“My message in this upcoming election is very simple: It’s vote,” Barack Obama told his former speechwriter Jon Favreau in a recent episode of “The Wilderness” podcast. “It’s not that much to ask.” “This isn’t really a 50-50 country. It’s like a 60-40 country,” Obama continued. “Democrats could and will do even better if every one of your listeners not only votes but makes sure that all your wishy-washy, excuse-making, Internet-surfing, TV-watching, grumbling-but-not-doing-nothing friends and family members get to the polls. Vote.” Obama was clearly smiling as he delivered the line. But as soon as I heard it, I knew the reaction that many progressives would likely have: Don’t blame us — blame voter suppression! It’s the same reaction that I’ve heard when I have written about the miserably low voter-turnout rates in midterm elections.
I think that reaction is wrong. I think, to paraphrase Obama, it’s a form of excuse-making. And it’s not just factually wrong but politically damaging. It breeds nihilism.
To be clear, voter suppression is a real problem, and it’s an outrage. Many of today’s Republicans — including those on the Supreme Court — have engaged in a deliberate campaign to make voting harder. They’ve reduced voting hours and added cumbersome identification requirements, among others things. (For more detail, Sarah Jackel of Vote.org and my colleague Stuart Thompson have compiled a list, and I’ve previously written about voter suppression.)