Sen. Collins says No to democracy

It always seems odd to me when events that make such sense on one level, aggregate to produce effects that make no sense at all on another level. This is what Adam Smith had in mind when he said that when you look at economic transactions, you see only greed and private advantage; but the whole set of economic transactions is guided by “an Invisible Hand.”

It is what Karl Marx meant when he said that when the mob of proletarians assembles to hang the last few remaining capitalists, the capitalists will sell them the rope because they will make a profit on the transaction.

And, regrettably, it is what Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) meant when she said, about her vote against S1, the “For the People Act, “S1 would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens.” As in the case of Smith and Marx, when you look at one instance, the logic flows one way. The businessmen are being greedy, but the system as a whole works. The capitalists are making an economic transaction the yields a profit when they sell the rope to the leaders of the mob, but they are advancing their own deaths. Sen. Collins is arguing that the states have a right to distribute the vote any way they like but you can’t have a democracy that way and Sen. Collins says she is in favor of democracy.

In each of these instance—Smith, Marx, and Collins—there is a logic at the level of the particular transaction that is reversed in the system as a whole. Sen. Collins would never, I am sure, favor the elimination of the right to vote for all black citizens in the states. I hope she finds it disquieting that the reason she gives for voting against S1 would cover that action as well.

Her argument is that the states have a right to adopt the “election rules that work best for their citizens.” Which citizens does it work best for?

Heather Cox Richardson, in her June 22 post “Letters from an American,” cites research by the Voting Rights Lab.

According to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, 18 states have put in place more than 30 laws restricting access to the ballot. These laws will affect around 36 million people, or about 15% of all eligible voters.

I suspect that these voters, the 15%, are not the ones Sen. Collins has in mind. When she gives an absolute right to the states to control their voters’ access to the ballot, she is saying that anything they do is fine with her. The U. S. Constitution doesn’t look at it that way. There are lots of actions that states could take—some, like the poll tax, they actually have taken—that the Supreme Court has declared to be unconstitutional.

But between these two—between the absolute right of the states to control the election laws and the absolute right of the Constitution to forbid the disenfranchisement of citizens, there is an intermediate zone—a zone that has not yet been eliminated by judicial action but that is clearly incompatible with democratic governance. That’s where Sen. Collins is working.

Democracy requires free, frequent, and competitive elections. Even more, it now becomes clear, democracy requires the belief by its citizens that the elections are fair. [1] Sen. Collins is supporting the right for the states to violate the rights of their citizens as much as they like provided that they have decided that “that is what works best for their citizens.”

She has decided, further, that the national government has no right to curb the abuses of the states because the states have the right to make the decisions they are making. The states also have, of course, the duty to insure equal access to the ballot box and Sen. Collins doesn’t say what the Senate should do when the states claim the right to neglect this duty.

I am glad I am not writing her speeches. I have no idea how I would justify that.

[1] “Fair” is a colloquial way of saying “free, frequent, and competitive.”

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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