Ross Douthat wrote a really good article last Thursday, The Politics of Voter ID. On one hand, the article is another in a long line of Republican pundits trying to convince the Republican establishment that all the self-destructive things they are doing are, you know, self-destructive. On the other hand, I haven’t heard this argument before. He says that while voter ID will disenfranchise lots of Democratic voters, it will also disenfranchise lots of Republican votes. Because of this, Republicans will not get as much benefit for these laws as they think. And according to Douthat, they are going to lose far more than they gain by both adding power to the Democrats’ voter registration drives and make the Republicans look like the bigots they are (my words, not his).
Although I think this is highly insightful, it won’t matter at all. The Republicans have convinced themselves that they are creating voter ID laws simply to make elections fair. I was originally shocked, but the truth is that many (even most) Republicans think that the only reason that Democrats ever win elections is because they are stolen. Many Republicans believe that ACORN stole the 2012 election for Obama, even though they went out of business almost two years to the day before the election. To these kinds of people, America is still as white as it was in 1950—or perhaps even more white. That’s a big part of the problem of the right wing echo chamber: it allows people to think that pretty much everyone believes as they do. It’s the whole problem of, “All Indians walk in single file—at least the only one I ever saw did.”
So I have no doubt that the people who support voter ID laws are simultaneously racist and sincere. They realize that the laws are racist. But this isn’t a problem for them, because they just know that voter fraud is primarily a problem with minority people. Since they are completely vested in this idea, they will never back away from the voter ID laws. Even if they were convinced that voter ID was bad for the Republicans, they are too vested in the idea that they are for it for idealistic reasons to go back now. Here I’m talking about the Republican base, of course; the elites pushing these laws are doing it cynically.
Douthat notes a very strange thing with where elite opinion is on this stuff. The Republican leadership is pushing voter ID laws. But they are also in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. In both these case, the Republicans are going against what African Americans want. They aren’t generally in favor of a pathway to citizenship. It isn’t that they are against it, but like most poorer Americans, they think that the government should do something about their situation before worrying about people who are here illegally. So in both cases, the Republican Party leadership is giving the African American community a big “Fuck you!”
This isn’t surprising, of course. The position on Voter ID laws is simply an obvious, first-order approach to staying in power without changing their highly unpopular positions on economic issues. The position on comprehensive immigration reform is simply one of these pro-business economic issues. I’ve never thought that the embrace of immigration reform by the Republican leadership was about making nice with the immigrant community. It was about doing what the true base of the Republican Party wanted. George W. Bush revealed a good too much about his party in this amusing 20 seconds of video:
Ross Douthat’s article went right along with what I’ve been thinking the last couple of months. At first, the voter ID laws concerned me greatly. But over time I came to see them not being that important. The way the United States already is, people are encouraged not to vote. In terms of developed countries, we make it harder to vote than anyone else. These laws will just make the voter registration drives that much harder—but they won’t stop them. What’s more, all the time that the Republicans spend on stopping people from voting is just time that they don’t work on becoming an appealing political party.
So what Douthat has done is put some numbers to what I was thinking. And he’s made me feel even better about these laws. It seems more than ever that the Republican Party is destroying itself.