Opinion | Was Georgia’s Election ‘Legitimate’?

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First, the idea of eliminating all $1.4 trillion of outstanding student debt is getting some attention in progressive circles. At first blush, it sounds like a bold proposal to reduce economic inequality. But it’s not, and I devote my column this morning to explaining why. Canceling all student debt would actually be a giant handout to the upper middle class. There are far better ways to help those young adults who really are struggling to repay their student loans.

Related: Michael Bloomberg has become a leading advocate of more financial aid, and in a new Times Op-Ed, he explains why he has just made what may be the largest donation to a university — $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins, his alma mater.

Illegitimate elections? Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia, has refused to call her opponent’s victory legitimate. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey have gone further, using a version of “stolen” to describe the Georgia governor’s race.

[Listen to “The Argument” podcast every Thursday morning with Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg and David Leonhardt.]

Many conservatives are arguing that these statements are no different from the recent accusations of vote-counting fraud made by President Trump, Marco Rubio and others. I disagree. Trump, Rubio and others did something much worse: They alleged fraud where none existed and tried to discredit legitimate processes for counting votes.

Abrams, Brown and Booker, by contrast, criticized blatantly undemocratic behavior: the attempts by Republicans in Georgia (and elsewhere) to win elections by making it hard for many people, especially African-Americans, to vote. I’m glad that Abrams used her concession message this weekend to call out the undemocratic behavior of her opponent, Brian Kemp. It may well have been the difference between defeat and victory.

And yet I also have a problem with the specific words that Brown, Booker and, to a lesser extent, Abrams used. I recognize many readers may disagree with me here, but I think that reaching for the most aggressive plausible rhetoric isn’t the ideal move after a close election. As Josh Douglas of the University of Kentucky tweeted, “We must fight back against voter suppression, but our democracy depends on loser recognizing legitimacy of winner.”

Ronald Klain, a former top aide to Al Gore, notes that he pointedly did not use such words to describe his 2000 loss.

In Slate, the legal scholar Richard Hasen lays out three objections: One, the approach of Abrams and others “feeds a growing cycle of mistrust and delegitimization of the election process;” two, it remains unproven whether voter suppression was the difference in the election; and three, it focuses attention on “the wrong question” — the magnitude of the effect of suppression, rather than the basic injustice of it.

Regardless of your views on this issue, I encourage you to read Ari Berman’s documentation in Mother Jones of the many ways that Kemp tried to prevent his fellow Georgians from voting. It’s truly shameful behavior.

In The Times. Michelle Cottle argues that Nancy Pelosi’s struggle to reclaim the speaker of the House post is healthy for the Democratic Party. My view is that Democrats would be making a mistake to end the process by choosing anyone other than Pelosi — the most effective speaker in decades.

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David Leonhardt is a former Washington bureau chief for the Times, and was the founding editor of The Upshot and head of The 2020 Project, on the future of the Times newsroom. He won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, for columns on the financial crisis. @DLeonhardt Facebook

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