Monday, March 07, 2005

Backdoor Disenfranchisement

I suspect Mark Hyman has spent some time perusing the website for the Rockridge Institute and/or reading some of the recent work of George Lakoff on framing political issues. At least it seems that way, given his most recent editorial on a study that agues in favor of allowing citizens who have been convicted of a crime but have served their time to vote.

His attempt at framing is actually kind of cute, in the same way a kindergartner’s finger painting is cute—it’s charming in a sloppy, naïve, utterly unpracticed way.

Hyman reports on the study, sliding in the fact that one of the organizations sponsoring the study is headed by
George Soros, whom Hyman simply says “is himself a French convict” (conjuring up images of Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen in “Papillon”).

As you probably know, Soros is best known for being one of the world’s most generous philanthropists who has given several large fortunes’ worth of money to groups working for democratic government around the world, particularly in Eastern Europe. In fact, Soros played no small part in paving the way for the democratization that swept the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s. More recently, he’s worked for political reform in the U.S., most notably contributing money to progressive organizations. Therefore, Hyman decides to identify him simply as a “convict.”

And about that convict thing—Soros was found guilty in a French court of insider trading involving buying stock in a bank. Everyone else involved was cleared, but Soros got the book thrown at him to the tune of a $2.2 million fine. Given that he often gives a way half a billion dollars in grants out in a single year, we suspect Soros wasn’t running a get-rich-quick scheme. Soros is appealing the ruling as we speak. Since $2.2 million is pocket change for the guy, I suspect he has a pretty good case if he’s willing to bother with hassle. Beyond that, in France, an individual is presumed innocent until the appeals process is exhausted, so as a point of law, Soros is not guilty of anything.

But I digress. Hyman seems to be simply describing the controversy over allowing those who have served there time or paid their fines to vote without taking sides himself. But then he attacks the study’s methodology, saying that “it is short on verifiable facts. It is liberal in using estimated data to fill data gaps.”

Catch that, did you? Yes, the study is liberal in its use of estimated data. About as subtle as High Karate cologne.

Hyman then asks viewers to weigh in on whether felons, “even including those with multiple convictions,” should be allowed to vote.

Well, yes, they should. The whole idea of the penal system is that once you’ve paid your debt to society, you’ve paid your debt to society. There are certain limitations placed on felons, such as limiting the right to own firearms or where they live (in the case of sex offenders), but these directly relate to the crimes they committed. Not allowing those who have been convicted of a felony to vote is simply punitive.

So why would someone like Hyman be for punishing criminals long after they’ve paid their debt? Probably because given the way the criminal justice system works, a disproportionate number of convicted felons are poor and/or minorities, two groups that consistently vote Democratic. Particularly given the drug laws passed in the mid to late 1980s during the “crack cocaine scare,” law enforcement has convicted a large number of poor and minority individuals for felony offenses, despite the fact that the crimes in question were incredibly minor in scale. It’s simply a kinder, gentler version of the disenfranchisement practices of the South between Reconstruction and the 1960s. I suspect that if the country club set were prosecuted as aggressively, there would be much less call for disenfranchising all those convicted of felonies. (Keep in mind, by the way, the
staggering number of behaviors that most Americans participate in that are considered felonies—at least in some states).

So this viewer says yes, Mr. Hyman, those who’ve paid their debt to society should be treated as the citizens they are. They should also probably be allowed to hold governmental office (
and many in fact do). George W. Bush should be in favor of this. Bush is himself a convicted drunk driver, admitted drug user, and untreated alcoholic. Oh yeah—he’s also the president of the United States.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


At 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't CEO David Smith a convicted sex offender?


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