Elections

Ezra Klein’s Grievance-Tinted Glasses

Ezra Klein during an interview in the White House, January 6, 2017. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
Vox editor fumes over a supposedly “rigged” system – but only when seeking an advantage for Democrats.

Democrats see a political system increasingly rigged against them and the voters they represent,” Ezra Klein opines in his latest Vox piece, “and they are right.”

Klein goes on to make several erroneous claims as he outlines (what he thinks) are the stakes in the 2020 presidential election and airs his complaints about election outcomes and proper constitutional procedure.

First, in decrying the structure of the Electoral College and Senate, Klein conveniently ignores the fact that the United States is not a direct democracy, nor was it intended to be one. That Klein ignores this while making a sweeping assertion about the U.S. “political system” weakens his already-shoddy case. Why exactly is the Electoral College illegitimate or anti-democratic? Is it that the Electoral College is unconstitutional, or that the Democrats sometimes win the popular vote but lose the Electoral College, and therefore lose elections? Is it unconstitutional for states to decide their own voter-ID laws? And if some citizens do not register to vote under revised state laws, does that mean they are being suppressed by the fascist bogeyman? Or is the onus on the citizen?

The second erroneous claim is that Senator Mike Lee (R., Utah) spoke for the entire Republican Party when he tweeted, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prosperity are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.” Klein writes, rather dramatically, “Rank democracy. There is no subtext in this election, only text; no dog whistles, only foghorns. Lee, a former Supreme Court clerk and one of the GOP’s brighter intellectual lights, is stating his party’s position simply: Democracy is the enemy, the specter stalking Republican power.” This simply isn’t true. Just as one would not assume that Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) speaks for the entire Democratic Party when he tweets, rather stupidly, “Originalism is just a fancy word for discrimination,” Ezra Klein should not assume that all Republicans believe democracy is the enemy — whatever that means. (Further, David Harsanyi writes compellingly here about how Lee’s tweet was taken out of context.)

Klein’s partisanship is again on full display when he discusses the pitfalls of mail-in ballots and voter fraud. “What if Trump wins,” he posits, “but only because shocking numbers of mail-in ballots sent by Democratic voters were thrown out?” Klein concedes that, indeed, voter fraud is not only possible but ought to be a legitimate concern for Democrats. But if a Republican raises this concern . . . well, then, it becomes  a conspiracy theory that undermines democratic norms. Such is the nature of Klein’s position. Everything that can be framed as harming Democrats is an issue. If it does not harm, or if it benefits, Democrats, it is in fact not an issue or an impediment to achieving direct democracy in America.

Had Hillary Clinton won the presidential election in 2016, it’s doubtful Klein would think the “political system” is rigged. Only when the results of elections do not align with his preferences does the “political system” become rigged, and suddenly, democracy is at stake. It seems that when Republicans play by constitutional procedure and achieve their desired outcomes — e.g., the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — Ezra Klein thinks that the procedure ought to be radically reformed, consequences be damned.

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