TAKING THE ACORN NONSENSE APART…. In some ways, I get the sense that the ACORN “story” went from zero to 60 a little too quickly. Fox News, Republicans, and the right’s noise machine manufactured this controversy with tremendous speed, and those in touch with reality were caught flat-footed, perhaps assuming that no one could be foolish enough to believe such transparent nonsense.

By the time John McCain said ACORN may be “destroying the fabric of democracy,” as he did in Wednesday night’s debate, he should have been laughed off the stage. Alas, he wasn’t. Likewise, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters this morning there’s “a cloud of suspicion” currently “hang[ing] over this election,” which is just lunacy.

The truth is just now starting to make the rounds. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick did a fantastic job yesterday of summarizing how ridiculous the Republicans’ charges are, and setting the record straight.

Large-scale, coordinated vote stealing doesn’t happen. The incentives — unlike the incentives for registration fraud — just aren’t there…. RNC General Counsel Sean Cairncross has said he is unaware of a single improper vote cast because of bad cards submitted in the course of a voter-registration effort. Republican campaign consultant Royal Masset says, “[I]n-person voter fraud is nonexistent. It doesn’t happen, and … makes no sense because who’s going to take the risk of going to jail on something so blatant that maybe changes one vote?”

There is no such thing as vote fraud. The think tank created to peddle the epidemic has evaporated. A handful of cases have been prosecuted. Then why is Sarah Palin shooting off e-mails contending that “we can’t allow leftist groups like ACORN to steal this election?” Why is former Sen. John Danforth announcing, all statesmanlike, that the whole 2008 election “has been tainted?” Why is Ted Olson, the Republican National Lawyers Association lawyer of the year, claiming that “[ACORN] acknowledged having to get rid of a thousand people or more who were participating in voter fraud efforts.” These people know the difference between registration fraud and vote fraud. Why continue to suggest they are the same thing?

For several reasons, actually. First, because Republicans need to block as many registrations of traditionally Democratic voters as possible, or they might lose. Second, because Republicans want to clear the way for harsher, unneeded voter-verification laws that might stop traditionally Democratic voters from participating in the political process.

And third, because if Republicans can push this lie aggressively enough, and Obama wins, it gives unhinged GOP activists a reason to question the legitimacy of his presidency.

That, my friends, “destroys the fabric of democracy” more than anything else.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.