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OPINION | BRADLEY GITZ: Democracy hysterics

by Bradley Gitz | July 19, 2021 at 2:01 a.m.

Democrats are using ever-more apocalyptic language to characterize Republican voting laws that include provisions such as voter ID and limits on mail-in voting.

The vice president has declared voting rights to be "the fight of our nation's lifetime" (implying that someone is fighting awfully hard against them). After referring to Georgia's recently enacted law as "Jim Crow on steroids," her boss has now taken it a step further by claiming such laws present "the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War."

We are thus presented with another lesson on how the contemporary left advances its agenda through hysteria and fear. And also with the peculiar argument that American democracy is so endangered that the only way to save it is to enact a range of ballot procedures (those contained in the misnamed "For the People Act," House Resolution 1) that American democracy has never featured before, or to anywhere near such an extent.

Put differently, if the procedures specified in HR1 are what is required to hold a truly democratic election, as Democrats' rhetoric suggests, then America has never held one. Nor has any other country that we normally view as democratic.

We are told of the need to "save" something (democracy) which, by the very logic of the argument, has never existed.

There is also implicit in Democratic claims ignorance of the fact that voting in America has gotten progressively easier over time and is now much more so than when Democrats like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama managed, despite all of the suggested obstacles to Democratic turnout, to easily win four presidential elections between them. And that this would still be true if every state had voting laws similar to Georgia's.

At the least, it seems bizarre to argue that American democracy will be reduced to an empty exercise unless we dilute voter ID requirements, permit ballot harvesting, require curbside voting, expand use of drop boxes and mail-in voting and feature more days of early voting. And that failure to put all that in place nationwide by federal legislation constitutes "voter suppression."

If special rules were established to enhance voting access during an emergency (the pandemic), what rationale dictates that they remain in place after it, and how will democracy suddenly vanish if they don't?

Second, there is the even more peculiar tendency to confuse democracy with threats to it; more precisely, to claim that democracy is somehow subverted when voters go to the polls and elect representatives to govern on their behalf who then pass laws regarding voting procedure.

Rather than an assault upon democracy, Georgia's new voting law is both a consequence and a reflection of it. The people might often be fools, but their capacity to enshrine that foolishness into law is precisely what democracy is all about, and it is a strange (and ironically anti-democratic) conception of the thing which suggests that the voters shouldn't be allowed to determine voting procedure.

If democracy is defined by the principle of majority rule (the "people's will," in more romantic versions), then how is it anti-democratic to codify in law requirements like voter ID that the vast majority support?

Finally, there is the continuing, seldom-explained belief among Democrats that the survival of democracy always depends upon making voting procedures progressively looser and voting ever easier as enticements; that democracy is somehow at risk if the act of voting is accompanied by the slightest inconvenience.

There is within this a certain amnesiac assumption that whatever voting procedures existed even as recently as a decade ago, and which were assumed at the time to be sufficiently democratic, suddenly no longer are.

Closely related is the claim that since little vote fraud is detected, there can be no danger in continually weakening safeguards against it, and that any skepticism thereof (which, if the polls are remotely accurate, a majority of Americans share) can only flow from malicious intent, in this case racism.

To cite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud as a justification for relaxing safeguards against it is akin to arguing that a city with a low homicide rate can safely repeal its laws against homicide (that the safeguards and the laws might have something to do with the low incidence of fraud and number of murders, respectively, apparently isn't considered amid the hubris).

One could be forgiven in all this for concluding that Democrats see only those elections that they win as "fair" and legitimate, and only those voting procedures that they believe will produce more Democrats in office as democratic. They therefore define democracy not so much as a process as a set of preferred political outcomes, as a substantive end--the realization of Democratic agenda items--rather than a means.

When Democrats are in the minority (as in the Texas legislature), the steps they take to thwart the majority are in defense of democracy; when Democrats are in the majority (as in the U.S. Senate), steps taken by the minority to thwart their desires (such as use of the filibuster) constitute a threat to it.

When Democrats get what they want, democracy is served; when they don't, it has been subverted.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

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