Tom Edsall, whose work I’ve enjoyed for years, made an unfortunate mistake this morning. In a New York Times piece on President Obama’s re-election strategy, Edsall makes the case that both sides are trying to “suppress” the 2012 vote – Democrats are doing it by discouraging likely GOP voters, and Republicans are doing it through voter-ID laws.
Ed Kilgore did a nice job highlighting the deeply flawed false equivalency.
Even if you buy Edsall’s assumption that the Obama campaign’s anti-Romney ads are designed to convince non-college educated white voters who won’t support the incumbent to give Romney a pass as well, it is fundamentally wrong to treat such efforts as equivalent to utilizing the power of government to bar voters from the polls altogether.
Voters hypothetically convinced by the Obama ads to “stay home” in the presidential contest are perfectly free to skip that ballot line and vote their preferences for other offices, just as they are perfectly free to ignore both presidential campaigns’ attack ads and make a “hard choice” between two candidates they aren’t crazy about. Lumping negative ads together with voter disenfranchisement under the rubric of “vote suppression” legitimizes the latter as a campaign tactic rather than what it actually is: an assault on the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.
Quite right. The Republican tactics of the last year and a half have been the most outrageous assault of voting rights since Jim Crow. It is a systematic effort to rig the election by targeting likely Democratic constituencies and putting new hurdles between them and their democracy. The “war on voting” label is admittedly a trite cliche, but it’s also a real phenomenon.
On the other side, we see Democrats … running attack ads? One party is engaged in voter suppression through legal disenfranchisement, while the other party is carefully shaping its message to maximize the electoral impact?
There is simply no comparison between the two. One is actual voter suppression; the other is a political campaign.