Three thoughtful articles this week.
The Democrat Fighting H.R.1
An attempt to federalize state and local elections
By Kimberley A. Strassel
Behind the Democrats’ push for their federal take-over of congressional elections is their insistence that it will sweep away “racist” voting laws and increase voter turnout. No wonder they had no interest this week in hearing from a Democratic legend who knows—and can prove—that they are full of it.
That Democrat is Bill Gardner, New Hampshire’s secretary of state. Mr. Gard- ner has been overseeing Granite State voting since Dec. 2, 1976, a week before Stacey Abrams’s 3rd birthday. In December, a bipartisan vote of the New Hampshire Legislature elected him to a 23rd two-year term. The longest-serving secretary of state in U.S. history, he’s an institution, famous for his apolitical commitment to the state’s constitution and its first-in-the-nation primary.
Mr. Gardner was invited (by Republicans) to testify at Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, which the Democratic majority titled “Jim Crow 2021: The Latest Assault on the Right to Vote.” Ms. Abrams got most of the headlines; the media and Senate Democrats barely acknowledged Mr. Gardner’s presence. And no wonder. It isn’t only that Mr. Gardner vehemently opposes his party’s H.R.1 bill, which would federally impose procedures such as early and absentee voting on the states. He also has incontrovertible evidence that the narrative behind it is a crock.
“Just because you make voting easier, it does not raise turnout automatically,” Mr. Gardner told the committee. It can have the opposite result by undermining “the trust and confidence voters have in the process.” He called it a “fine balance.” The New Hampshire evidence makes the case.
By Democrats’ definition, New Hampshire has some of the most “suppressive” voter laws anywhere. In the hearing and in a subsequent interview with me, Mr. Gardner explained that some of these rules are part of the state’s constitution. That document requires that residents show up to vote in person unless they are physically disabled or out of town. That means no mail-in voting. The state constitution requires that the final vote tally for each candidate be publicly declared at each polling place the night of the election after the polls close. This is one reason New Hampshire doesn’t allow early voting, which can cause the counting to stretch for days.
New Hampshire is one of four states that don’t allow provisional ballots—again, because it would derail the public reading of tallies. The state requires voter identification. It also requires in-person registration at a town hall or at a polling place on Election Day; it went out of its way to become exempt from the 1993 federal “motor voter” law that allows registration by motor vehicle offices and other bureaucracies.
Racist? Suppressive? Onerous? Hardly. For the past five presidential elections, New Hampshire has been in the top five states for voter turnout. It’s been third in the past four presidential elections, last year pulling 72.2% of its voting-age population to the polls. That exceeded U.S. turnout by nearly 11 points; in 2016 the figure was 14.5 points.
New Hampshire’s experience aside, Mr. Gardner offered the committee a contrasting (and more honest) history of voting in Oregon, the first state to shift to voting by mail. He recalled that New Hampshire’s secretary of state blows up the claims of ‘voter suppression.’
in the early 1990s, Oregon’s secretary of state pitched him on joining him in that move. Mr. Gardner declined. Before Oregon introduced all-mail voting in 1996, it had routinely been in the top 11 states for voter turnout in presidential elections, and often beat New Hampshire. It has never topped New Hamp- shire since, and in 2012 fell as low as 17th.
The Granite Stater says he believes deeply in making voting straightforward and accessible, and New Hampshire does that in many ways, including same-day registration. “But I’ve seen what ways to make it easier actually work and what ways don’t work,” he says. They aren’t all equal, and H.R.1’s provisions would likely do the opposite of what Democrats claim.
Mr. Gardner also provided the committee a chart showing U.S. voter turnout in presidential elections since 1952. He tells me he doesn’t think it is an accident that five of the six highest-turn- out years were in the 1950s and ’60s, before the beginning of federal efforts to meddle in state elections with laws like the 1971 Federal Election Campaign Act and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. People lose trust, and even pride in their unique state systems. (Another factor might be the 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, which lowered the voting age to 18.)
Mr. Gardner has also issued a statement blasting Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats for their “attack” on his state and pointing out that the California system she wants to impose on the country has resulted in her state being ranked 46th, 49th, 49th and 43rd for turnout in the past four presidential elections. “There are 435 members of Congress; New Hampshire has two of them,” he tells me. Just five or six big states “have about half of all the members, and they’ll be writing our voting laws. I’m not telling them how to vote. Why are they telling us in New Hampshire how to vote? Especially given our record.”
And that’s the real question. Democrats’ “Jim Crow” claims are completely at odds with the evidence. If they are going to continue with H.R.1, they should at least be honest that the goal is to rig the system.
The Maxine Waters Problem
When America’s officials desert any standards for public or personal behavior, expect violence.
The emptiest, most meaningless statement in American politics in our time is: “No one condones violence.” That weaselly default word, “condone,” may be one reason the violence now never seems to stop.
It was astonishing in the runup to the guilty verdict in Derek Chauvin’s trial to see reports of cities preparing for more riots, not only Minneapolis but New York, Philadelphia, Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and Washington. But as with Covid, social distancing from violence is mandatory.
When Rep. Maxine Waters of California (Los Angeles) was asked whether she was inciting violence by telling the demonstrators arrayed around her in Brooklyn Center, Minn., to “get more confrontational,” she responded with the politician’s user-key response that she isn’t “about violence.”
Don’t bother looking, Ms. Waters, but you—like all the rest of us today in the United States—are engulfed in violence: the political violence of street protests, the violence of rising urban crime, the violence of cops either shooting suspects or getting shot by suspects, and the violence committed routinely by homicidal shooters.
In the largest U.S. cities, the number of murders is rising. This is only the fourth month of 2021, and in New York City there have been more than 100 murders, nearly 180 in Chicago, at least 97 in Los Angeles. Minneapolis’s 21st homicide victim, a teenager, was found dead the day of the Chauvin verdict.
These are all individual deaths, but they’ve become banal and barely noted. Urban killing and other crime runs as background noise to the more publicized street protests, cop incidents and serial shooters.
It might seem like a stretch to conflate political riots, violent inner-city crime and individual shooters, but I’m not so sure they aren’t related. Obviously something is spinning out of control in the U.S. Whatever status quo exists to mitigate each of these forms of violence, it isn’t working anymore. It is failing.
There used to be widely shared boundaries on personal and public behavior. Not anymore. A lot of people no longer know how to behave or where the lines are that one shouldn’t cross.
Or, as with last summer’s political street protests, the former lines and limits have been erased. That July’s Democratic National Convention passed without one person addressing the destruction in numerous cities was a big event, a turning point, for U.S. society generally.
We are paying a high price for this transition to few limits. Derek Chauvin is about to pay a very high price for not knowing when to let up on George Floyd.
Most striking is how many people have become unconscious of or psychologically detached from the consequences of what they are doing.
In Wisconsin last weekend, the Kenosha tavern shooter got angry, went home, got a gun, and went back to the tavern to kill three people. What did this formerly free man think was going to happen next?
On the same day, an Austin, Texas, shooter, a former cop, went to an apartment complex, killed three people, and was next seen on TV standing on a highway with his hands on his head while the police put him in handcuffs—basically forever.
How could the post election Washington mob that invaded the Capitol think that was no different than attending a rally on the Mall?
Whatever happened to the thought, “Maybe I don’t want to do this?” Or shouldn’t do this.
Somehow, that internal brake on behavior eroded, and now we too often find ourselves dealing with the grim, out-of-control results. An epitaph is the awful phrase of the mother of the FedEx shooter in Indianapolis, who informed the authorities that she feared her son was going to commit “suicide by cop.”
The system let him fall through the cracks, as it did in 2018 in Parkland, Fla.—as it has with other shooters. Made passive by its own rules, the public mental-health system—the so-called administrative state—has proved incapable of providing basic protections for individuals and communities. Whatever the reasons, the resulting catastrophes proliferate. More gun-control inevitably will be another such administrative failure.
There is a pattern here of misgovernance and misjudgments. Black Lives Matter and its advocates argue, correctly, that the criminal-justice system arrests and jails too many young black men. Their solution is de minimis policing and prosecution, explicitly to repair “systemic racism.”
This is a consequentially dangerous error of judgment. They are absolving young men of personal responsibility for acts of violence against their neighbors.
The reality across the U.S.—on the streets of protest, in the toughest neighborhoods or in the minds of the homicidally deranged—is that the simple and utilitarian concept of behavioral “pushback” has lost consensus support.
Without pushback’s demarcation of limits—whether with accepted norms of behavior, a basic police function, or the credible defense of limits by public officials (not least U.S. presidents)—the future will bring more crude violence. Which no one will condone.
This was the original meaning behind the idea of maintaining social guardrails. They’ve been taken down—again.
Appeared in the April 22, 2021, WSJ
The Left Brightens GOP Midterm Chances
Democrats won’t have a leg to stand on if they keep shooting themselves in the foot.
A perception that’s long haunted Democrats—that they’re antipolice and weak on law-and-order—hurt them in 2020 and is likely to inflict even more damage on their electoral prospects in 2022.
Take Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.), who’s charged with protecting his party’s House majority as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman. That’s a difficult job for any party in possession of the White House; since World War II, the average loss in the House for a president’s party in his first midterm has been about 28 seats. If that happens next year, Republicans will have 241 seats to the Democrats’ 194 and Nancy Pelosi will be out as Speaker.
But Mr. Maloney made his task more difficult during a recent interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” The host, a former GOP congressman who spends most of his airtime attacking Republicans, lobbed a softball. How would the DCCC chair “counteract” Republican charges that Democrats favor “defunding the police, cancel culture, socialism” and “packing the court”?
Mr. Maloney offered a three-word response: “lies and demagoguery.” He then veered off into hammering the need to emphasize racial justice, before calling Republican accusations “cheap political points” aimed at “whipping up white resentment.” The New Yorker finished off by decrying “racist voting laws” and saying we can’t go “back to the Jim Crow era.”
Mr. Scarborough was taken aback by Mr. Maloney’s inartful reply and asked again, “What do you say” to Republican arguments, for example, that “Democrats wanted to defund the police?” The congressman repeated that Democrats are “fighting for racial justice” while GOP favors what he termed “racist voting laws.” He triumphantly declared that Republicans “got their butt kicked in November,” and followed up with a diatribe about “the ugliest racism and Jim Crow era laws.” Mr. Maloney then demanded: “What the hell is the Republican Party doing?”
When Mr. Scarborough asked a third time how Democrats would respond to GOP claims, Mr. Maloney accused him of “repeating a Republican talking point for reasons I don’t know.”
Here’s the question: What in Mr. Maloney’s rant would convince a single swing voter to support Democrats in 2022? And that wasn’t the end of the Democrats shooting their own feet.
Last week, Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted: “Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist. . . . No more policing, incarceration, and militarization.” The police chief in Ms. Tlaib’s hometown, Detroit, called for her resignation, but the representative’s fellow Democrats only mumbled. All Speaker Pelosi could manage was to assert that not all police can be painted “with the same brush,” while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Ms. Tlaib’s tweet was “not the president’s view.” Which do you think swing voters will recall more readily: Ms. Tlaib’s screed or the milquetoast reactions of the speaker and White House?
Then on Saturday, Rep. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) told protesters that if Derek Chauvin wasn’t found guilty, “we got to not only stay in the street, but we have got to fight for justice. . . . We’ve got to get more confrontational” so “they know that we mean business.”
Mrs. Pelosi defended Ms. Waters, saying the Californian didn’t need to apologize, as her call for confrontation was “in the manner of the civil-rights movement.” The second-ranking House Democrat, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, said “I don’t think she meant violence.” That won’t fly with swing district voters, especially if Republican candidates denounce all violent protests.
Even President Biden and his White House seem tone-deaf in ways that’ll drag his party down in the midterms. After Mr. Biden in a post golf gaggle with reporters Saturday used the word “crisis” to describe the southern border, he was corrected Monday by his press secretary. Ms. Psaki said Mr. Biden wasn’t referring to “children coming to our border” when he used the forbidden word “crisis,” but to conditions in Central America, where the “influx of migrants” was coming from.
Most Americans see what’s happening on our border even through the Democrats’ disingenuous spin. A sophisticated criminal enterprise is reaping millions of dollars from hundreds of thousands of desperate people seeking to make their way into the U.S. illegally. It’s overwhelming border security, but the Biden administration is afraid to call it a crisis, not wanting to give offense to the left.
But progressives can’t carry the party through the midterms. A campaign dominated by statements such as Ms. Waters and Ms. Tlaib’s will be a twofer, driving GOP turnout and shifting swing voters to the right. Republicans must do more to win, starting with offering their own agenda. But so far Democrats are making it easy to portray their party as too extreme for everyone right of Marx.
Appeared in the April 22, 2021, WSJ