America, your democracy is in peril – The Boston Globe
It’s almost November. Do you know where your democracy is?
The answer: in peril. And the events of the last year should make that clear to everyone, including those in Washington who have the power and mandate to do something about it but haven’t.
Let’s review: Voters turned out in the 2020 presidential election in record numbers, in the middle of a pandemic and the economic havoc it wrought, to return the Senate and White House to Democratic control.
As a result, Republicans — from the former president who sicced a violent mob on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, in an effort to upend the constitutional process, to GOP state and local lawmakers enacting a wave of restrictive voting laws — have taken a scorched-earth approach that leaves democracy in flames.
Keeping those events in mind, you’d think Democrats would have made passing essential voting rights legislation job one, right before delivering robust economic relief, particularly to the nation’s lowest earners.
But somehow we’re on the cusp of Democrats readying a victory lap for passing — wait for it — an infrastructure bill.
Infrastructure is, of course, important. And so is the economic spending plan Democrats have been haggling over for weeks, though the elimination of crucial protections like paid family leave must feel like a smack in the face to the more than one-third of 2020 voters who are low-income earners.
But as one Democratic lawmaker aptly put it to me, without securing the levers of our nation’s democracy by passing voting protections, cheering things like the infrastructure bill “is like leaving a tip on the table when the entire house is burning down.”
This is more than a political problem for the Democrats as the midterm elections approach. But it’s worth noting that the Democrats seem to be torpedoing themselves on that front too.
According to an analysis by the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, low-income earners made up 35 percent of 2020 voters — more than 1 in 3 voters — and that percentage rose to even higher shares in battleground states. Their top priorities, according to that report: bringing economic equality and voting rights to the center of national policy.
But rather than moving swiftly to remove barriers to voting rights in America, including the Senate filibuster, Democrats ceded to the ill-conceived compromise of Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia that even he should have known would not garner a single Republican vote. Now voting rights are on the political back burner.
It is important to remember that neither Manchin nor Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — who have emerged as the impossible-to-please members of the Democratic caucus who are standing in the way of progress on nearly everything — had anything to do with the historic 2020 election. They weren’t even on a ballot last year.
The reason Democrats have a majority is that voters in Arizona elected Senator Mark Kelly as their other senator, flipping a seat. It’s because voters in Michigan turned out to stop Republicans from flipping Democratic Senator Gary Peters’s seat. And Georgians, in a feat driven largely by a surge of Black voters, put both the state’s US Senate seats in Jon Ossof and Raphael Warnock’s hands.
But this is bigger than politics.
“To me, it’s a government ethics issue, because government ethics is all about misuse of entrusted power,” said Walter Shaub, a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight and former director of the US Office of Government Ethics. “If the power isn’t even entrusted to you, but you have taken it by depriving people of equal access to vote, then that’s the opposite of government ethics.”
Even Biden has talked the talk, declaring in a speech in Philadelphia in July that the right to vote is “sacred.”
“The democratic threshold is liberty,” Biden said. “With it, anything is possible. Without it, nothing — nothing.”
Without action by Democrats, we may soon learn exactly what that “nothing” looks like.
Kimberly Atkins Stohr can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @KimberlyEAtkins.
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