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“Better Voters”

You have probably heard about this. A couple of days ago, a writer for the National Review, Kevin Williamson, wrote an article entitled, “Voting Law Debate: Why Not Fewer Voters?” Yes, he actually wrote that, with the faux erudite style perfected in that journal founded by William F. Buckley. A kind of pseudo-intellectual musing, posing as going deeper than what Williamson views as the ploddingly simplistic view of the other side, that the goal of voting laws is to increase the amount of registered voters who can easily and legally vote.

Williamson propounds the question that maybe what we need is not more voters, but better voters. Ah, yes, why didn’t we consider that obvious point? The goal is not more voters, but better voters! Williamson then goes on to make what he apparently thinks are pointed arguments ,the kind that Buckley would make on PBS, though I don’t think that Buckley would have gone this far. He says that we have requirements for being able to drive a car, or practicing medicine, so why not for voting?

Let that sink in. He not only says this, but thinks he has run rings around us logically, to quote a Monty Python skit. He queries, why do we require medical practitioners to have gone to medical school, and to have obtained a valid license to practice medicine, but do not require something similar of voters? Why do would-be drivers have to take a driving test?

Well, because having the right to practice medicine or drive a car is not guaranteed in the Constitution. Also, because they both require specialized skills, one obviously more complex than the other. If you try to practice medicine without proof that you have at least some background and facility at it, you are not just breaking the law, that isn’t the crux of it. You are endangering people’s lives. If you have no experience with a car, and you just jump in and start trying to drive, you can kill people, including yourself. A car is a powerful machine, and very dangerous if not driven correctly. And of course there are drivers with licenses who do not drive well, and some doctors who are bad at what they do. But at least one has a reasonable chance to expect that someone who has a medical license has some expertise in their field. That is the point of it.

Now, what Mr. Williamson either doesn’t understand, or thinks that he is so clever that he has passed into a higher plane of logic, is that voting is not using a potential weapon, or risking the lives of people. It is exercising a constitutional right, to be able to choose your leaders, or at least people who will supposedly carry out programs you support. You have that right as an American, as you would in any democracy or republic, just to cover both of those, since Republicans love to expound on what they see is a crucial difference between them.

Clearly, the perceptiveness and knowledge of voters widely differs. But this is a democracy, and the Constitution says that all men are created equal. That was much too narrow, and it took over a century for women and minorities to obtain the same right to vote that White male property owners had at the outset. That was an inexcusable failing, but at least it finally was fixed, at least legally. Now we are going to hear arguments from the patrician Right, that maybe this is a bad idea? Well, perhaps they are in the wrong country, then.

A democracy desperately needs as large a voting participation as it can obtain. Does Williamson know that in France, every citizen over the age of 18 is automatically registered to vote? France wants you to vote, to exercise your plebiscite, and it makes it as easy as possible. There are many countries where voting is mandatory. These include Australia, Greece, the birthplace of democracy, Costa Rica, Belgium, Luxembourg, Mexico, Singapore. People can be fined or worse for not voting. I think that this may go too far, but it is an interesting contrast to what Williamson is proposing.

What is he proposing? Well, he does not say, because if he did, he would be supporting restrictions which have been found to be unconstitutional. These include the Jim Crow laws in the postbellum South. The poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses which were designed to make sure that virtually no Black people could vote.

What tests would the National Review propose, to obtain “better voters”? Proof of a graduate degree? A high score on the SAT or GRE? Employer reports on you from the last ten years? Proof of income over $500,000? Knowing the right people? A letter from a high-ranking Republican, attesting to your abilities to cast a proper vote?

This is beyond idiotic. But Williamson is not really going to argue this at length. He is just going to propound, in classic National Review style, that Democrats who contend that we must expand the right to vote, are extreme populists who are urging the rabble to go out and vote, while Republicans’ efforts to winnow down the voting rolls, are judicious and proper. All he wants is to toss out some kind of flimsy argument behind which the racists and the would-be aristocrats and the fascists can hide, by saying that “we are not suppressing the vote, we are simply showing that trying to add voters is not a virtue, or a constitutional right, but simply the Democrats trying to win by any means including voting.”

All the Right needs, all the media which are their mouthpieces need, is some argument on the other side, no matter how ludicrous. They always come up with one. Trump’s phone calls were not violative of laws, he had that right. Trump never said that, he was misquoted or joking or sarcastic. That was not an insurrection at the the capitol building, it was a peaceful and loving event. Gaetz may have done this or that, but so did other people. Just throw something out there, so that the illusion of a contested argument, a reasonable debate, is presented. “Well, Democrats argue that the Georgia voting laws are specifically designed to limit the voting of Democrats, particularly Black people. But Republicans contend that they do no such thing; and additionally, that maybe it will improve the voting pool in a socially darwinian way. So who is right here?”

The Far Right (and the National Review would never call themselves that, they posture as “principled conservatives”) are not hiding any longer. They are desperate. They will lose control of the country unless they manage to diminish the votes of the poor and minorities. So they pass every possible law that they can which is specifically intended to do just that, never mind the phony Orwellian phrasing “Protect the Vote,” or “Insuring the Rights of All.” They want to stop Democrats from voting, as much as possible. They’re achieving that, unless something major is done to overturn these new laws. Then they need people like Kevin Williamson to cover for them, either by saying that these draconian laws are actually good for the country, or that we need a new conception of voting; it is not how many vote, but how many of them are the “better voters.”

I think that we need a better class of political writers and journals, and I would propose in a gentlemanly way, that we start by banning Williamson, and closing down the National Review. A modest proposal, to be sure.