Not all the hollering out of sad, strife-gashed Ferguson, Mo., is coming from demonstrators, cop-bashers, cop-supporters, opportunistic looters or even roughed-up media. To that chorus of complaint now add the Missouri Republican Party, which sent up a yowl of righteous indignation at news of liberal group having established a voter-registration kiosk just a few paces up the block from the makeshift memorial where black, 18-year-old Michael Brown went down last week under a hail of bullets fired by a white policeman.
“If that’s not fanning the political flames, I don’t know what is,” Missouri GOP executive director Matt Wills told Breitbart News. “I think it’s not only disgusting but completely inappropriate.”
Well. It wouldn’t be the first time a political official got bent over one group or another spinning tragic straw into gold for Election Day and beyond. And it’s unlikely to be the last. Remember what Rahm Emanuel thought about how to invest the currency of crisis.
That said and Wills’ objection noted, it escapes me how voter registration drives — even ones energized by victim-monger Jesse Jackson and organized by a George Soros-funded front group — are not totally superior to riots and looting. Indeed, its many respondents surely include peaceful Ferguson residents motivated by a rare spark of truth struck from Al Sharpton’s usual race-baiting anvil.
“You all have got to start voting and showing up,” he told the predominantly black congregation of a Ferguson church Sunday. “Twelve percent turnout is an insult to your children.”
Wait. If 12 percent is an insult, the truth is a backhand across the mouth: Black turnout was a dismal 6 percent, barely one-third of the 17 percent participation among white voters. Just five months earlier, black turnout in Ferguson topped 50 percent for the reelection of President Barack Obama. This, lamentably, is typical throughout America, where voters’ interest is, perversely, inversely proportional to the impact the elected class can assert on them.
Perhaps the residents of Ferguson are having an overdue rethink. If so, the erection of voter registration booths perfumed by the flowers laid for Brown might be opportunistic, might even be brazen, but it’s neither creepy nor disgusting, and Republicans need to get a grip.
Wrote Steve Benen, a producer for MSNBC’s “Rachel Madow Show”:
[S]ome in the community have decided that this crisis can also be a wake-up call — those who want to make a meaningful difference have to overcome cynicism and complacency when it comes to civic affairs. Indeed, for all the anger that’s evident in this St. Louis suburb, some have decided to tell their friends and neighbors that it’s time to direct their frustrations into positive, constructive action.
And that starts with getting registered to vote.
That’s not exploitation. That’s also not “using” a crisis for “partisan gain.” If officials from the DNC were walking along Florissant Avenue, telling people to vote Democratic while avoiding tear-gas canisters, Republican criticism would be understandable.
Back at the office, Wills was still chucking. What’s happened in Ferguson “is not just a tragedy for the African American community; this is a tragedy for the Missouri community as well as the community of what we call America. Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace.”
Voter registration is “injecting race”? Hmmm. More than a few Missouri GOP officials were unamused. For them, the tweeted response from Ryan Silvey, a state senator from Kansas City, was representative:
“I have NO problem w/ protestors, or ANYONE, getting registered to vote. How do we keep our gov’t accountable if not by ballot? [O]utrage’ over voter registration in #Ferguson is dumb. I’d rather they vote than riot.”
Here’s the Washington Examiner’s clear-eyed Justin Green:
I think I understand the sentiment the Missouri Republican Party wants to express by condemning the effort. This is a tragedy. It’s a time to mourn. We should come together. There will be people who seek to exploit this sad event by fanning the flames of hatred and discontent to advance their own agendas.
But I also think Missouri Republicans are totally missing the point. What this condemnation resembles instead is the Missouri Republican Party condemning an effort to register black voters in the aftermath of a white police officer shooting a black teenager. That might not be fair, but it’s what it looks like. ...
A party that condemns efforts to attract new members, particularly considering the way this example looks, is one that can’t expect to be competitive.
Let’s be plain: If the first group to organize a Ferguson voter-registration tent in response to Sharpton and Jackson had been the Competitive Enterprise Institute or American Crossroads, the left would have exploded like a trainload of flash grenades over the right’s ghoulish, shameless, soulless failure to respect the town’s heartbreak, and it wouldn’t even have been hours before the Koch brothers and Karl Rove, cast as “Walking Dead” rejects, flooded social media. That, alas, is our world.
But the proverbial ice having been broken, the right — which, plainly, will require tough skin — shouldn’t turn its back on a community open (you would think) to new answers. The alternative for conservatives who won’t learn from the left’s win-at-all-costs tactics is to keep letting their rivals misrepresent their story; keep ceding elections one neighborhood, one precinct, one small town at a time; and keep falling ever further behind.
Lots of lessons will emerge from Ferguson in the coming weeks and months. How to alienate potential voters shouldn’t be one of them.