This morning, Jonathan Chait flags three voter suppression apologias. Rich Lowry at Politico accuses Hillary Clinton of playing the “race card” in her criticism of the recent voter suppression law in North Carolina. Jonathan Tobin in Commentary claims that these voter ID laws are not a civil rights cause. And the National Review dismisses the whole issue with, The Good Sense of Voter ID.
I’m especially taken with Tobin’s argument because it show a shocking level of historical ignorance. His claim is that voter ID laws just inconvenience people; they aren’t like Jim Crow where the government was making laws to stop people from voting. That’s a silly statement because these voter ID laws are the government making laws to stop people from voting. They may not be as extreme as Jim Crow, but they are as extreme as the politicians can currently make them. What’s more, Jim Crow and slavery itself were not primarily about racism. They were about power and money for those who already had a lot of power and money.
Think of it like this: wasn’t Jim Crow just an “inconvenience”? After all, African Americans in Mississippi could have moved to New York were there would have be no problem registering to vote. Everyone now accepts that poll taxes were a real issue meant to stop poor blacks from voting. What are voter ID laws other than a poll tax by another name? What’s more, the whole argument comes down to something like this, “There is nothing wrong with cutting off a man’s foot; now if you cut off his whole leg, that would be a problem…” Voter suppression is very much a civil rights issue.
What this recent wave of voter suppression apologetics reminds me of is the lead up to the Iraq War. The administration claimed that they didn’t want to go to war and that they would do anything to avoid it. But the truth is—And this was obvious even at the time, Peter Beinart!—that this was totally disingenuous. The Bush administration was hell bent on war with Iraq, as they had been at least since 9/11.
The same thing is true with the recent conservative push for voter ID laws. The proponents don’t generally say, “We’re trying to disenfranchise Democratic leaning voters!” (Although, as Chait notes, often they do say just that.) Instead, the conservatives are just trying to make voting pure. Sure, it may inadvertently disenfranchise Democratic voters, but that’s only because there is so much voter fraud going on within the Democratic Party. I’m talking to you ACORN!
The big problem with all of this is that the conservative movement has found a great loophole in the mainstream media. The conservatives are fine as long as not too many of them scream in the streets, “Let’s get the darkies!” The press will just pretend that that the conservatives are honest brokers who really believe their talking points. After all, what could go wrong? Other than a war. Or a fascist take over of the country. But these are minor risks compared to having a “biased” media or letting the mythical voter fraud threat go unchecked.
This article has gotten this song stuck in my brain: