a close election may have created an impression among the undecided and doubters that Kerry had exaggerated, if not falsified, his war experience.

Reuters’ Mark Hosenball and Alexander Cohen found out that the treasurer of OPSEC is Michael Smith, president of a 2008 campaign group called Majority America that was largely funded by Ohio businessman Carl Lindner, who also backed the 2004 Swift Boat campaign. No doubt OPSEC and its ads, financed by secretive sources, will be a campaign fixture in the heated days of the fall, accusing Obama of leaking details of the bin Laden operation to enhance his reputation as a tough national security leader.

Even more dangerous to the president than 2012’s swift-boating is a nationwide effort by Republican-controlled state governments to make it difficult for potential Obama supporters to cast their ballots, with statutes that, for example, require voters to present identification at their polling places. The Brennan Center for Justice, a critic of such laws, said in a report that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.” These tend to be low turnout voters and those who may find it difficult to navigate through the new laws.

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For a valuable, evenhanded take on the subject, read the new book “The Voting Wars” by professor Richard Hasen of UC Irvine. He writes:

“The best argument against voter identification laws is not that they will have a large effect—they most likely won’t—but that such laws are unnecessary to prevent voter fraud, and in a razor-thin election we cannot dismiss the partisan ramifications of disenfranchising even a small number of voters for no good reason. This is especially true because election administrators may administer voter ID laws in a discriminatory manner.”

And every indication, every poll, predicts this will be a razor-thin election.

With many state governments in Republican hands, Democrats should be afraid that state bosses, and the local officials they influence, will team up against Obama, just as Florida election officials did against Al Gore in 2000.

The voter laws, most of which passed last year, were the result of gains made by the Republicans when they won a majority of the nation’s state legislative seats in 2010. That election paved the way for restrictive state laws on abortion, contraception, immigration and, of special relevance this year, voting. Election laws, such as those requiring voters to show identification, have passed in 19 states, according to the Brennan Center. They include some of those where the races are tight and which may decide the election: Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

When Pennsylvania passed its voter ID law, the Republican-controlled House’s majority leader, Mike Turzai, listing legislators’ accomplishments, included “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Obama is leading Mitt Romney by 6.5 percent in the state, according to the Real Clear Politics average of state surveys. Whether the law will accomplish Turzai’s purpose of carrying Pennsylvania for Romney, it certainly makes voting tough for anyone without a car.

These difficulties were detailed by Linda Rhodes of Pennsylvania’s Patriot-News in a story linked from Hasen’s Election Law Blog. Rhodes explained the challenging process of getting an ID card if you’ve never had a driver’s license. You must visit the state transportation department, fill out an Application for Initial Photo Identification Card and “bring in a Social Security card and one of the following: Certificate of U.S. citizenship, certificate of naturalization or a birth certificate with a raised seal. In addition, you must bring two proofs of residency, such as lease agreements, utility bills, mortgage documents, W-2 forms or tax records.” If you’ve lost your birth certificate, it’s much more complex, requiring two trips to the transportation department office.

The Republican legislatures of the other battleground states have put up their own obstacles, all of them seemingly designed to make it hard for Obama supporters to vote, and, with the help of Republican election lawyers, to create a complicated legal morass.

This is not the kind of issue that will be covered in-depth by the rushed and financially stressed political media. It will be left to institutions such as the Brennan Center and people such as Hasen and other blogging legal scholars. Nor will there be many thorough stories on the commercials of the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund targeting Obama’s role in the bin Laden killing. The secrecy allowed by Citizens United and related court decisions has permitted the financiers of the ads to work in secret.

Unless reporters unexpectedly do their jobs, the Republicans will succeed in their hidden campaign.

 


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