Right now, millions of adult Americans cannot legally fly on an airplane or rent a car. They’re not allowed to drive one, either. And if they really need to get somewhere fast, they can’t use Amtrak. When they (somehow) get there, they can’t stay at a hotel. If they don’t have a social security card, they cannot get one without considerable time and effort. In most cases they cannot rent an apartment, take the SAT or enroll in college. They can’t buy cigarettes or alcohol, even though they are of legal age. They might be able to get credit cards, but in many instances they will not be able to use them. And they almost certainly won’t be able to get a bank account or a business license or even cash a check.
Virtually 100 percent of these outcasts from mainstream society fit into one or more of the following categories: very old, very young, very poor, minorities or the disabled.
And yet the Democratic Party wants to do next to do nothing to fix that.
I’m talking, of course, about people without proper identification.
Republicans across the country are pushing for voter I.D. laws. They want to limit the frequency and opportunities for voter fraud. Democrats claim, reasonably perhaps, that Republicans are making a bigger deal out of voter fraud than the evidence supports. Attorney General Eric Holder, who recently blocked Texas’ voter I.D. reforms, calls the movement a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Right or wrong, that’s a claim worth investigating and debating. But unfortunately, for whatever reason, that argument isn’t working as a political tool. So he and others ascribe racism to those who want to add voting to the long list of things that require a photo I.D. Everywhere you look or listen, you hear about the return of Jim Crow these days. Left-wing activist groups have started using the twitter hashtag #waronvoting. Al Sharpton has gotten all riled up. The chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee has said that Republicans “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws.” Neo-segregation, it seems, is bursting out all over the place.
Never mind that there’s little evidence that photo I.D. requirements suppress turnout. Indeed, turnout in states has increased after requirements have been implemented (though I’m not one of those people who thinks turnout in and of itself is a good thing). In Indiana and Georgia, as the Wall Street Journal recently noted, lawsuits from the usual liberal legal chop shops were thrown out when they couldn’t produce a single person who’d actually been denied the right to vote by the I.D. rules. The upshot being that this bears no resemblance whatsoever to Jim Crow, which was about far more than just voting anyway. Oh, and don’t forget that the accusation of racism is a disgusting, gutter-level, smear designed to bully people where persuasion hasn’t even been tried.
What astounds me is the almost entirely unremarked-upon complacency of liberals who seem to think it’s OK that millions of Americans (by their own reckoning) remain locked out of the modern economy, but who are horrified by the idea that states might actually give these same people new forms of identification — for free. All of the laws passed and under consideration offer ample opportunities to get a voter-I.D. card for those lacking a driver’s license, passport or other approved identification.
In the 1990s, there was a horrendous, general caterwauling about the “digital divide.” How can we move together as a society without getting poor minorities on the Internet as quickly as possible? They need to download porn, too! Will the have-nots be left out of the Web revolution? It was a really, really, silly debate, but the activists largely won it with the passage of the so-called (and arguably unconstitutional) “Gore tax.” This taxes phone customers to pay for wiring schools and libraries to the Internet. (It quickly turned into a bureaucratic boondoggle.)
But let’s say the “Gore tax” was, in fact, the GI Bill of our digital age. All the same, having trouble getting online pales in comparison to the leper status that comes without having a valid photo I.D. With all due respect to the platform on which this column is being read, it remains the case that Internet access is less important than having proper identification. Without the Web, assimilating into the modern economy is more difficult. Without I.D., it’s near impossible.
So even if you believe the numbers MSNBC hosts shout themselves hoarse about — indeed, especially if you believe them! — you have to wonder why they’re not launching a serious crusade to fix the real problem: the lack of photo I.D. among America’s most vulnerable populations. The crisis is not that these people will be asked to prove who they are when they vote. The crisis is that there are — by their reckoning — millions upon millions of Americans who can’t prove who they are at all. And all the people screaming “Jim Crow” just don’t care.