Facts are stupid things," President Ronald Reagan said at the 1988 Republican National Convention. In attempting to repeat a quote from President John Adams, he blew it big time.
"Facts are stubborn things," is what our second president actually said, but that didn't matter.
Adams was long dead, so no one objected to Reagan changing the meaning of his quote by mangling it. As the 40th president discovered over two contentious terms, facts, like beliefs, are fungible. Facts are as malleable as one needs them to be. Facts aren't stubborn at all. They're stupid.
This is the lesson that Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania's far less imaginative governor, has taken to heart. This week, the Corbett administration is in Commonwealth Court defending a voter ID law that could disenfranchise 1.6 million voters.
By the administration's own estimates, 758,000 registered voters are missing from PennDOT's photo ID list. The administration believes, however, that as long as the potential for in-person voter fraud exists, then imposing onerous new rules that could bar thousands from the polls in Democrat-leaning areas is an acceptable price to pay for existential certainty. In an ironic tribute to George Orwell's doublethink, Republicans call this travesty "voter integrity."
Never mind that there has never been a recorded case of in-person voter fraud in the history of the Commonwealth. Many conservatives justify the law by pointing to the clown show of two New Black Panther Party members strutting outside a North Philly polling place on election day 2008. This is the kind of irrational panic that passes for logic in Harrisburg these days.
On the eve of the hearing, Pennsylvania officials were compelled to acknowledge what critics have been insisting from the beginning. The state signed a stipulation agreement with the plaintiffs that made the best case against the law imaginable: "[There] have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states."
Pennsylvania's attorneys also admitted they "will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere" or argue "that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law."
The Corbett administration never truly believed there was in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania, but that wasn't the point of the legislation, as House Majority Leader Mike Turzai pointed out to a partisan crowd last month while listing it among the Republican Party's legislative victories: "Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania -- done."
Mr. Turzai isn't an outlier with his brand of cynicism. As conservatives rush to strengthen the laws against voting in states where they hold a legislative majority, ordinary citizens are beginning to take notice of their tortured logic.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of laws against voter impersonation and ballot fraud, Republicans want to add another layer that would shed thousands from the rolls to prevent a crime that doesn't exist.
Now, imagine if this was a debate about gun control. Wouldn't conservatives be the first to scream that enforcing existing gun laws is all we need to do to stem the tide of death and violence and that adding new laws would only threaten Second Amendment rights?
Isn't it interesting that American conservatives who are skeptics about the science undergirding the theory of evolution and global warming are comfortable with young Earth creationism and nonsense about America being a "Christian" nation?
Nearly one in three Republicans believe President Barack Obama is a Muslim, according to a new poll. Almost as many seem convinced he's an illegal alien who tricked his way to the White House by exploiting white guilt and deploying Black Panthers and ACORN to get dead people and felons to the polls.
Ultra-conservative House members Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Allen West of Florida spin conspiracy theories about the infiltration of the government by the Muslim Brotherhood and of "70 to 80" communists in the Democratic caucus. Neither bothers to offer anything resembling proof. We're in an age where proof is whatever you say it is given your level of righteous indignation.
"Facts are stupid things," a wise man once said. Voter ID laws prove that facts don't really matter much at all.