I like a lot of things about being a Democrat.
I like being right about the war; right about health care; right about the environment; right about maintaining a social safety net. I like the fact that Democrats don’t have to lie about what they really think and what their goals really are. We don’t hide behind phony constructs designed to conceal our true motives and intentions. I like the fact that we spend most of our time just trying to establish the truth; believing in science and in objective study; identifying problems and working honest solutions.
Sure, there are many reasons to like being a Democrat. But I love being a Democrat most because we believe in democracy.
Democracy should not be controversial. Regardless of the differences we have on issues and our frequent disdain for politicians who distort the issues and are politically and personally repulsive, at the end of the day, the votes are cast and the people decide. All the chatter, all the ads, all the polls are just so much blather, albeit often expertly informed. Ultimately, one man or woman has one vote out of thousands in a local community; millions in a state; a hundred million nationwide.
But there are those who don’t want to leave Election Day democracy to the whims of random, uncontrollable voters. And they are all Republicans.
I was thinking about this during the spectacular celebration of democracy called the Obama Voter Protection training on Saturday at a union hall in Milwaukee. All morning, myself and a couple hundred other lawyers were schooled on Wisconsin election law. On November 4th, we will fan out across the state as election observers with only one charge – to do our best to make sure every person eligible to vote who shows up at a polling place is allowed to do so, and to make sure their vote will be counted.
We were not instructed to protect only people we thought were Democratic voters. We were certainly not told to interfere in anyway with perceived Republican voters. In fact, we never discussed identifying anybody as anything. If someone appears to be an eligible Wisconsin voter – a citizen, 18 or older, who resides in the state – and is not precluded from voting because of felony supervision or some other legal impediment, they should be allowed to vote. It is very much the Wisconsin way, and we are to act as a resource to fulfill that promise.
I was in the Kerry Voter Protection operation in ‘04. I ended up going way up to Crandon, where the campaign had done some organizing in the Native American community. I spent the whole day in a small room with poll workers and a constant flow of voters. Late in the day, I protected the vote of a young woman who had no ID, but her residence was corroborated by a young man who knew she lived there and who could establish himself as an eligible voter through his own proof of residency. The well-meaning poll workers were going to make her do a provisional ballot. I gently asked them to review the law that allowed one voter to vouch for another, which, eventually, they did and the vote was counted. For all I knew, the woman could have been voting for Bush, but that was not the point. She was eligible, should have been allowed to vote and she did. It was the highlight of that very long and ultimately disappointing (to say the least) day.
For cynical, tactical reasons – because they know they would lose most fair elections – Republicans want to put roadblocks in the path of those who would dare to exercise the franchise of their citizenship. They want to require people to show a photo ID at the polls. They want to eliminate same-day registration in Wisconsin. They want to put police officers and other intimidating authority figures in polling places. They lie about voter fraud when none exists. They smear organizations with bipartisan support like ACORN who would dare to register the working-class and poor for mistakes made by over-anxious summer workers.
What does it say about a political party that is so afraid of eligible voters? You know what it says, and so do they. The difference is that they don’t care what you think about it. They believe only in achieving power by any means necessary. The outrage of Florida 2000 taught Republicans nationwide that they could get away with anything, right up to and including rigging voting machines or dumping them in the nearest river, if that's what it takes. With voter suppression at the front end and recount shut-downs in the back end, the Republicans have no shame. It puts the lie to all their phony flag-waving and red-white-and-blue posturing. They don't believe in American democracy. They believe only in power for themselves.
Democrats stand behind the honest vote in good times and bad. For us, Election Day is not just another opportunity for suppression tactics and manipulation; it is a celebration. That’s why I love being a Democrat.