The wave of Republican-sponsored state voter suppression legislation around the country provides an excellent example of an idea that has long been popular on the right: that we have too many voters who cast their ballots the “wrong way.” It is often assumed that Republicans really believe the “voter fraud” myths that persist, without evidence of their validity, among their elected officials and favored media outlets. But there’s another rationale for malicious administration of the franchise that has nothing to do with suppositions that deceased people, non-citizens, or those otherwise ineligible to vote are nonetheless casting ballots: the very old conservative belief that some fully eligible citizens do not deserve the right to vote.
A Pew survey published just last week showed that self-identified Republicans rejected by a two-to-one margin the proposition that voting is “a fundamental right for every U.S. citizen and should not be restricted,” favoring instead a view of voting as “a privilege that comes with responsibilities and can be limited.” What those “responsibilities” involved wasn’t specified in the survey, but traditionally there has been a strong undercurrent of sentiment among conservatives that voting rolls should not include “takers” or “free-loaders” who might otherwise “vote themselves” more benefits at the expense of hard-working taxpayers. This was a very common Tea Party grievance that was ultimately echoed by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in his notorious “47 percent” comment about incorrigibly redistributionist Democratic voters. It did not go away simply because its public disclosure turned out to be politically inconvenient.
But there is in theory at least more than one way to skin the “freeloading voter” cat: If suppressing the votes of the wrong people doesn’t go far enough, enhancing the votes of the right people could be another option. That was the underlying logic, so to speak, of Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance’s suggestion at a conservative conference over the weekend, as reported in the Federalist:
“The Democrats are talking about giving the vote to 16-year-olds,” Vance noted. “Let’s do this instead. Let’s give votes to all children in this country, but let’s give control over those votes to the parents of the children.” He continued, asking, “Doesn’t this mean that nonparents don’t have as much of a voice as parents? Doesn’t this mean that parents get a bigger say in how democracy functions?” He answered with a simple “yes” after saying “the Atlantic and the Washington Post and all the usual suspects” would criticize him.
Vance went on to attack leading Democrats who don’t have biological children (Kamala Harris, who has two step-chidren; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez; Cory Booker, and in a homophobic drive-by attack, Pete Buttigieg) as failing to “have a personal and direct stake in [the country’s future] via their own offspring.” There was no reference to the usual GOP target, Nancy Pelosi, since she has five children, or to Joe Biden, who fathered four children (two of whom tragically died).
This was kind of a trollish masterpiece by a candidate who is in an intense competition for the MAGA vote in the increasingly Trumpy Ohio Republican Party. Vance began by attributing a fringe position (voting rights for 16-year-olds) to “the Democrats” in general, and then in an inspired bit of whataboutism, advanced the “idea” of giving adults more votes to reflect child-bearing responsibilities and the presumed moral superiority of those who discharge them. It enabled him to appeal to the natalist, pro-high-birthrate tendency that is just underneath the surface in very conservative Christian circles, where abortion and sometimes even contraception are inconceivable and women are expected to stay at home raising tomorrow’s “patriots,” while taking a big stick to the progressive feminists and sodomites who allegedly run the country and have no interests beyond their immediate libertine gratification. But it also scratched an anti-democratic itch among those who rightly fear that they are the northbound end of a southbound brontosaurus when it comes to the shape of the electorate of the immediate future.
The bottom line is that Vance understands the sort of cultural panic Republican primary voters feel these days, and prescribes political activism as the only solution, as The Hill reported from another section of his speech;
Big finance, Big tech, Wall Street, the biggest corporations, the universities, the media and the government … There is not a single institution in this country that conservatives currently control, but there is one of them, just one, that we might have a chance of actually controlling in the future and that’s the constitutional republic that our founders gave us,” Vance said.
Poor outgunned conservatives! They have a moral right to run the country and just need some help from whatever source is available: the filibuster and other structural aspects of the U.S. Senate; the Electoral College; partisan gerrymandering; Trump appointees to the federal courts; and whatever changes in voting and election procedures prove necessary to give good people a fighting chance against bad people. It’s an all-purpose ends-justify-the-means argument, and its logical end is no less absurd than Vance’s “proposal” to give big conservative Christian families extra votes.