Maybe it was the recent full moon that prompted the overwrought howls of outrage being directed at ACORN by Sen. John McCain and a pack of his right-wing cohorts. Either that or just raw partisan nuttiness.

Jim Hightower

Jim Hightower

ACORN is the feisty and effective grass-roots organization that is of, by and for low-income Americans. Its community organizers — Grit your teeth and say “doggone it,” Gov. Sarah Palin — have had remarkable success over the past three decades in helping low-wage working folks gain a real say in how their families and communities are treated by politicians, bankers, developers and other elites.

In the past few election cycles, the group’s members also have become a formidable force in national politics. How? By going door to door in their neighborhoods encouraging people to get involved in the democratic process. They register them to vote, inform them on issues and candidates, and urge them to turn out on Election Day. ACORN happens to be very good at this exercise in old-fashioned, grunt-level democracy; this year, the group has added 1.3 million new voters to the rolls.

This success is what has prompted all of the howling from the McCainites, for most of those new voters are not John’s sort of people. They tend to be janitors, hairdressers, taxi drivers, laborers, fast-food workers, hospital orderlies and such — people who usually are unorganized, unheard and unsolicited by the political system. But suddenly, there they are — signed up to vote and generally disinclined to support McCain’s lobbyist-directed policies of more tax cuts for the rich, war for the poor, health care for the few, subsidies for Big Oil, and no-strings-attached bailouts for Wall Street.

So, unwilling to compete for the votes of these families, McCain has surged down the road of slime politics by trying to demonize the group itself. Puffing himself up with red-faced, phony outrage, the Republican nominee is trying to convince the rest of us that this can-do organization of low- and moderate-income Americans is a danger to the republic! He and his partisans frantically are charging that the group’s voter registration efforts are designed deliberately to steal this year’s election by bringing oodles of ineligible voters into the system. ACORN, McCain huffed furiously in the last presidential debate, “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.”

Whew! Save some of that breath for breathing, senator.

First, this is a group that McCain was courting as recently as 2006, when he spoke to its members in glowing terms: “What makes America special is what’s in this room,” he said of the diverse ACORN audience, praising its work to extend democratic participation.

Second, the massive “fraud” that McCain & Gang are howling so loudly about is hardly massive. Of the 1.3 million new registration cards submitted to election officials across the country, only a relative handful have fictional names, wrong addresses, etc. In Nevada, for example, where ACORN has registered 80,000 new voters, fewer than 300 cards were questionable (0.4 percent), and guess who caught and flagged these suspect registrants for the state election office? Bingo, if you said ACORN staffers. It’s not in the group’s interest to turn in bad cards, and staffers work diligently to cull them.

Third, what the increasingly cynical McCain knows is that submitting invalid registration cards is not “voter fraud” because no one has voted. Fraud happens when an ineligible person actually votes, and that is so difficult that it practically never happens in our country.

McCain is the one committing voter fraud here. This manufactured flapdoodle over ACORN is a disgraceful political attack on a grass-roots group of citizens doing what democracy requires: getting people involved.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.