How not to be a loser

Be in the right, then insist on it

(c) 2016 Kerri Battles for LBJ School under a Creative Commons license


Having fought through the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial campaign not only to get her political message across, but also to overcome bald-faced voter suppression designed to defeat her, Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams kept up her fight 10 days past the election. She won a federal judgment on the provisional vote count that her opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, hoped to head off. But eventually the last ditch came into view.

Abrams gave on Saturday what for a defeated candidate was a remarkable speech, part of which follows:

We all understand challenges and complications; however, this year, more than two hundred years into Georgia’s democratic experiment, the state failed its voters. You see, despite a record high population in Georgia, more than a million citizens found their names stripped from the rolls by the Secretary of State, including a 92 year-old civil rights activist who had cast her ballot in the same neighborhood since 1968. Tens of thousands hung in limbo, rejected due to human error and a system of suppression that had already proven its bias...

...to watch an elected official — who claims to represent the people of this state, baldly pin his hopes for election on the suppression of the people’s democratic right to vote — has been truly appalling. So, to be clear, this is not a speech of concession.

Concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede. But my assessment is that the law currently allows no further viable remedy.

Abrams also announced the launch of Fair Fight Georgia, “an operation that will pursue accountability in Georgia’s elections and integrity in the process of maintaining our voting rolls,” as well as “a major federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia for the gross mismanagement of this election and to protect future elections from unconstitutional actions.”

She didn't sound like a loser. And it may be that in the long run she isn’t.

The corruption in Georgia’s voting system has been an ongoing and notorious scandal, so much so that it is defended only by the wormiest conservatives — like Rich Lowry of National Review, who said Georgia’s 2017 “exact match” voter purge was, despite the opinion of a U.S. District Court, no big deal because it “doesn’t mean [the affected voter] can’t vote. He can show up and vote with an ID verifying his information” — that is, cast one of the provisional ballots the Republicans tried to keep from being certified.

Republican political operative John Weaver took a different approach:

Weaver is a longtime GOP player, and you can bet he’s not burning bridges; he’s just letting prospective employers know what he’s not willing to put up with, presumably because he expects there are enough candidates who feel the same way that he can still find work. and that in the long run it’ll be good branding for him.

Kemp, showing colossal nerve, said after Abrams’ speech that Georgians “can no longer dwell on the divisive politics of the past” and according to local station 13WMAZ even “mentioned that he is very proud of the record turnout Georgians made during the election.”

That may play at home, and for a while, but the national press has been pretty good about revealing the problems with Georgia’s voting — see stories from the New York Times, CBS, Salon, Endgadget, et alia — probably because they were forced to, not only by newsworthy lawsuits like this one by the NAACP and other groups, but also by Abrams’ refusal to keep her mouth shut about it.

I have to say it’s been refreshing to hear a Democratic candidate just come right out and say the Republicans cheat. Back in 2000, Al Gore felt he had to be much more circumspect, even though the GOP was doing its best to steal the Presidential election and not even hiding it that well. Given that the media’s bothsiderism was even worse back then, Gore may have seen no alternative; had he squawked, the press would have accused him of shrillness and a deafening chorus of tsk-tsks would have filled the airwaves. Also, since Gore was that kind of a dork, he may have thought such complaints unseemly and divisive himself.

But we’re well past the point where anyone could believe that keeping mum about this abusive status quo is good for the nation. The current administration is downright performative in its refusal to abide by what we used to call norms. The illegal appointment of acting AG/goon Matthew Whitaker, and the President's gangsterish response to the prospect of its investigation, are only the most recent evidence that decorum is for suckers.

Much has been written, sometimes with eloquence, about how the thoroughly Trumpified Republicans have become a cult far beyond the reach of reason or decency. This is often expressed — even here! — as something depressing and provocative of despair. Certainly the New York Times does its best to discourage liberals by portraying the Trumpkins’ intransigence as something like a force of nature: The paper’s endless Cletus safaris are meant to show us that Trump voters are beyond our ken and cannot be persuaded or even challenged lest their fur be ruffled and their champion reelected. And just this weekend the Times got the terrible Sabrina Tavernise to tell us how you loudmouths who believe in things have got Americans turned off to politics — which is so awful and bad that it renders this year’s Democratic wave null and void: “The highly politically engaged tribes may have seized on the midterm elections as a victory,” says Tavernise, “but for the Exhausted Majority it merely perpetuated a hopeless stalemate.” Why can’t you just give up and leave these good people in peace?

Forgive my uncharacteristic optimism, but I can’t see a normal person reacting that way. Confronted with the recent turn in the electoral tide and candidates fighting to get their people’s votes counted (as opposed to scheming to get the other guy’s votes thrown out), they’re more likely to take it it as a sign that the Democrats are finally showing some guts, and that the Trumpkins, however bull-headed they may be, aren’t an unstoppable majority after all — they’re just what you get when the other side doesn’t fight.

So a major candidate refusing to let a rigged verdict keep her from fighting the system, and urging others to join her, might be the sort of thing that convinces decent people, and people who would be decent with a little encouragement, that despite the endless propaganda meant to cow them, it really can be worth their while — and even fun —to hit back.