Even as they push out their first black party chairman, the Repugnicans are claiming that the election of Barack Obama as president in November is proof that there no longer is any such thing as racism in the United States of America.
The election of Barack Obama as president has been hailed as a crowning achievement of America’s civil rights movement, the triumph of a black candidate in a nation with a history of slavery and segregation.
But in a twist, Obama’s success has emerged as a central argument from conservatives who say his victory proves that some of the nation’s most protective civil rights laws can be erased from the books.
Conservative legal foundations and the Republican governor of Georgia, challenging key parts of the Voting Rights Act, filed briefs in the Supreme Court this month pointing to racial progress and a high black turnout in the fall election. They said Obama’s victory heralded the emergence of a colorblind society in which special legal safeguards for minorities are no longer required.
“The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African American president is far different than when [the Voting Rights Act] was first enacted in 1965,” argued Texas lawyer Gregory S. Coleman, whose client, a utility board in Austin, is challenging parts of the law….
The Texas case to be heard next month will decide whether certain states and localities, mostly in the South, must continue to obtain Justice Department approval before changing voting districts, polling locations or other election procedures. The requirement is viewed as something of a badge of dishonor in the South.
By invoking Obama, conservatives are in effect asking the justices to issue not only a legal decree about the fate of one law, but also to weigh in on emotionally charged questions about American society: Does the election of a black president mean that racism is no longer a factor in American politics? And are civil rights laws outdated in the age of Obama?
Conservatives said they planned to apply the Obama argument in the court of public opinion as well. It could play a role, for example, in potential ballot initiatives in 2010 in Arizona and Missouri seeking to roll back affirmative action laws.
“We will say, ‘How do you account for the election of Barack Obama?’ ” said Ward Connerly, a leading anti-affirmative-action activist [who himself is black]. “If we can’t get rid of these laws now with Obama, I don’t know what yardstick we’re going to use.”
Civil rights advocates bristle at the assertion that Obama’s victory signals it is time to dismantle the Voting Rights Act and other laws.
“It’s an overly simplistic argument that doesn’t reflect the facts,” said Jon M. Greenbaum of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
He and others pointed to state-by-state voting data from 2008, presented to the Supreme Court, showing persistent racial polarization in the Deep South and elsewhere. In Alabama and Mississippi, for example, Obama won only about 1/10th of the white vote — less than his party’s white nominee in 2004, Sen. John F. Kerry, who waged a far weaker campaign than Obama. Kerry won 19% of the white vote in Alabama and 14% in Mississippi.
The gap was even bigger in Louisiana, where Obama won 14% of the white vote, down from Kerry’s 24%.
“How can [conservatives] make this case, when the effete Massachusetts liberal with a rich foreign wife who loves windsurfing and spandex got more white votes in Mississippi — in much less negative economic circumstances — than a highly popular candidate who was as hot as can be?” asked David Bositis, an expert on racial voting patterns at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
Overall, Obama won just one in four white votes in the areas covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the provision being challenged in the Texas case, while he took nearly half of the white vote nationally….
The 15th Amendment, adopted after the Civil War, says the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied … by any state on account of race.” Yet blacks were largely denied the right to vote in the South for another century. County registrars controlled the voter rolls, and they used various schemes, including literacy tests and poll taxes, to prevent blacks from registering….
Obama and his administration reject the conservatives’ arguments.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., who is black, vowed in Selma last week to protect the voting rights law, which he said was “under attack.” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that even as Obama acknowledges “tremendous progress” since the Voting Rights Act was enacted, “he does not presume that his election or those advancements have wiped out the need for laws that protect the voting rights of all Americans.”
Federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act is most important in small towns and rural counties across the South, said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. The law requires changes in election districts and procedures to be cleared in advance by the Justice Department….
Congress voted in 2006 to extend the Voting Rights Act for 25 years. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of the Texas challengers who say the law is no longer needed.
Asked what would happen if the provision was rolled back, Nathaniel Persily, a Columbia University law professor who compiled voter data in a court brief, said: “It’s like removing the police presence from what had been a high-crime area. You don’t know what would happen.”
If racism really is a thing of the past (and it is not, of course), then why are the Repugnicans so adamant that the Voting Rights Act be killed? If the act is superfluous, then it’s superfluous, and no harm is done, but the only reason to want to kill the act is so that it no longer has to be followed.
That Obama won the vote of only one in four white voters covered by the Voting Rights Act — that speaks volumes, I think.
Further, as I have written before, the mixed-race Obama is half-white and half-black and is not the descendant of black American slaves (his father was from Kenya). As even Vice President Joseph Biden once infamously indicated, Obama acts like a white guy. No “angry” black man like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson — both fully black descendants of black American slaves — would have been elected president in November.
And Obama was boosted greatly by the fact that George W. Bush was the worst “president” in at least recent American history (the last four decades or so, or at least since Repugnican Richard Nixon). Bush never legitimately was elected, he started the bogus Vietraq War, and he plunged the national economy into the ground, leaving his successor a record federal budget deficit, just like his daddy did.
In short, Bush’s stunning failures as “president” in large part, I think, made the much more presidential Obama’s mixed-race heritage a non-issue in a good number of American voters’ minds.
The Voting Rights Act should stand.
Obama’s election is no “proof” that racism is a thing of the past.
Obama believes so himself.