Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sic Transit Gloria Meehan: Delusions of grandeur from a New Jersey Republican vigilante

Everyone knows that it is more fun to comment on the posts of a well-regarded blogger who draws a good deal of attention. What's the point of sticking to your own site when nobody bothers to read it? Rod Dreher's pages at The American Conservative magazine is one of the more popular and highly regarded. But sometimes a discussion can spin out of control. Like a raging argument between two invited guests at a dinner party, it needs to be removed from the premises, to the corner bar, or the driveway of one of the antagonists.

An aging vigilante living on fantasies of past glory, going by the name of Thomas O. Meehan, takes perverse enjoyment in finding blogs populated by those he characterizes as "all manner of fantasists, humbugs and inadequates." Those are his own words, and by his own words, he seems to fit all three descriptions himself. It is not, otherwise, clear why he cares to waste his time engaging with fantasists, humbugs and inadequates.

Dreher posted some doubts that requiring photo ID to vote is racist. Although few offering comments directly thought is was racist, many challenged the wisdom, propriety, and necessity, of imposing such a condition on the exercise of the franchise.

Very late in a lengthy discussion, Meehan began hinting that he had been part of a glorious effort to document and curtail voter fraud, a great citizen uprising which had single-handedly paved the way for a Republican to be elected governor of New Jersey. Pressed for details, Meehan slowly and begrudgingly offered something approximating a factoid or two, of gradually increasing specificity. Hard pressed, he eventually was even gracious enough to identify the year of the election, and the candidates.

Sorting out claims of fact from a matrix of bombastic rhetoric, Meehan would have anyone who read his account believe that:

In 1982, an unelected, voluntary organization styling itself the "Ballot Security Task Force" mailed post cards to registered voters in Newark and Trenton, New Jersey. It is not clearly whether he claims that 45,000 of a much larger sample, or 100% of 45,000 cards mailed, were returned marked with some variation on "No such person at this address." This task force, Meehan boasts "brought good government to New Jersey in the person of Thomas Kean."

How did this happen? Meehan offers various versions, but the more cutting edge claim is "We forced a recount that threw out enough bogus votes to elect an honest governor." More emphatically, "We challenged them at the polls and we had more than enough legal grounds to force a recount based on State Law." Meehan further specified "The purpose of the recount was to prove that the contested votes (lists) were indeed invalid." The recount, he insists, "succeeded in challenging more than enough of those fraudulent votes to form a government."

Further pressed, Meehan offered a series of suggested Google search terms, and later, specific links to news coverage. What searches and links revealed was a very different story.

The post cards were sent to addresses from a voter list that was several years out of date, not the list actually in use for elections in 1982. Naturally, many voters registered in past years had moved, and were no longer at these addresses. Because the list used was out of date, the commissioners of registration declined to investigate the loudly trumpeted "results." It is not clear whether an out-of-date list was used BECAUSE many voters would have moved, providing the desired appearance of fraudulent registration, or whether the task force was simply careless or negligent.

The task force then paid squads of visibly armed men to congregate around voting places, intimidating voters with the unsubstantiated allegation that they were not qualified to vote, and might be arrested if they tried. In the 19th century, Democrats shot Republican poll workers for challenging the exclusion of black voters — the goon squad Meehan boasts of being part of did not actually shoot anyone, but appears to have taken up the same cause, in the name of the Republican party.

There was indeed a recount, but not one initiated by the self-styled "Ballot Security Task Force." Votes were recounted because the inital margin of victory, for the Republican candidate, Thomas Kean, was so tiny, that the Democratic incumbent, James Florio, wanted a recount. The recount did NOT result in massive numbers of ballots being discounted as fraudulent. It did NOT change the result of the initial vote tally: both in the initial count, and the recount, Kean won.

There was a court case AFTER the election: The result was that Republican defendants promised to cease and desist from intimidating likely Democratic voters, while admitting no wrongdoing. There was no court case that disqualified one or one thousand voters, nor any court case that reversed the outcome of an election.

Perhaps Meehan's real motive lies in the off-hand remark, "readers who wish to purchase the few remaining signs in my possession can contact me at my web address above. Be warned, they’re not cheap." Perhaps not now, but one is left with the impression that a buyer today, at Meehan's price, will find that his investment depreciates in value as the truth dawns upon the population of potential buyers.

It is only fair to note, for the hypothetical reader (if any) who cares to examine this matter closely, that Meehan made a few follow-up remarks in the midst of another discussion at Dreher's site, a retrospective on "The Red Dean," William Hewlett. Meehan's reputation for either accuracy or probity having fallen under the principle "Falsum in unum, falsum in omnibus," he felt impelled to defend himself, however ineffectually, one last time.

Meehan is invited to attempt to rehabilitate himself in the posting box.


L. said...

Howdy, Siarlys. This is the blogger who comments as "L," on some of the Catholic blogs you read. I was just invited to contribute to Alexandria, and I am trying to figure out whether or not (based on what I know of your experience there) this would be a good idea for me to do. So if you have any thoughts on this, I would greatly appreciate your taking the time to share them. I can be reached at ltwaronite ("at mark")

Siarlys Jenkins said...

In case anyone else should stumble upon this inquiry, I will summarize my response as follows:

I would encourage anyone invited to Alexandria to try it out. It's an interesting collection of people. Unless you're own blog get thousands of hits a day, you'll get more eyes reading your words at Alexandria than anywhere else. If you happen to cross the irrascible H.M.Stuart, the worst he can do is ostracize you, and you'll have had a gone run. After all, its all in cyber space. But don't make the mistake of thinking Alexandria is a community. It is Stuart's private menagerie.