Imaginary Problems Work for the GOP

Jamelle Bouie has a new piece at Slate that looks at the Republicans’ solutions to largely imaginary problems. He focuses on three major examples: voter impersonation fraud, unsafe abortion clinics, and drug-addicted people getting public assistance.

Interestingly, all three examples have some things in common. And it’s not just that these aren’t very serious problems.

I think everyone thinks that our elections should be decided by validly cast votes. If we’re going to have abortion providers at all, we should be able to agree that their facilities should be clean and safe. And I think we’re all more comfortable giving our tax dollars to assist people who are in temporary need rather than to enable people’s continued drug or alcohol addiction.

These issues all make sense on the surface. And, even if they aren’t particularly pressing problems, it would seem that opposing laws to address them would be more a matter of questioning priorities than opposing reforms.

But, things are not what they seem.

The voter ID laws that are supposed to address in-person voter impersonation actually prevent tens of thousands of valid votes from being cast and only theoretically prevent any fraudulent votes. So, the electorate is skewed and public confidence in the results is eroded more than it is with the status quo.

The abortion clinic regulations cause clinics to close, not to be cleaner and safer. As a result, women’s health is undermined rather than strengthened.

And the drug-testing requirement for public assistance costs more money than it saves, meaning that tax payers get a higher bill.

So, in all three cases, these Republican reforms do the opposite of what they are supposed to do.

And you’d call them all failures if you judged the performance based on the stated goals.

But these are all successes for the Republicans. So, how could that be?

The goal of the voting reforms is to reduce how many Democrats can vote without having much impact on how many Republicans can vote. These reforms, where they are allowed to stand, accomplish that.

The goal of the abortion clinic regulations is to force the clinics to close. Where these laws are allowed to stand, they accomplish that.

The goal of drug-testing for public assistance is to stigmatize public assistance and reinforce right-wing stereotypes about the kind of people who receive it. So, even though these laws cost more money, they succeed in their intended purpose.

So, Jamelle Bouie isn’t quite right. These aren’t efforts to solve imaginary problems. These are efforts to win elections, stop abortions, and to reinforce the idea that voters are being taxed to subsidize the low-life lifestyles of lazy drug-addicted ghetto-dwellers.

It doesn’t even matter that these efforts undermine public confidence in our elections, harm women’s health, and make public assistance more expensive. Right-wingers don’t really care about those things, no matter how sincere they sometimes seem to be.

Their policies address real, not imaginary, problems, they’re just problems that no one but conservatives care about. In the cases of voter ID and drug-testing, they make things worse but are seen as good policy by Republicans because the real purpose is to give them a political advantage. In the case of abortion, women’s health always takes a back seat to the embryo.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at