It’s tempting to compare politics to war. There are electoral “battles” against the “enemy” party. It helps to have an “army” of supporters. Sun Tzu’s Art of War is recommended reading. In fact, politics is the opposite of war. War is chaotic, physically harmful and demeaning to our humanity. Politics is organized and uplifting. Politics allows people with violently different ideas to find common ground and live together peacefully. Politics is our best defense against war.
Sports metaphors are more appropriate. Sports have rules and associations that transcend particular rivalries. So does politics. My beliefs, vision and values keep me in the Democratic Party, but I am first and foremost an American. I want my team to face the opposing team on a level playing field so that America’s actions reflect an appropriate blend of our values and their values.
So I was delighted to read US Senator Rand Paul’s recent headline-grabbing plea to his fellow Republicans to stop going “crazy on this voter ID thing” and his explicit support for voting rights for convicted felons. I probably disagree with Senator Paul on most policy issues — health care funding, the role of government in education, and many more. But if we agree to respect the basic rules of the game and together protect our level playing field, then any debate we have on other issues is a debate that moves America forward. We are fellow Americans even as we are opponents in the contact sport called democracy.
Finding myself in agreement with Senator Rand Paul reminded me of a phone call I received in 2008 from a supporter of the Senator’s father, Ron Paul, who was running for president in the Republican primary. It was shortly after the Pennsylvania Department of State had lowered the price of the statewide voter list (an essential tool for any campaign) to $20 from $1340 in response to a lawsuit I filed. An inexpensive voter list made it just a little harder for the Republican party establishment to silence an upstart candidate like Ron Paul. Someone from his campaign called to thank me for my work on the lawsuit. I recall feeling, on the one hand, sure that I personally did not want Ron Paul to be President of the United States and, on the other hand, proud that my work had helped him to present himself as a candidate for that office.
Media coverage of Senator Rand Paul’s positions on voter ID and felon enfranchisement indicated that his motivation might have been political, not ideological. His motivation might have been not to protect the level playing field of democracy but to help the Republican Party get traction among African-American voters. I’m happy either way. Maybe Senator Paul and I agree on a small but fundamental bit of political philosophy. Or maybe the sheer number of African-Americans and their high participation in presidential elections, combined with his presidential ambitions, has forced him to adopt a policy position I like. Either way, it’s a win for democracy.
And All’s Fair in Love and War,
Philadelphia City Commissioner
City Hall, Room 132
Philadelphia, PA 19107