Monday, October 5, 2015

Healthcare, capital punishment, guns, and voting

There are somethings almost as certain as death and taxes. One of those things is that in the United States, people of a liberal persuasion will always point to Canada and Western Europe (and occasionally Oceania) as evidence for how things should be done in this country.

Consider the healthcare debates. For those who want the government to step in and take action, it is always "look how they do it in Canada, in England, in Switzerland, etc." Largely revolving around the idea of needing a single payer system, the basic premise was and is that citizens of these other countries just don't need to worry about healthcare costs, at all. When they need to see a doctor, they see a doctor. End of story. The cost of healthcare is built in to the tax system. And that's just the right way to do things.

Capital punishment? In this case, the supposed bloodlust in the United States is contrasted by the more civilized outlook in these other nations. Their peoples have come to recognize that killing is wrong no matter who is doing the killing, so the state should not be in the killing business. End of story. All of these other nations had, of course, once executed criminals, but they have since "grown up," as it were. And the United States should follow their example.

Then there is the issue of gun ownership. In the wake of the events in Oregon, this is once again a hot topic in the United States (and rightly so). Calls for stricter laws, for more background checks, for assault weapon bans, for even the elimination of the Second Amendment are rampant. And almost all of the thoughtful ones involve citing evidence from other countries—again, primarily European ones—that demonstrate much lower rates of violence in countries without large numbers of privately owned guns, with much stricter gun control laws.

The fundamental proposition in all of these arguments is that the United States should learn from these other nations, should improve its own laws and institutions based on the experiences of nations who have been around a lot longer than the United States, or at least have had their laws and institutions influences more strongly by the older nations (as is the case for Canada and Oceania). So, here's a question: why don't we hear a similar argument from the left when it comes to the issue of voting?

For some time now, there has been a left/right back and forth on the subject of voter I.D. laws, laws that require voters to prove their identity before they are allowed to vote. Attempts by state government in the U.S. to institute such laws are looked at with extreme skepticism by people on the left, who argue that the laws are simply about limiting minority voting, that they are akin to Jim Crow-era laws like poll taxes. The response from the right, that the laws are needed to prevent fraud, are poo-pooed as a matter of course, with the claim that there just isn't any voter fraud to speak of. Or if there is, that it's so minimal as to be inconsequential.

But as an argument against voter I.D. laws, what we never hear from the left is the European gambit, the use of European countries as an example of the right way to do things. Why is that?

Well, maybe it's because of these voting requirements (just a sample):

  • Germany—polling notification and official picture ID
  • Netherlands—polling notification and official picture ID
  • Canada—official picture ID or two other forms of accepted IDs
  • France—only polling notification in smaller townships, but official picture ID in larger ones
  • Sweden—polling notification and official picture ID

Now to be fair, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand don't have these sorts of requirements. And there are other European nations who have mandatory voting—like Belgium—so the mechanisms are necessarily different. But the point is, requiring citizens to prove their identity is not some sort of novel idea that has only recently appeared in the United States as a means to deny some people access to the voting process. It's just a common sense thing: show your ID and vote.

And after all, it's the supposed common sense of European nations that is really the implied basis for following their examples in the cases of healthcare, capital punishment, and gun laws, is it not? In those cases, Europe is rife with examples for people on the left. When it comes to voter ID laws, not so much.

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