The best political advisers make their livings by framing conversations about complicated issues in a way that benefits their side. Lately, Republicans have been much, much better at this than Democrats.
Somehow, the GOP turned much of the nation against a federal health care reform bill that contained many of their own ideas by calling it a "government takeover."
It wasn't, of course, but when Democrats named the bill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, they'd already lost. Like it or not, how an issue is 'spun" matters because it effects the electorate's views.
Which brings us to two pieces of legislation passed by the Missouri House last week. Both bills, one about voter identification, the other about workplace discrimination rules, do much the same thing: they reduce individual freedom. In a word, they discriminate.
That's not how Republicans sell their ideas, of course. The GOP says it is "common sense" that voters should present voter ID at the polls, and that sounds about right. Most of us have such photo identification readily available. Most of us.
But Missouri's Constitution doesn't care about most of us. It cares about all of us. It states clearly that voting is a right that cannot be infringed upon by the state. Not everybody who has the right to vote can obtain a drivers license. That's just a fact.
Some elderly people no longer have access to a birth certificate. Some women who changed their names after marriage find it hard to prove who they are. Many poor people don't drive, don't have a birth certificate and would struggle to jump through hoops to obtain one. Some disabled people have signatures that don't match the ones they had when they last obtained photo identification.
If a voter identification law passed, each of those classes of people would have a more difficult time voting than they do today. Their constitutionally guaranteed freedom would be diminished.
Republicans know this. That's why they passed a different voter identification resolution last year that, if it survives a court challenge, will ask Missouri voters to weaken the constitution's guarantees. Once those protections are stricken from the constitution, the actual voter identification law can be passed.
Telling voters you are diminishing their rights doesn't go over well. So Republicans turned to the "common sense" argument. That was smart politics, but it still would be bad law.
That's why Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a nearly identical bill last year, and probably will again this year if it makes it to his desk. He also should veto the workplace discrimination bill (as he did last year), which would make it easier and less expensive for businesses to fire workers.
Republicans call this a civil rights bill because it shares some language with the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act. Never mind that we've come a long way in the past 48 years making it more difficult to discriminate.
Missouri judges have gone too far in protecting workers, the Republicans say. And, like their "common sense" voter identification argument, they might hit a nerve with some voters.
But that doesn't change this simple fact: Both bills, no matter how you spin them, make it easier to discriminate. Both bills make Missourians less free.
What an incredible waste of time.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.