We all now live in a post-racial America. The Supreme Court said so when they struck down that key provision of the Voting Right Act of 1965, which had been renewed again and again with no one at all complaining. The vote to keep that in force was always almost unanimous, in both the Senate and the House. Democrats thought it was fair. Republicans thought it was good politics to vote for the renewal of the thing – it looks bad to side with racists, at least openly. And it was pretty simple. States and municipalities with a history of making it almost impossible for minorities and the poor to vote – or for those who supported minorities and the poor, like Democrats and the young – had to have any changes to their voting laws approved by the Department of Justice. They brought this on themselves – but by a narrow margin, and also arguing that all states should be treated equally, no matter what their history was, even a year ago, the Supreme Court held that there was now no need for those previously nasty folks to seek preapproval for any changes to how their future elections should be managed. We have a black president after all. That changed everything. The old days were over – so the burden of proof was reversed. Selected states and municipalities wouldn’t have to prove their latest rules would be fair to everyone. The feds would have to prove they weren’t – presumably long after this or that election.
Everyone knows what happened next. Within hours of the ruling, Texas instituted its new voter ID law, which will keep at least a half-million of the poor and minorities from ever casting a ballot. It’s hard to get those ID cards. North Carolina followed a week or two later with voter ID cards that were even harder to obtain, and reduced voting hours, and hardly any early voting any longer, and far fewer polling places in selected areas, and a hefty tax penalty on the parents of any college student who votes anywhere other than his or her parents’ home precinct – they would no longer be able to claim the kid as a dependent on the state tax form. That takes care of the pesky youth vote, and now Florida is bringing back its purge of voter rolls. That’s blown up on them again and again, but they’re back at it. If your name sounds funny you’ll be purged from the voter rolls, as a potential non-citizen, and it’ll be up to you, at your expense, to prove you really are a citizen, if you can. Hire a lawyer and schedule a court date. You’re on your own. That voting rights thing from the sixties is gone now. Fewer Hispanics will be voting in Florida now, and they’ve got the black vote covered too. If you have a name that’s similar to some black dude convicted of a felony, you’ll find your name on the list of ineligible voters too. You’ll have to prove you’re not that other person, which could be a long and tedious process, and you probably don’t have the resources for that. You won’t vote.
This is happening in every state controlled by Republicans, as a coordinated effort, and it’s pretty sweet. Had they tried this stuff before, offering all their patriotic talk about assuring the integrity of the voting process, they would have been laughed out of the room. Even they knew that was bullshit – but now they can point to the new Supreme Court Ruling on the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They can argue that the highest court in the land said all this of was fine, unless ruled not fine at some later date, as a special and unique circumstance, which the feds would have to prove, in a long court process. They’re fine with some later date. They’ll win a lot of elections now.
This hardly seems post-racial. It only seems inevitable. It no longer looks bad to side with racists, even openly – permission has been granted, permission to let it all hang out. If others think you’re racist, well, now those others will have to prove it – conclusively. You no longer have to prove you are not racist, to anyone.
There are secondary effects to all of this. There’s a new defiance in the air:
A Confederate heritage group confirmed Tuesday that it plans to fly a 10-by-15-foot Confederate flag along Interstate 95 just south of Richmond.
The flag will fly on a 50-foot pole, and will be visible from the northbound lane, said Susan Hathaway, founder of Virginia Flaggers, the group behind the flag. It’s tentatively scheduled to go up Sept. 28.
“Basically, the flag is being erected as a memorial to the memory and the honor of the Confederate soldiers who sacrificed, bled and died to defend Virginia from invasion,” she said.
Is that so? Others are not impressed:
“It would be an embarrassment,” said Virginia NAACP Executive Director King Salim Khalfani.
Khalfani said he thinks the flag will be detrimental to efforts to attract tourism to Richmond. “It’s going to continue to make Richmond look like a backwater, trailer park, hick town,” he said.
Yeah, well, so what? Hathaway disagrees anyway:
“This will tell people that everyone is welcome,” Hathaway said. “Why do we have to be a place where Southerners who are proud of our heritage are not welcome?”
Hathaway accused Richmond and state officials of excluding Confederate history from their “PC sesquicentennial celebration” of the Civil War. The flag will provide recognition, she said, for the pride many in Richmond feel for the city’s “rich Confederate history.”
Hathaway said the group doesn’t want to offend anyone, and that the flag is intended to honor the area’s heritage.
“This is in no way, in no shape, in no form to aggravate anyone,” Hathaway said. “There’s no intention to stick anything in anybody’s face. … The sole intention of this is to honor our ancestors.”
Khalfani offered the obvious counterargument – “If they had been successful, I’d still be in chains.”
That’s about as in-your-face as you can get, but this is what has changed. Nothing here is post-racial. Racism has been freed from previous constraints, because the burden of proof was reversed – and by the way, Virginia was invaded for good reason. They wanted to end the United States. Lincoln, pretty much the first Republican, wanted to keep it together, as, as a country, he thought the United States was a pretty good idea.
Ah well, the South is an odd place, but it’s not just the South:
As President Barack Obama spoke in Phoenix Tuesday about responsible home ownership, hundreds of people stood outside protesting his policies, many shouting and carrying racially charged chants and signs.
“Bye-Bye Black Sheep,” the protestors shouted at one point, a reference to the president’s skin color, according to the Arizona Republic.
Another protestor carried a sign that said “Impeach the Half-White Muslim!”
“He’s 47 percent Negro,” one protestor shouted.
“We have gone back so many years,” Judy Burris told the Republic. “He’s divided all the races. I hate him for that.”
That’s an odd thing to say when you’re out there screaming about how a black guy should have never been in the White House, but freed from the previous burden of proof that you’re not a racist, this too was inevitable.
Where the Clinton-era Democrats still tried to win working class whites outright, the Obama-era Democrats mostly just used scorched-earth campaigning to try to minimize the GOP’s margin and/or keep these voters on the sidelines. Where the pre-Obama party still made room for immigration skeptics and coal-country populists, the Obama-era Democrats have pushed in policy directions calculated to alienate many of the swing voters who cast ballots for Byron Dorgan in the past, or Joe Manchin or Mark Pryor in the present. Where the pre-Obama party spoke the language of “safe, legal and rare” on abortion and basically set gun control aside as a losing issue, the Obama Democrats have mostly dropped the “rare” part and, post-Newtown, taken up the gun-control cause anew.
Obama is out there actively trying to offend good white folks, you see, but Chait isn’t buying it:
That is an extremely strained reading of the facts. Is it true that Clinton-era Democrats tried to win working-class whites while Obama just tries to sideline them? Well, no. That’s just weird, actually. Democrats then and now have tried to win the highest possible share of the white working-class vote, and have campaigned through a combination of positive and negative appeals. Douthat argues that Obama’s “scorched-earth” attacks on Romney were some kind of nefarious attempt to discourage his supporters…
That’s nonsense, but with a provenance, as he looks closely at what Douthat cites:
The passage links to a previous item of his from last year, which in turn cites a column by John Ellis, which asserts, with no facts or even real logic, that Obama’s campaign goal was to “keep the white vote down.” The only thing close to a factual basis Ellis presented for his conclusion was that the black and Hispanic votes were certain to drop in 2012, which turned out to be wrong (and which Obama’s campaign expected to be wrong).
Then Douthat introduces the claim that Obama’s political strategy this year is “calculated to alienate” supporters of red-state Democrats. What kind of calculation is that? Why would Obama want to alienate red-state Democrats when he needs red-state Democrats to hold the Senate in 2014? Why would he “calculate” to alienate voters at all? It’s not helpful!
This sinister plan to profit by driving away supporters of Democrats like Joe Manchin becomes all the more convoluted when we consider the fact that the actual gun-control proposal Douthat is referring to is sponsored by … Joe Manchin! Why is Manchin trying to alienate his own voters? What sort of plan is this, anyway?
Brian Beutler goes after another aspect of Obama’s obvious plot against white people:
It should go without saying that if House Republicans kill immigration reform, Democrats will make it the central issue of the midterm elections. That should be all the more obvious given that a bipartisan immigration bill already passed the Senate, and the Democrats desperately want the campaign to be a referendum on House Republicans.
Enter New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, who implies that Democratic organizing around the failure of immigration reform will make liberals complicit in the GOP drifting toward white nationalist politics, with Douthat here citing Ryan Lizza:
Lizza’s mention of the White House’s political strategy on immigration implicitly acknowledges this “recipe” is one that left-of-center coalition politics bears a lot of responsibility for cooking up. The Democrats haven’t just been passive players in the recent racial polarization of the parties: Rather, they’ve embraced and furthered the trend, as a necessary part of making their new presidential-level “coalition of the ascendant” work.
It behooves me at this point to note that Douthat himself believes the GOP can’t and shouldn’t reduce its deficit with minority voters by backing immigration reform, and that its future viability rests with moderating its economic policy platform. But you go to war with the party you have and, given where things stand, this sounds an awful lot like an effort to let the party off the hook for walking back the one step it took toward rethinking its platform in the wake of President Obama’s reelection.
After their drubbing in 2012, Republicans examined the wreckage and made two key, intertwined determinations: The party must be more inclusive (the word “inclusive” appears 12 times in the GOP’s official postmortem, called the Growth and Opportunity Project), and congressional Republicans should support immigration reform.
Less than six months since the GOP published that retrospective, its prescriptions lie in tatters. The party’s on the verge of killing immigration reform; it’s reluctant to fix the weakened Voting Rights Act (thanks, SCOTUS!) leaving minority voters in Southern states vulnerable to a coming flood of suppression laws; and it has no interest at all in moderating its economic policies, which remain rooted in the idea that we already redistribute too much wealth to the poor.
There may be a plot, but it’s not Obama’s, or there may be no plot at all, just circumstances:
After feinting toward more inclusive policies, the GOP might actually change nothing, and have no choice but to deepen its strategy of maximizing white turnout and depressing the minority vote. Its transformation into a white-only party will be complete.
If that weren’t inherently troubling, let alone difficult to execute, the party probably wouldn’t have organized its postmortem report around precisely the opposite idea. The strategy pre-supposed that a lot of Republicans would support comprehensive, bipartisan immigration reform. And unless they were deluding themselves, they had to know that once the legislative efforts began in earnest, they were on the hook. Democrats would never let them off if they killed the project. They had to deliver.
But they might not deliver. The best we can hope for out of the House is a reform that weakens the key tradeoff in the Senate’s bill: eventual citizenship for current immigrants in exchange for the kinds of border security provisions Republicans would have a hard time ever passing on their own.
No one is plotting against white folks. These folks have trapped themselves:
To the extent that House Republicans support eventual citizenship for current immigrants at all – and many do not – most want to keep the path blocked until after the border has been somehow deemed secure. The charitable interpretation of this kind of “trigger” – the kind endorsed by Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill. – is that Republicans want to induce the executive branch to lock down the border as quickly as possible. The cynical interpretation is that Republicans want to lock in the border security gains, while back pocketing the option of reneging on citizenship later.
The party is at best frozen between inclusionary and exclusionary visions of its future, and isn’t sure which one to embrace.
When no one dares to call you a xenophobic racist anymore, because the Supreme Court said there were not any of those around now, you still have to make choices, which have consequences:
If they choose exclusion, it would be malpractice for Democrats to just pretend it didn’t happen. The party’s agenda will still represent voters of every ethnicity. And if the ensuing campaign drives some working-class and ethnically chauvinist whites out of the Democratic coalition, it won’t be the result of a decision to purge voting blocs from the party. Only one party’s thinking of doing that.
Yeah, but Douthat also argues that “racial bias alone can’t explain why the president went from losing non-college-educated white voters by only 18 points in 2008 to being 40 points underwater with that same demographic today” – so something else must be going on:
The issue matrix matters as well, and over the last five years, this administration and this Democratic Party have consistently tried to mobilize new coalition elements in ways that have very predictably tended to alienate downscale whites.
And that strategy has worked! Energizing “ascendant” constituencies while pushing working-class whites toward the Republicans has represented a form of “positive polarization” for the Democrats, since it’s left them with a presidential-level majority that they did not enjoy before. But like any successful gambit, it’s also created vulnerabilities. The Democrats may no longer need that many working class white votes to win, but they probably can’t actually afford to lose them in a 70-30 split. And in the normal course of political events, it would be entirely reasonable for the opposition party to look at a president’s collapsing ratings with a demographic his party has mostly written off, and focus on that group as a target of opportunity in the next few election cycles.
Responding in the New Republic, Isaac Chotiner just doesn’t see it:
In one sense, of course, Douthat is right: Obama and the Democrats have turned off white voters with issues like gun control, and with a liberal record on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But these issues are not racial issues; it is not as if Obama and the Democrats are, say, trying to pass laws disenfranchising white voters, or prominent Democratic lawmakers are making offensive statements about what white Americans will or won’t contribute to the future of the country.
On the other side of the aisle, Republican racial polarization has taken the form of trying to pass voter ID laws that are clearly aimed at reducing minority turnout, and powerful Congressional Republicans are using a legitimate debate about immigration to make disgusting, racially-charged remarks.
Yes, he’s referring to calling all young Hispanics drug mules with calves like cantaloupes – which was just weird, or more comic than disgusting, if just barely so.
Other things are more insidious:
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin provided some behind-the-scenes insight into the partisan animosity that continues to follow Barack Obama in his second term as president.
Harkin, a Democrat, met Wednesday morning with the Des Moines Register’s editorial board. Responding to a question from a columnist about why Republicans seemed determined to see Obama fail, he described a scene from the closed-door meeting among senators that took place last month in the Old Senate Chambers.
During that July 15 meeting – which concerned filibuster rules and included no press and no staff – one senator suggested his constituents still couldn’t identify with Obama.
“I’m not naming any names, but one senator got up from a southern state and said, ‘Well, you’ve got to understand that to my people down here, Obama seems like’ – he thought for a second and he said – ‘like he’s exotic.’”
A spokeswoman for Harkin declined to offer further detail on the exchange, noting that it occurred in a closed-door meeting with only senators present.
The unnamed senator was obviously looking for a word which might be seen somehow, maybe, as a sort of compliment, when he meant no such thing. At least he had a tiny bit of restraint left somewhere at the edges of his meager consciousness. No one else does any longer. We’ve been told we live in a post-racial society, which perhaps we did, until we were told that. No one saw that coming, but they should have. Reverse the burden of proof and all bets are off.