Talking Points

Democrats' selective arguments against GOP voter laws

President Biden laid out the most comprehensive Democratic case against state-level Republican voting legislation yet during a speech in Philadelphia. He argued that these bills, like the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, flowed from conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election. Only passing the Democrats' preferred election overhaul can rectify this, he claimed.

Then Biden went a little further. "We're facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War," he said. "That's not hyperbole, since the Civil War."

"It's not going to produce two more votes for a voting rights bill, but Biden planning to cast the next two elections politically as a critical defense against an authoritarian movement led by his immediate predecessor is kind of a big deal," tweeted NBC News' Benjy Sarlin.

What happened on Jan. 6 was inexcusable and former President Donald Trump's repeated baseless claims about the election have mainstreamed dubious opinions among Republican voters, who already had an exaggerated sense of voter fraud's prevalence. But there are illiberal trends evident across the political spectrum and it is not clear that framing debates over drive-through voting and third-party collection of absentee ballots as a clash between good and evil is actually positive for American democracy.

The Texas Democrats who are being celebrated for protesting a (hastily drafted) Republican voting law are also thwarting the will of the majority in their state and using a procedural maneuver to do so that would itself be described as a relic of Jim Crow if employed by a GOP minority for conservative ends. There is a selectivity to Democratic arguments about when the barest of majorities should prevail lest democracy die and when there might be something to the idea of a numerical minority retaining some leverage. 

Democrats no less than Republicans are seeking to tweak voting laws to their advantage in close elections. And of late, even when they have won, they haven't done so by the margins that allowed them to pass the New Deal, the Great Society, and ObamaCare. They want to enact FDR-style change with Jimmy Carter-sized majorities, which is not how the U.S. system is designed to work.

That's not to say everything is copacetic on the right. But Republican kookiness is not best counteracted with Democratic cynicism.