The Corner

Politics & Policy

‘Voting Rights’ Has Become a Meaningless Political Slogan

“I voted” stickers during the California gubernatorial recall election in Long Beach, Calif., September 14, 2021. (David Swanson/Reuters)

In the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin manages to pen an entire column about the importance of saving democracy without mentioning a single thing that the democracy-saving bills she covets would actually do. The piece is a perfect example of the distance that now exists between the heated rhetoric around “voting rights,” and the cold reality on the ground.

In the course of her essay, Rubin references the need to “protect voting rights” and to “protect voting rights and secure our democracy”; she insists that “protecting democracy is more important than sustaining the filibuster”; she urges Biden’s critics “to consider their moral responsibility and historical legacy”; she criticizes “Manchin and Sinema,” who she says “have apparently decided that placating right-wingers in their states outweighs their obligation to support democracy”; she insists upon the need for “voting reforms”; she references “Biden’s defense of democracy”; she laments that the president “cannot force Manchin or Sinema to defend democracy”; she mentions the Republican party’s “implacable opposition to reforms and nationwide assault on voting”; she complains that “democracy’s fate rests with two stubborn senators”; and she demands that President Biden must do “whatever is necessary” to fix this problem.

But nowhere — at any point, in any way, even tangentially — does she put meat on the bone.

The column is a perfect example of the way in which this issue has been abstracted so far away from the details as to have become absurd. By and large, Americans do not believe that they are being denied the right to vote, or care much about attempts to “reform” the system. Why? Because they’re not — as the last few elections have clearly shown. As a quotidian political question, the Democratic Party is entirely within its rights to want the system to work differently than it does — although some consistency might be nice — but its pretense that its maximalist preferences are in some way synonymous with “the right to vote” is preposterous, and is being generally received as such.

Why isn’t President Biden making more progress on this front? Because, when one gets past the rhetoric and the assumptions, there’s really not much there.

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