This week may be remembered as one in which a new term entered the political lexicon: the welfare vote.
The welfare vote, in case you haven’t heard, is the creation of pandering liberal strategists who sue governments demanding that poor people get the opportunity to exercise their right to vote, the right that so many of the rest of us enjoy but routinely neglect to exercise.
Scott Brown clearly believes this kind of voter registration is wrong, and he’s not afraid to try to do something about it. On Friday, he called on Elizabeth Warren’s campaign to reimburse the state for the $276,000 it spent mailing registration forms to welfare recipients. From his outraged words and tone, you would have thought the state was trying to register Martians.
The mailing was triggered by a lawsuit filed by a group called Demos, which has sued nine states claiming violations of a federal voting rights law. The group is chaired by Amelia Warren Tyagi, Elizabeth Warren’s daughter. Of the states it has sued, only Massachusetts has responded with such a mass mailing, which sent Brown and other conservatives over the edge.
When, exactly, did supporting the right to vote become liberal or conservative?
On Friday, that’s when.
“It’s been disturbing for a lot of people to learn that the state’s welfare department undertook an unprecedented voter registration drive at the behest of Elizabeth Warren’s daughter and the organization she represents,” Brown said in a statement. He then took his case to its ludicrous outer limit, saying Warren’s campaign should repay the state for the cost of the mailing.
Secretary of State William Galvin always opposed the law, which passed in 1993 and forms the basis of the Demos complaint. Back then, it was known as the “motor-voter law” because it would have allowed people to register to vote when they got their driver’s licenses. He opposed it, as he has many voter-participation measures over the years, because it figured to cost money. After a protracted fight between Democrats and Republicans over what government agencies would be entrusted with the voter registration push, welfare offices and military recruitment stations joined Registry offices on the list.
Now, I don’t know why, but I doubt that Brown, the National Guard officer, opposes the registration push at recruitment centers. Registering people on welfare, on the other hand, is a waste of money, apparently, and a dirty trick. Note the automatic assumption, as well, that welfare recipients must, as a matter of course, be liberal Warren voters.
They probably should be, given Brown’s apparent contempt for their voting rights.
Look, Scott Brown has a math problem in this election, as a Republican running in a heavily Democratic state. I’m not naive enough to expect him to support registering more likely Democratic voters. Partly, this is routine and understandable political gamesmanship on his part.
But that isn’t all that’s going on here. Attacking welfare recipients, on whatever grounds, is a time-honored way to shore up one’s conservative base, to divide and conquer. That’s a cynical level of politics Brown should want to rise above.
As for Warren’s daughter, it goes without saying that she can get involved in politics all she wants. Demos has a long record of fighting to register voters, and as long their targets are legitimately eligible, no one should object. The right response is to rally and register your own supporters.
There are certain ideas that I used to consider self-evident, among them that voting is a healthy exercise in a democracy. But that was before politicians like Brown set me straight: Voting is for the kind of people who will vote for you. How could I miss that? How did I ever get it into my head that voting itself was the American ideal?
Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Adrian_Walker.