Smart people saying smart things

Smart people saying smart things February 7, 2013

Jamelle Bouie: “Making Voting Constitutional”

Unlike citizens in every other advanced democracy — and many other developing ones — Americans don’t have a right to vote. Popular perception notwithstanding, the Constitution provides no explicit guarantee of voting rights. Instead, it outlines a few broad parameters. Article 1, Section 2, stipulates that the House of Representatives “shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States,” while Article 1, Section 4, reserves the conduct of elections to the states. The Constitution does, however, detail the ways in which groups of people cannot be denied the vote. The 15th Amendment says you can’t prevent African American men from voting. The 19th Amendment says you can’t keep women from voting. Nor can you keep citizens of Washington, D.C., (23rd Amendment) or 18-year-olds (26th Amendment) from exercising the franchise. If you can vote for the most “numerous” branch of your state legislature, then you can also vote for U.S. Senate (17th Amendment).

These amendments were passed in different circumstances, but they share one quality — they’re statements of negative liberty, establishing whom the government can’t restrict when it comes to voting.

Jenny Rae Armstrong: “John Piper, Women in Combat, and How Gender Roles Fall Short of the Glory of Humankind”

My gender is not something I perform; it is something I am. Womanhood is not something I do; it is something I live. Femininity does not define me; as a woman created in the image of God, I define it, in community with my sisters. When we reduce manhood and womanhood to a list of characteristics, behaviors, and roles assigned to each gender, we are not defending masculinity and femininity; instead, we are diminishing and impoverishing them.

Alan Bean: “A Common Peace Community”

“I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” “Stranger” is the English translation of the Greek word zenos which can mean “foreigner,” “alien,” “stranger‚” or all three at once. The two-bit word “xenophobia” refers to fear of the foreigner, the stranger, the zenos.

Jesus isn’t just saying that he loves undocumented aliens and incarcerated felons and that we should do the same.  Jesus is saying something much more radical. Just as God was incarnate, enfleshed, in Jesus, so Jesus is incarnate or enfleshed in the undocumented and the incarcerated.

Think of the woman wading the river, driven by dreams of a better life for her family. She is hungry, she is thirsty, she is alone … she is Jesus.

More than 1,000 religious leaders: “Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning”

Religious traditions teach that sex and sexuality are divinely bestowed gifts for expressing mutual love, generating life, for companionship, and for pleasure. From a religious point of view, sexual relationships are to be held sacred, and therefore should always be responsible, mutually respectful, pleasurable and loving. The gift of sexuality is violated when it is abused or exploited. Accessible, safe, and effective contraception allows for a fulfilling sexual life while reducing maternal and infant mortality, unintended pregnancies, abortions, and sexually transmitted infections.

Chauncey DeVega: “Fun With William F. Buckley Defending Racial Profiling and Questioning the ‘Extremism’ of the Civil Rights Movement”

The Tea Party GOP reactionary white populists in the Age of Obama are pathetic in their open appeals to herrenvolk racism and ugly white populism to keep the black usurper out of the White House.

By comparison, William F. Buckley had some class to his racism, … an effortless bigotry that could be argued with, and about, over a nice glass of Chianti. You tell me, who is more dangerous to the Common Good? The Tea Party or William F. Buckley?

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  • Matri

    You tell me, who is more dangerous to the Common Good?

    If you think the answer is anything other than “both of them”, you’re part of the problem too.

  • Uh… if your answer is “both of them”, in those exact words, you’re not really answering the question.

    The question isn’t asking if one of them, to the exclusion of the other, is harmful to the common good but which of them does a greater harm.  To answer “both of them” shows not only a lack of comprehension of the question, in this case, but a refusal even to acknowledge the grammar thereof.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Sooo….white men over 18 can be prohibited from voting, as far as the Constitution is concerned? I’ve got nothing in particular against white men – I’ve been married to one for a long time – and I realize what’s really going on is that the Founders considered it so obvious that white men (at least, property-owning ones) could vote that it didn’t need to be mentioned, but I still find this kind of delicious.

  • aunursa

    Sooo….white men over 18 can be prohibited from voting, as far as the Constitution is concerned?

    The Fifteenth Amendment prohibits government from denying a citizen’s right to vote based on the citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude.  The Ninteenth Amendment prohibits government from denying a citizen’s right to vote based on the citizen’s sex.  The Twenty-Sixth Amendment prohibits government from denying a citizen age 18 or over the right to vote based on the citizen’s age.

    So to answer your question: No, white men over 18 cannot be prohibited from voting on account of their race, sex, or age.

  • Becca Stareyes

    Well, yes.  For example, before sometime in the 2000s, my father (white, male and over 18) was prohibited from voting because he was not a US citizen.  Some states have laws against convicted felons voting.  But those would be true regardless of race, sex, and age (provided it is 18 or up).  As Aunursa said, someone can’t make it illegal for whites and men to vote by the same amendments that protect women and people of color: but even without the amendments, no one tried before for the obvious reason as you mentioned.

  • esmerelda_ogg

     Ah yes. I should have taken the time to actually look at the amendments. I was reacting to Fred’s list of the amendments that explicitly extended voting rights to previously excluded people; but that doesn’t stop the actual language from being inclusive.

    Short version: My bad, and thank you for the correction.

  • Water_Bear

    People definitely shouldn’t be prohibited from voting for the obvious bigot-y reasons (class, sex/gender, race, age, sexual identity, etc), but I think everyone can agree that people should have a certain amount of basic knowledge to be able to vote. Not to mention that, assuming we get the racist drug laws off the books, preventing felons from voting seems pretty sensible. 

  • Gotchaye

    While I agree that voters should have a certain amount of basic knowledge, I certainly don’t think that the government should be in the business of testing voters to determine which ones have the beliefs which qualify them to vote.  If citizens don’t have this basic information, that’s on the society which has failed to educate them.

    Why should felons not be allowed to vote?  I can kinda see an argument for not allowing felons to vote while in jail, at least in local elections, but afterwards?  And the current system, where felon populations, even in jails, count for representation even while the people being counted don’t get to vote, is inexcusable.

  • redsixwing

    I don’t see why disenfranchising people, even people who have committed a crime, is a good idea. Is there an argument for it, aside from “they have to be punished?”

    People should have a certain amount of basic knowledge in order to vote, yes, but it’s rather difficult to implement ‘a certain amount’ without opening the door to excluding whatever group the people who write the rules dislike at the moment. 

  • You tell me, who is more dangerous to the Common Good? The Tea Party or William F. Buckley?

    Both, but under different conditions.

    The Tea Party is dangerous in that it pollutes the media stream in the body politic, throwing sand in the wheels of proper governance by forcing the Obama government to have to deal with its legions of misinformed senior citizens bellowing to get the federal government out of their medicare.

    But William F. Buckley is dangerous in that he, or someone of similar ilk, can deceive you into thinking his mild words are sensible, realistic, and not in the least fundamentally anti-democratic.

  • Baby_Raptor

    Why are we wasting time trying to convince the Right that contraception isn’t inherently bad when instead we should be constantly reminding them that what their religious beliefs tell them means jack shit when it comes to laws? 

    They’re free to believe what they want. They have that right, and I’m all for it. But trying to convince them that contraception is okay so they’ll stop their crusade isn’t addressing the real issue: That they think they should be able to force everyone to live by their views. *That* is what should be stopped. Let them live their own lives however they please. 

  • banancat

    Don’t assume that we all want the same thing. Aside from the fact that it’s impossible to fairly test voters (we tried that once), uneducated people are citizens just as much as I am and should still have the right to vote. What we can and should do though is improve public education for everyone which would have the net effect of a better-educated getting pool, among other things.

    I also think felons should have the right to vote. Again, they are citizens just as much as I am. The biggest issue I see is that while in prison they could skew the results of a local election in a town they’re barely part of, but they should maintain the right to vote at least in federal elections.

    I also think suffrage should be extended to 16 and 17 year-olds. Of course some of them are idiots, just like adults. But it will be mostly self-correcting since the uninformed ones won’t bother too vote. I doubt I’ll ever get much support on this point even among progressives but it’s still worth discussing because someone has to push the Overton window leftward toward the center.

  • Hexep

    I don’t see how that follows. If you’re pushing the Overton window by talking about lowering the voting age, where’s your ultimate destination? Eliminating it altogether?

    But in general, yes, let me add my voice to what’s been said. Any attempt to restrict the voting franchise away from clearly-defined parameters – something that is absolutely hard, no gray-area, no ambiguity whatsoever – is ultimately ill-informed. This isn’t to say that previous parameters have been always altogether perfect, but the ‘perfect solution’ will have to involve one.

  • Britain’s democracy doesn’t seem to have suffered much from allowing criminals to vote. In fact, the right to vote may soon be extended to people IN prison. It’s not popular with conservatives (both small and large C) but I’m not sure what danger it poses.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Everyone does not agree on those things.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    On the contrary, a number of progressive parties have adopted the policy of lowering the voting age, so you’re not on your Pat Malone on this point.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    We (Australia) allow prisoners whose sentence is less than a parliamentary term to vote, and we’ve arguably got one of the best electoral systems in the world.

  • banancat

    Really? I’m glad to hear that but it is surprising since the loudest cultural narrative is that Kids These Days are lazy and self-absorbed. Do you know the names of any specific groups and how mainstream are they?

  • The devil is in the details especially in the area of laws and constitutions. I’d want to see the actual text of any proposed amendment before I told you if it went too far or (more likely given the innate conservatism of America) not far enough to do any good.

    I’d be in favor of at least two areas of concern being addressed: firstly I’d want the whole idea of a conviction for a felony disenfranchising you being ruled right out. Secondly, I’d want a clause that, at the very least, directs that a State must have one uniform set of election procedures that applies throughout and laws that can enforce compliance on recalcitrant local authorities. 

    And if you were to give me a magic wand I’d also wave it to force every State to take redistricting and the administration of elections out of partisan hands. Don’t believe it can’t be done: the experience of most other democracies proves it can. 

  • GDwarf

    Canada allows all prisoners to vote while in jail (since a supreme court ruling in 2002). So far our government is still intact, and no more corrupt than it was before. Indeed, a number of “tough on crime” laws have been passed since (and, wonderfully, struck down by the courts which have held that mandatory minimum sentences are unconstitutional).

  • AnonaMiss

    I’ve given a lot of thought to the disenfranchisement of the young and the necessity of drawing a line somewhere to avoid the parents of young children from effectively having extra votes.
    The best solution I’ve come up with so far is to allow the below-voting-age the opportunity to vote for ceremonial representatives who have the right to speak in congress but not to vote, similar to the way the D.C. representative works now. (And of course give D.C. actual representation already because come the fuck on.) Thoughts?

  • Carstonio

    I haven’t yet seen the first Buckley video that DeVega cited but I saw the second. My reaction was, “Holy shit, did he really ask Godfrey Cambridge to pacify his fellow blacks?” I loved how Cambridge pointed out the idea’s idiocy. I had the Ani DiFranco lyric “White people are so scared of black people” running throu my head. (That’s a routine from the Ron and Fez radio show whenever someone says something racist.)

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Currently 16 year olds can vote in Austria, Bosnia, Brazil, Nicaragua, the Isle of Man, Guernsey, Jersey and parts of Germany and Switzerland.

    A voting age of 16 is official policy of the Scottish National Party and a number of Greens parties in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I’m still flabbergasted that residents of DC are disenfranchised in the self-styled Greatest Democracy in the World (TM).

  • banancat

     I’ve heard this line of reasoning before and it’s valid, but why is ok for a 30 year-old to vote for a candidate just because their parents did, but less ok for a 16 year-old to do it.  Aside from the stereotype of teenagers ignoring their parents for the sake of being difficult, I really think that enough teenagers could handle the responsibility.  We do have anonymous voting and we could minimize this problem by education and also including signs in the booth or at polling places.

    I think it’s a reasonable idea to have non-voting representatives, but how would it work in practice?  Would they have to vote for someone from their own age group?  It would be a first step.  It’s a complex topic and it will probably a long time before I ever see it happen, but I’m glad that others are at least thinking about it and the issues that will need to resolved as it happens.

    As an aside, the reason I think lowering the voting age is important is because of my own experience.  I was in high school during the 2000 election and happened to be taking civics class that year so I was very informed about the candidates, probably moreso than many adults.  And my biggest concern is the W’s education policies would directly influence me by reducing the quality of my remaining education, which actually did happen.  For years I was mad that I had no say in something that directly affected me.

  • banancat

     Sorry, I may be using the “Overton window” phrase wrong.  In any case, if conservatives have to expend effort just to prevent extending voting rights, they will have less time to try to decrease voting rights for other groups.  And if a very far left idea is being discussed in public, it makes their ideas seem so much more extreme in comparison.  There are always people who believe the truth resides right in the middle of the two extremes, so moving one extreme to the left will make the centrist position fall more in the actual center.  I don’t think that decreasing the voting age is really that left in particular, but in general my point is that it’s worth bringing up these ideas even when there’s not a whole lot of support yet or much chance that it will happen soon.

  • Carstonio

    …and the newer video exemplifies the DiFranco lyric even more. Buckley insisting to Chuck D that fear of black men is understandable because of crime statistics – I would have expected that premise from SNL. Apparently he ignored the section on blacks being more likely to become crime victims.

  • P J Evans

     That’s a common conservative theme. Unfortunately. Usually they just dog-whistle it.

  • Thank god. The tendency of the Harpoids to ape the behavior of the worst kind of American politician is quite distressing. It’s good to see the courts here haven’t been cravenly slavish to the idea that “tough love” in the form of mandatory jail sentences is actually beneficial.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t think that decreasing the voting age is really that left in particular

    It’s not. It’s not a left/right thing at all.

    Here endeth today’s edition of Sgt. Pepper won’t stop banging on about political labels.