Two men from opposing sides of the political spectrum, with different experiences of America, utilizing two divergent forums, arrive at the same conclusion: disenfranchising voters is harmful to our struggling democracy.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul appeared on last Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press for an interview with moderator David Gregory. Paul gave several statements that would appear to be at odds with Republican Party talking points, including a stubborn refusal to fault President Obama for the administration’s current cautious approach to reengaging Iraq. But we already knew that Paul is a true libertarian on this issue. He values a nation’s right to live and determine its own system of government above his party’s interest in warfare and faux domination. I am not alone in wondering if this approach renders him unelectable in a national Republican primary.
But in the same interview, Paul drew attention to another fundamental plank in his platform – ending the war on drugs. This is another issue on which the Senator takes a truly libertarian perspective. Even so, I bolted upright on my couch when he said the following:
“[The war on drugs is] the biggest voting rights issue of our day. We’ve gotten distracted by a lot of other things. We think there may be a million people who are being prevented from voting from having a previous felony conviction…It prevents you from employment, so if we’re the party of family values and keeping families together, and the party that believes in redemption and second chances, we should be for letting people have the right to vote back, and I think the face of the Republican party needs to be not about suppressing the vote, but about enhancing the vote.”
I am not in the habit of rewarding politicians for uttering statements of obvious common sense, but given the toxic state of reason and discourse in the Republican party, it’s difficult not to view this as a little brave. After all, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor just got tossed for being viewed by his constituents as too liberal.
On the same day, The New York Times ran columnist Charles M. Blow’s piece, “The Frustration Doctrine.” Blow, a dyed in the wool liberal who writes from the perspective of an African-American man come of age in the deep South, has been critical of the broken prison system as well as voter disenfranchisement. This past weekend, while evaluating the nation’s general distrust in government institutions, he observed:
“As many Americans, particularly those in the middle, throw up their hands in disgust and walk away in dismay, hyperpartisans — particularly conservatives — exert more influence…moderates are the least likely to be politically active. The ambivalent middle appears to be the cradle of apathy. And while the consistently liberal are more likely to do things like volunteer for a candidate or a campaign, consistent conservatives are much more likely than liberals to vote.”
While Paul and Blow approached the issue of the vote from two different angles (Paul indicting a penal system that disproportionately disenfranchises minority men – who incidentally tend to vote Democrat, Blow trying to incite civic spirit in the malaised middle), the message is the same. Renewed access to and enthusiasm for the ballot is the only way to repair our fractured democracy.
It’s hard to remember a time when getting out the vote was not a polarizing issue, but so it was. Merely eight years ago, then-President George W. Bush celebrated the extension of the Voting Rights Act. The compassionate conservative and former Governor of Texas would likely find himself primaried over such an inclusive approach to the polls in 2014.
I’ll go back to impugning his other dangerous policies in short order, but for now, I thank Senator Rand Paul for challenging his party to live up to its long stated core values. Freedom for all – not just the moneyed white man. At the same time, it’s equally critical that those of us on the left and in the middle chant the same mantra: Don’t like where the country is headed? Get off the couch and vote – even if they make you wait in line. No hyperbole here. It’s the only way.