The roots of “Stop the Steal” in the attack on ACORN

by Wade Rathke

Sunday, January 24, 2021

New Orleans   The arc of justice is long, but when people see it coming, they don’t stay silent. First, a text from the most devoted Times’ reader and power walker in the entire city of Houston, making sure I had seen the lead piece in the Times’ editorial page. A bit later, my friend and comrade was forwarding the links inside the piece to assure that I missed nothing! With the morning sun came another text from one of the nation’s preeminent scholars of community organizations giving the alert and adding the question, “Opening for ACORN revisionism?” As time zones changed, texts from Little Rock, the Bay Area, and elsewhere were joined by emails and links flooding my inbox. All of this was triggered by a hard to miss piece called, “’Stop the Steal’ Didn’t Start with Trump” written by Jamelle Bouie.

What does Bouie have to say? He draws a line over the last twenty years of accusations by Republicans hollering “Wolf!” every time they lose an election, and more pointedly links it to the underlying racism that defines this strategy as the party and its candidates try to hold onto power. He doesn’t miss the fact that prominently at the center of their attack has been a constant targeting of ACORN. He brings ACORN into the story in 2004, writing that…

Swing-state Republicans accused the group of “manufacturing voters,” and federal prosecutors looked, unsuccessfully, for evidence of wrongdoing. Later, Karl Rove would press President Bush’s second attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to fire a number of U.S. attorneys for failure to investigate voter fraud allegations, leading to a scandal that eventually led to Gonzales’s resignation in 2007.

Bouie doesn’t mince words as he hits the broad strokes of the continued attack on ACORN and its voter registration work in the runup to the 2008 first Obama campaign with the familiar benchmarks, like the McCain accusation during the presidential debate. He notes that Trump claimed that Obama had lost “by a lot” in his second election in 2012, and in the highlight reel that, “According to one survey taken after the election, 49 percent of Republican voters said they thought ACORN had stolen the election for the president.”

It keeps on going down from there along the familiar path of polarization, hate, and racism during the Trump years to the inevitable result where…

The narrative of fraud and election theft that spurred the mob that stormed the Capitol would be unintelligible without the work of the Republican Party, which inculcated this idée fixe in its voters. “Stop the Steal” wasn’t a Trump innovation as much as it was a new spin on an old product line that, even after the violence on Jan. 6, Republicans are still selling.

If newspaper reports are the “first draft of history,” Bouie’s piece is something closer to the second draft. He could have as easily included the attacks on ACORN in the battlegrounds in 2000 during the Bush election, as he could the Ashcroft story. Bouie assembles more facts, so we’re getting nearer something like the truths they tell and teach, although in writing the brief against the Republicans and the wild right, he doesn’t include the assignment of any responsibility to the Times itself, which helped lead and legitimize the attacks.

Yes, this is progress, and maybe even a bit of revisionism, and thanks to Bouie for that! At the same time, it’s probably old fashioned to want accountability, exoneration, and, dare I say, justice, for ACORN and its members, leaders, and staff, but I’m still working in that old school. I’m not bitter, I’m busy, and will continue waiting in the belief that in the end the work writes its own history and can’t be denied.

Wade Rathke is founder and chief organizer of ACORN and ACORN International. You can find Wade’s recent past posts here Chief Organizer Reports. And you can link to his website here Chief Organizer ACORN/ACORN International.

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