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One of the principal architects of the GOP’s voter suppression campaign is an attorney from North Georgia named Hans von Spakovsky. The son of emigrants who fled Nazi oppression, Spakovsky seems to have taken to partisan politics at a very early age. His skills got national-level GOP attention, and he was appointed to head the Civil Rights Division for the Department of Justice in the Bush Administration. But the funny thing is that he can’t much remember what he did running the Division – although he’s confident that he didn’t make major decisions that were cast in the Division’s name. McClatchy reports:
Another former Justice Department lawyer went before Congress on Wednesday with few answers for his Democratic interrogators and a spotty memory. Hans von Spakovsky, who’s seeking a full six-year term on the Federal Election Commission, deflected questions about whether he undermined voting rights laws, saying, “I was not the decision maker in the front office of the Civil Rights Division.”
Time and again during his confirmation hearing, he cited either the attorney-client privilege or a cloudy memory for his purported role in restricting minorities’ voting rights. Von Spakovsky couldn’t remember blocking an investigation into complaints that a Minnesota Republican official was discriminating against Native American voters before the 2004 election.
Under oath, he also said he didn’t recall seeing data from the state of Georgia that would have undercut a push by senior officials within the Civil Rights Division to approve the state’s tough new law requiring photo IDs of all voters. The data showed that 300,000 Georgia voters lacked driver’s licenses. A federal judge later threw out the law as unconstitutional.
Of course, it might be that Spakovsky didn’t remember these things, notwithstanding that they’ve featured in newspaper accounts for the last month and that he’s been intently preparing for the hearing. Or it might be that he is engaged in deceit to avoid testifying on a subject matter which is at best embarrassing and at worst would reflect serious mismanagement of the Division he headed. In any event, however, he’s following a now well settled path trodden by his three bosses, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, and Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, each of whom also suffered from rather astonishing memory lapses about quite recent events.
The Georgia Democratic delegation in Congress issued a letter stating that Spakovsky’s confirmation could “turn back the clock on fifty years of progress” in the voting rights area. Read their letter here. His conduct at Justice demonstrated that these concerns are not frivolous.
Perhaps Mr. von Spakovsky should pay attention to the writings of another of the great figures of the German emigration from the thirties, Hannah Arendt. In her classic study of totalitarianism, Arendt noted that totalitarian and wannabe totalitarian regimes frequently wage wars overseas and use these wars to undermine and then destroy the essential institutions at home which obstruct totalitarian rule (see Quote for the Day). This is a vital warning for Americans in the age of Bush, and Mr. von Spakovsky is just what Arendt was talking about: a diligent termite boring away in the foundations of America’s democracy. The question for the Senate is now whether he will get license to do still more damage.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”