I’m occasionally accused of being “Mr. Optimist” even though my analysis and predictions are simply based on the facts, evidence, logic and odds at hand. So when I praised Texas Democratic legislators for fleeing the state to try to stop a voter suppression law, but I also predicted that their stunt would fail, I got a lot of confused looks.
Why wasn’t Palmer predicting success? Isn’t the the one who’s always telling us to avoid falling into the trap of doomsday prognostications? But here’s the thing: the antics by Texas Democrats, while brave, were never going to work – because that’s not how anything works. Sure enough, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed the vote suppression bill into law this week, just as I expected all along.
Texas Democratic legislators deserve a lot of credit. They put their careers at risk, and helped raise the level of awareness. But even they had to know that this law was going to end up passing. So when social media activists spent the summer asking why the Democrats in Washington DC weren’t trying the same stunts that Texas Democratic legislators tried, the answer was simple: that stuff doesn’t work. At least not as a solution for changing the law.
The good news is that there a few valid ways we can fight back and actually chip away at voter suppression laws. The first, and often most effective, is when the Department of Justice goes through such laws, finds their fatal flaws, and painstakingly puts together the legal argument for striking them down that even the most biased of judges can’t argue against.
In fact Merrick Garland is doing this as we speak, having already filed some court cases, with more to come. That’s right, even as some social media observers are bashing Garland for “not doing anything,” he is in fact doing precisely the thing that has the best chance of taking down voter suppression laws.
There are other crucial ways to fight back. Boycotts are being arranged against some of the states that are enacting voter suppression laws. This can work, because if you take enough money out of a state’s economy, the Republicans in charge will have to worry about whether the resulting economic mess will harm their reelection chances more than the voter suppression law will help, and they may have to give up on it.
You can also follow the Stacey Abrams model of simply working to make sure everyone in a given state is registered to vote in time, with the correct address, and knows when and how to vote. Voter suppression laws are not magic wards; they just make it harder for people to vote. If you work to make it easier for people to vote, you’re undoing voter suppression laws one voter at a time. Beto O’Rourke is trying to do in Texas what Abrams is doing in Georgia. If no one in your state is leading the charge, you need to be the one to lead the charge.
The point is, you’ve got to understand how these battles are actually fought and won, and you’ve got to get involved. Merely cheerleading the Texas Democratic legislators as they resort to can’t-possibly-work stunts, or bashing the Democrats in Washington DC for not employing similar stunts, is a waste of time. This is politics, not a reality show.
People like Merrick Garland and Stacey Abrams are going to make real headway, but you can’t just sit back and cheerlead for them either. You can help Garland by ceasing your misguided attempts at taking his legs out. The Attorney General’s job is to win for you in court, not to set his own hair on fire for your entertainment. Stop sabotaging him and let him work. And of course you can help the likes of Abrams and Beto by signing up to volunteer for their voter registration efforts.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report