03/10/2011 04:19 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NH Speaker's Position on Student Voters Harms His Ideological Allies

We may have a new champion in the contest for the person who cares least about imparting the value of the democratic process on the next generation of American leaders: New Hampshire's state House speaker.

Speaker William O'Brien, a Republican, is supporting an effort to make it harder to qualify as a New Hampshire resident for voting purposes. Why? Because that will make it harder for college students in New Hampshire to vote.

Why would O'Brien want to make it harder for college students -- the same kind who fight in our wars and pay taxes -- to participate in the democratic process?

"They are kids voting liberal, voting their feelings, with no life experience," he said.

The Washington Post's Peter Wallsten includes a bit more detail about O'Brien's feelings on the adults who seek higher education in New Hampshire:

They're "foolish," Speaker William O'Brien said in a recent speech to a tea party group.

"Voting as a liberal. That's what kids do," [O'Brien] added, his comments taped by a state Democratic Party staffer and posted on YouTube.

What can you say about a politician who has so little conviction in his ideas that he believes it's easier to disenfranchise a faction of voters than it is to convince them? Particularly when the stereotype of college students as an undifferentiated sea of left-wing voters bears no resemblance to the political reality of the modern college campus, where students of every political orientation interact in what may be the most literal iteration of the founders' vision of a "marketplace of ideas."

If anything, O'Brien's efforts have only served to disadvantage the Republican students seeking to participate in that marketplace. What message can a twenty-something GOP supporter offer to his fellow students to help convey his vision that isn't undercut by O'Brien's message that, by the way, the champions of this worldview think you're so "foolish" you aren't entitled to an opinion?

For the students who oppose O'Brien's politics, his words have little significance; they wouldn't have supported him anyway, and it comes as no shock to them that someone who they view as taking the wrong side of every other issue should take the wrong side of this one. But for O'Brien's college-age supporters, this is the time to re-evaluate their support; and for his fellow party members and political patrons, it is time to question whether they feel so confident in their support in this state that they can afford to invest in a politician who writes off entire groups of the public as too "foolish" to be worthy of the political process.

Presumably O'Brien is familiar with the basics of American history. I wonder how he would reconcile that history with his attempt to strip voting rights from a group of adults who live, eat, sleep, work, and learn in his state. If O'Brien believes in the words of his state's motto -- "Live Free or Die" -- I believe he just instructed college students to drop dead.