"If you don't have the law on your side, pound on the facts. If you don't have the facts on your side, pound on the law. And if you don't have either the law or the facts on your side, pound on the lectern." -- Old law-school joke
MILWAUKEE -- When a leader speaks, it's important to listen. You never know: You might be hearing something useful.
You might even be hearing something completely different from what the leader wants you to hear.
Everybody ready to get those political muscles twitching again? Ready for a little instant textual analysis? Excellent!
Scott Walker is doing a lot of lectern pounding lately.
Scott Walker is the governor of this particular state, but what he's saying -- and doing -- on the question of voting rights for Wisconsinites is pretty much the same thing a bunch of governors have been doing recently for (or is that "to"?) their own citizens, in their own states. The fact that all these governors have a large "R" after their names is sheer coincidence, of course.
What these governors with the large "R"s after their names have been doing is pushing for laws, and then signing laws, that make it more and more difficult for some of their fellow citizens to cast a vote. They're requiring potential voters to produce driver's licenses with photo I.D.s. They're cutting back on early voting. Lengthening residency requirements. Raising the bar for absentee ballots.
And all of it -- or so they say -- to stamp out the major problem of voter fraud.
Or so they said. But now Scott Walker is saying something very different.
In fact, here's what Scott Walker was saying just recently, when he signed Wisconsin's tough new voter-I.D. bill into law:
To me, something as important as a vote is important whether it's one case, one hundred cases or one hundred thousand cases. Making sure we have legislation that protects the integrity for an open, fair and honest election in every single case is important.
"(I)n every single case.... (W)hether it's one case, one hundred cases or one hundred thousand cases."
It's exactly the kind of argument you'd make if you couldn't point to a hundred cases of voter fraud, let alone a hundred thousand cases! When the "remedy" you're imposing is vastly out of proportion to the problem that supposedly had you so worried.
Might the governor be altering his rhetoric because it's become clear to anyone who's paying attention that there isn't any major problem of voter fraud? Not in Wisconsin, and not anywhere else?
Pound on the lectern.
These new laws aren't targeting any particular voters, these governors with the large "R"s after their names keep insisting. If the new requirements happen to fall more heavily on the young and the old, the disabled, the poor, the impermanently housed...
And if some of these groups happen to lean more toward candidates with "D"s after their names...
Except for the curious fact of the letters. The letters from readers who support the Republicans' tougher restrictions, and whose arguments frequently sound like this:
"I don't want my vote canceled out by somebody who shouldn't be voting in our elections."
"I don't want my vote nullified."
Interesting assumption they're making, don't you think? That anyone who'd vote illegally would be voting for a different candidate. Not for the letter-writer's candidate.
I want to write back:
"Dear Sir or Madam: For all you know, that illegal voter might not nullify your vote at all -- he might double it! Still upset?"
I didn't think so.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.