False Equivalency Watch

I’m normally a fan of veteran political reporter Thomas Edsall, who has a knack for understanding some of the deeper cultural conflics underlying contemporary electoral battles. And much of the latest analysis he provides in a New York Times piece today, focusing on Obama’s demographic strategy, is unobjectionable.

But I sure object to this comparison:

[Obama] is running a two-track campaign. One track of his re-election drive seeks to boost turnout among core liberal groups; the other aims to suppress turnout and minimize his margin of defeat in the most hostile segment of the electorate, whites without college degrees….

Over the past two years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have been conducting an aggressive vote-suppression strategy of their own through the passage of voter identification laws and laws imposing harsh restrictions on voter registration drives.

Even if you buy Edsall’s assumption that the Obama campaign’s anti-Romney ads are designed to convince non-college educated white voters who won’t support the incumbent to give Romney a pass as well, it is fundamentally wrong to treat such efforts as equivalent to utilizing the power of government to bar voters from the polls altogether. Voters hypothetically convinced by the Obama ads to “stay home” in the presidential contest are perfectly free to skip that ballot line and vote their preferences for other offices, just as they are perfectly free to ignore both presidential campaigns’ attack ads and make a “hard choice” between two candidates they aren’t crazy about. Lumping negative ads together with voter disenfrancisement under the rubric of “vote suppression” legitimizes the latter as a campaign tactic rather than what it actually is: an assault on the exercise of fundamental democratic rights.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.