A response: The more deserving objects of our outrage
In a Brown Daily Herald opinions column Tuesday, Oliver Hudson argued that universal suffrage should be abandoned in favor of a system in which voting power is proportional to an individual’s share in federal income taxes. Those individuals who pay no federal income tax would not be able to vote in federal elections. Hudson argues that such a system is both moral and practical because it prevents “free riders” from exploiting the wealthy and allows for a practical method of reducing government spending and lowering taxes.
Hudson’s proposal is so undemocratic that it is ludicrous. His proposed system violates many of our nation’s core beliefs. Still, it is a rare thing to see an opinion in the Herald garner almost 200 comments, most of which either pan Hudson’s proposal or attack him ad hominem. The outrage spawned by the article is universal, with few rising in its defense. The anger is justified. Anger is the correct response to such a misguided attack upon the intellectual foundations of our country. But what is most troubling about this discussion is that it is directed toward Hudson’s proposal or — unfairly — toward Hudson himself. Hudson and his proposed system are the wrong subjects of public discourse. Rather than focusing on these subjects, we ought to focus on real challenges that face the nation.
Don’t solely be angry that one of our peers has advocated to diminish the influence of much of the nation’s poor in our political process. Be angry also that voter ID laws and restrictions on early voting are already working to accomplish this. Don’t merely be upset that Hudson’s proposed system apportions too much voting power to the wealthy. Be upset also that super PACs and lax campaign finance laws already give the wealthy a disproportionately loud voice compared to the rest of nation. Don’t simply be infuriated that his system would effectively create a plutocracy. Be infuriated also that upward mobility is now almost impossible in this country. If you are angry that a Herald columnist proposed a system that de jure disenfranchises citizens on the basis of their economic status, be even angrier that we are already seeing de facto disenfranchisement.
Hudson’s article is symptomatic of a trend in American political discourse that too readily dismisses the poor as irresponsible and lazy. We hear such dismissal in Mitt Romney’s 47 percent remarks and in Bill O’Reilly’s assertion on election night that 50 percent of the voting public feels entitled to “stuff” and “things.” Whenever a pundit or politician claims that the poor are entirely responsible for their own situation, they completely ignore the systematic ways in which we as a society preclude upward mobility for our citizens. Our education system punishes poorer students, but rewards those who come from wealthier backgrounds. Many of our nation’s poor struggle to find affordable health care to pay for treatment that wouldn’t even put a dent in the pockets of the wealthy. Lacking a house to call their home, many impoverished families also find it difficult to secure stable housing. It is misguided to assume that those in poverty are there solely through faults of their own. There are ways that this country systematically ensures that those who are poor are likely to remain so. This trend of dismissing the plight of the poor is representative of a larger philosophical attitude that is far more worrying than Hudson’s article itself.
This intellectual movement, however, merely provides context for Hudson’s argument, which focuses upon the disenfranchisement of poorer citizens. Alarmingly, aspects of this disenfranchisement are already occurring. Many states, including Rhode Island, have passed repressive voter ID laws which make it more difficult for seniors and the impoverished to vote since both groups are less likely to have driver’s licenses. These undemocratic measures ought to be the target of our outrage, not Hudson himself. Hudson’s proposal allows for wealthy individuals to have vast amounts of influence in our electoral process, something that our broken campaign finance system already allows through super PACs and private fundraisers. Ohio officials attempted to curtail early voting in order to prevent citizens from voting the weekend before the election, a time when many poorer individuals vote. Signs have been posted in poor neighborhoods in the past few elections that give voters the wrong date for the election. Polling equipment in poorer precincts is often subpar, resulting in more frequent errors and longer lines. All of these instances are realities which deserve outrage, more so than a flawed proposal in a student newspaper.
Income inequality is a problem endemic to our society that deserves greater attention. One’s outrage over society’s injustices should not only be limited to a specific instance of ignorance, but also expanded to include those prevailing attitudes about poverty that plague our society.
photo by Austin Hufford