IF ONLY THE RIGHT HAD A STRONGER AVERSION TO DISENFRANCHISEMENT…. Generally, when we talk about the right and varying degrees of support for voter disenfranchisement, we’re dealing with sleazy tactics like voter caging. But once in a while, conservatives have a more historical perspective in mind.
Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.), for example, has raised objections to the Voting Rights Act. Colorado’s Tom Tancredo has suggested literacy tests for voters have merit. And this month, Tea Party Nation President Judson Phillips went back even further when talking about Americans’ voting rights.
He explained that the founders of the country originally put “certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote.” He continued, “One of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.”
There was no evidence to suggest he was kidding.
In the 18th century, American law limited voting rights to white men who owned property, perhaps assuming that attitudes like those of Judson Phillips were appropriate. But to hear someone in the 21st century suggesting disenfranchisement for people who rent their homes is more than a little jarring.
In the larger contemporary context, it’s worth noting that a wide variety of far-right zealots, especially those who identify with the so-called Tea Party “movement,” seriously believe that we’ve strayed from our constitutional origins, and need to turn back the clock, eliminating nearly all of the modern structure of the federal government and our legal ecosystem.
With Phillips’ comments in mind, Jon Chait added, “The emergence of ‘Constitutional conservatism’ as a new aspect of right-wing thought is about nine-parts empty slogan and one-part actual idea. When you look at the actual idea, it’s fairly scary. Conservatives are correct that the country has changed its original understanding of the Constitution. Those changes have primarily involved making the country more democratic — we now get to elect Senators, a privilege many conservatives would like to remove. Another change is that the franchise is no longer restricted to white, male property owners.”
That shouldn’t even be considered noteworthy anymore, and yet, here’s a prominent Tea Party leader, suggesting that the founding fathers had the right idea, and that only those wealthy enough to own property “actually have a vested stake in the community.”