When asked at a CNN town hall this week if he believed that incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote, socialist presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders responded: “This is a democracy and we have got to expand that democracy, and I believe every single person does have the right to vote.”
What about someone like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber? “Yes,” Sanders went on, “even for terrible people, because once you start chipping away and you say, ‘Well, that guy committed a terrible crime, not going to let him vote. Well, that person did that. Not going to let that person vote,’ you’re running down a slippery slope.”
Slippery slope, indeed.
After spending decades incessantly repeating the “America is a democracy” lie—liberals, of course, tend to scoff when you point out this jejune detail —the only logical conclusion, ideologically speaking, is terrorist suffrage, I guess. “Every vote” means every vote.
Now, there’s a rational argument to be made for allowing Americans who have served their time and paid their debt to society to fully participate in American political life. Certainly those who’ve never committed violent crimes shouldn’t have to surrender their civic rights forever. The notion that incarcerated murderers should be weighing in on gun laws or that child molesters should have a say on local school bond issues or that a terrorist’s vote should have an effect on American foreign policy, however, undercuts the liberal contention that casting a ballot is a sacred act.
Most of the cynical anti-republican ideas that Democrats are willing to entertain these days—getting rid of Electoral College, giving children the right to vote, etc.— are popular because gullible activist types believe they would create more Democrats. There’s probably a better way to rally support for the Green New Deal than enlisting the Unabomber’s support. (Then again, when we consider the specifics, maybe not.)
There’s no denying that Sanders’ collectivist ideas have gained traction on the contemporary left. Sanders—a Marxist who spent time in the Soviet Union praising a system that offered no genuine voting rights to anyone; not even to the political prisoners being held in the still functioning-Gulag—could have been the nominee of the Democratic Party in 2016 had the primaries been run “democratically.” He’s certainly not alone.
In this crowded primary field, even allegedly moderate Democrats can’t say “no” to every extreme idea for fear of being cast from the group. The same night as Sanders’ CNN town hall, another presidential candidate, Sen. Kamala Harris, was asked the same question: “People who are convicted, in prison, like the Boston Marathon bomber, on death row, people who are convicted of sexual assault, they should be able to vote?” asked Don Lemon.
“I think we should have that conversation,” Harris responded.
CNN helpfully notes that this was a “noncommittal answer.” Technically, it’s true. I’ve already seen reporters laying the groundwork to rationalize her comments. In fact, I look forward to the 2,000 “fact check” articles next year explaining why the GOP is wrong to tie Harris to this idea. But try, if you can, to imagine a Republican candidate acquiescing to a discussion about the prospects of giving mass-murdering white supremacists a vote, and I’m sure you can understand why no one should regard Harris’ answer as noncommittal. (UPDATE: The next day, after considerable criticism, Harris “clarified” — which is to say, changed — her position. We have yet to learn why she felt the need to entertain the idea.)
“Having a conversation” is euphemism for “Sure, I back every puerile and sophomoric idea you socialist crackpots come up with, although I don’t know if I can explicitly do so during the general election, so here’s an unscrupulous political answer that telegraphs my moral support, but also gives me a measure of plausible deniability should I actually win the nomination.”
It’s not just voting voting rights for terrorists. Saying you’re willing to “have a conversation” about any issue is implicit support for the underlying idea. The only question is whether you believe it’s politically feasible. Would Harris have a conversation about legalizing fully automatic firearms? Of course not. Would she be open to having a conversation about banning post-20-week abortions? No. Harris won’t even have a conversation about banning post-abortion abortions. Any deviation from wild-eyed progressivism has the potential to brand you a heretic in this environment.
Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been the leading instigators of this dynamic, but they’re not alone. It’s a group effort. Every time a candidacy lags, the contender will offer a new attention-grabbing plan to confiscate wealth for some socialistic policy proposal. Want to form a commission to develop slavery reparations proposals? Let’s have a conversation. “Free college?” Let’s talk. Nationalize the entire health care industry? Let’s start a dialogue. You want to pass a law that guarantees every American a job? Yep, let’s huddle on it.
How about a plan that eliminates all fossil fuel energy production, the lifeblood of American industry and life, and replace them with windmills, bicycles, and choo choo trains? Nearly every Democratic Party presidential hopeful—including Harris, Sanders, Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julián Castro, and Beto O’Rourke—says we need to get a conversation going.
Democrats who keep promising groups of people free stuff are just thinking “outside the box,” after all. It should be noted that some candidates have avoided the perfunctory habit of injecting legitimacy into every crazy idea. Pete Buttigieg, for example, deserves some credit. When asked about allowing terrorists to vote, he simply said “no.” Maybe others will follow his lead as the party goes off an ideological cliff.
At this point, Republicans should figure out ways to pose questions to Democrats in public and stimulate extremist contagion: Do you support allowing non-citizens voting rights? Do you believe all abortions should be paid for by taxpayers? Do you believe that border walls should be torn down? Do you think it would be okay for presidents to unilaterally institute bans on fossil fuels to save the earth if Republicans had “refused to act“?
Let’s have a conversation!