Voter ID laws and evil genius

Voter ID laws are a truly evil thing, an attempt to disenfranchise the poor and racial minorities. They are also an act of evil genius, politically speaking. To the majority of middle-class voters, it sounds totally reasonable — who doesn’t have an ID, after all? It could even sound crazy that people didn’t have to present ID before! Even though there’s no evidence that in-person voter fraud has ever been even a minor problem, putting the policy forward as a way to prevent fraud makes it sound like the proponents are trying to protect elections rather than undermine democratic representation. It takes a lot of explanation to get to the point where you understand the real intent of the law, and the very fact that the plan is so devious is enough to make a significant number of people dismiss it as a real possibility. And if it gets struck down in court, it gives you a chance to demagogue against liberal judicial activism. In short: brilliant.

By contrast, the signature policies of Democrats are seemingly designed from the ground up to alienate people. Let’s legally compel people to give their money to health insurers they don’t trust! Let’s give financiers the chance to gamble on carbon emissions! Let’s have a stimulus so small that it will only barely work and will discredit the very idea of government support for the economy! I know that the most dialectical and knowing way to interpret such things is to say that Obama’s apparent failures all advance his more deep-seated goals — but isn’t that actually a version of the much-derided “eleven-dimensional chess” theory? Isn’t it possible, even if we concede that the Democrats are not a very liberal party on the grand scheme, that they also suck at this?

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