I don’t know about you, but I could really use some good political news. It isn’t new; I wrote about it last weekend, Oregon Increases Freedom in Our Democracy. It was about the new law in Oregon that would automatically (unless they opt out) register people to vote. But I mentioned that there was little reason to think this would mean that more people would vote. Still, as the title indicates, I thought it was a great thing. It made voting easier and that’s wonderful. Democracy is a good thing. But before getting to the good news, let me briefly discuss why democracy is a good thing.
The standard take on democracy from conservatives is that if voting is too easy, all these idiots who aren’t engaged in politics will vote. “Idiots” is defined in the conservative world as, “Anyone who doesn’t hang on every word of conservative commentators.” But I am a big believer in The Wisdom of Crowds. The big problem that I see is that, for example, the rich generally are much better educated than the poor. But they are blinded by their own class interests. It is only by including everyone that we assure that the interests of everyone are taken into account.
But it is curious. While I was growing up, the big thing that made the US special was that unlike the USSR, we were a democracy. But today, conservatives are really quite outspoken in their opposition to this foundational idea of our republic. In fact, it is interesting: when Glenn Beck was a huge thing on Fox News I kept hearing people talk about how the US was a “republic” not a “democracy.” At first, I was confused, “It’s a democratic republic.” But it was really just the mainstreaming of the devaluation of the concept of democracy. It went along with Glenn Beck’s belief that America died when we started direct election of US Senators. Really what it means is, “My ideology is unpopular, so I don’t like democracy.”
I’m thrilled when America becomes more democratic. In that way, I am entirely typical of the Democrats. Just the same, under normal circumstances, I would be typical of most Republicans. The anti-democracy push of recent years has come the way most things come in the conservative movement: from the top down. Of course, don’t expect to hear any Republican politicians talk about how terrible democracy is. Just expect them to do everything they can while in power to limit democracy. But I think we need to talk openly about this kind of stuff. What kinds of laws are being enacted in Republican controlled states? Modern poll taxes — laws to limit democracy. What kind of laws are being passed (or at least considered) in Democratically controlled states? Laws that increase democracy. As an American, you really have to ask why you would support a party that doesn’t believe in democracy.
On Thursday, Jonathan Bernstein wrote, Voting Is All About Registration. It is about a recent research paper that found that if people were automatically registered to vote (or could do so the same day), 3 to 4 million more people would have voted in the 2012 election. Now that’s not a huge amount. In fact, Romney lost the election by 5 million votes, so even if all these voters had been Romney supporters, he still would have lost. But it still represents roughly 2-3% of the vote.
I’m not going to lie to you. I think that a strong majority (maybe even a vast majority) of these voters are liberals. And the truth is that if 4 million more Democrats had voted in 2014, the two parties would have roughly tied for the total popular vote in House and Senate races. But even if most of those voters were Republican, I would still be thrilled that they got to vote. I would think that my job as a liberal was to make my policy ideas (which I know are better) more appealing to the people. In general, conservatives don’t think this way. And why would they? They’ve used fear and hatred very successful for decades. Winning on actual policy has never been their way.
But in the public consciousness, it is liberals like me who are elitists. I’ve never really understood that. It’s true, I scoff at ignorant people pushing stupid ideas. But conservatives do the same thing toward people like me, claiming that our good ideas are stupid or, hilariously, elitist. Contempt is something we all share. But conservatives think that the whole democracy thing is a joke. And that is absolutely the most elitist opinion that there is.