“The RNC Reflects On Ending Racism”: The Republican Party No Longer Qualifies For The Benefit Of The Doubt
For all of its many benefits, Twitter’s brevity can cause trouble for plenty of political voices. Yesterday, for example, the Republican National Committee decided to honor the anniversary of Rosa Parks’ “bold stand,” which seemed like a perfectly nice gesture. The RNC added, however, that Parks played a role “in ending racism.”
Not surprisingly, the message was not well received. Despite what you may have heard from Supreme Court conservatives in the Voting Rights Act case, racism hasn’t ended, it certainly wasn’t vanquished on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955.
A few hours later, realizing that they’d made a mess of things, RNC officials returned to Twitter to say, “Previous tweet should have read ‘Today we remember Rosa Parks’ bold stand and her role in fighting to end racism,’” which was a welcome clarification, though the damage was done.
In fairness to the Republican National Committee, it’s hard to believe the party was trying to be deliberately offensive. For that matter, I rather doubt the RNC believes Rosa Parks helped end racism 58 years ago. This was likely the result of clumsy tweeting, not ignorant malice.
But in the larger context, stories like these resonate because the party no longer qualifies for the benefit of the doubt. Too many incidents come quickly to mind: the Nevada Republican who’d embrace slavery, the North Carolina Republican whose appearance on “The Daily Show” became the stuff of legend, the birthers, the fondness for Jesse Helms, the widespread voter-suppression laws that disproportionately affect African Americans, the Maine Republican who wants the NAACP to kiss his butt, the former half-term Alaska governor who’s comfortable with “shuck and jive” rhetoric, etc.
The RNC, in other words, can’t lean on its credibility on racial issues to easily dismiss poorly worded tweets. The fact that the party can’t even say a nice thing about Rosa Parks without screwing up and getting itself in trouble only helps reinforce the extent to which race is a systemic problem for the party.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 2, 2013
To the Republican supporters of laws that would treat the poll booth like an exclusive nightclub that asks for photo ID and other qualifications before allowing entry, the answer to why anyone would oppose this is simple: They must not want to vote badly enough.
This was the logic for Wisconsin State Senator Glenn Grothman who last week on MSNBC said, ”I really don’t think they care that much about voting in the first place, right?” in response to a question about how African-American voters might be impacted by voter ID and early voting cuts.
This is not anomalous thinking among Republicans. Similar comments have been made by Republican state legislators in Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Florida. In fact, they say these things so often publicly that you have to wonder if it’s some kind of dog-whistle to the more racially polarized portion of their voting base.
The idea that people of color don’t “care” about voting ignores how expensive it can be to meet the qualifications of voter ID laws to begin with. Those expenses are irrelevant only to those who can easily meet them. On Friday November 15th, a federal court trial over Wisconsin’s voter ID law concluded after two weeks of testimony from at least a dozen state residents illustrating how difficult it’s been to obtain the photo ID needed to vote. It also featured the testimony of state government officials who dismissed those residents’ burdens as easily surmountable.
The question of who’s right in that tug of war comes down to careful consideration of the racial and class contexts of the law. If you are a white male with a government job, you obviously are in tune enough with the law, and have the resources to meet it. But if you are not that … well consider the statistics:
- 78 percent of African-American men in Wisconsin between the ages of 18 and 24 do not have a driver’s license
- 66 percent of young African-American women in the same age range lack a driver’s license
- 57 percent of young Latino men aged 18 to 24, and 63 percent of young Latinas lack driver’s licenses
During the Wisconsin trial, statistician Leland Beatty testified that more than 300,000 registered Wisconsin voters did not have a driver’s license or state ID card in 2012—16.2 percent of them African-American registered voters compared to just 9.5 percent of registered white voters. For Latinos, over 24 percent lacked a driver’s license or state ID card. Beatty analyzed the same data for 2013 and found the same racial disparate impact.
The burden suffered by people of color in Wisconsin under a voter ID law is not an academic exercise in statistics, though. Real Wisconsin residents testified about how hard it is to comply with the law—a law unnecessary given the state went hundreds of years without it and yet still managed to earn the top score in election performance by the Pew Research Center last year. Despite that, the expenses that come along with the voter ID law were laid bare during the November trial, which is the first litigation that has happened under the Voting Rights Act’s Section Two since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the civil rights law this summer.
Lorene Hutchins, a 93-year-old, African-American woman born in Mississippi was able to retrieve her birth certificate from her home state only after her daughter Katherine Clark helped her through the arduous process. It cost them over $2,000 in expenses and legal fees to do so.
Ray Ciszewski, a volunteer for his church’s program that helps the homeless and those recently released from prison obtain birth certificates for jobs, and lately to vote, testified that it costs on average $20 for a Wisconsin birth certificate. Roughly 23 percent of the people he’s tried to help were unable to get their birth certificates for a number of reasons, he said during the trial.
Carmen Cabrera of the Latino non-profit Centro Hispano Milwaukee testified that many of their members encountered language barriers—in particular, a limited availability of Spanish-speaking DMV clerks—when they help them get state IDs. Not to mention, there’s limited access to the DMV offices around the state since most of them are open only on weekdays and close at 4:30 p.m. Anytime voters have to take time off from work or school to haggle with DMV operators, especially those who don’t speak their language, that is a cost voters have to bare.
Attorney General Kawski called these plaintiffs’ experiences ”uncommon, bizarre and one-of-a-kind exceptions”—again, only bizarre to those who are privileged enough to not have to deal with the every day struggles of people of color and low income.
I encountered this same dynamic last year while covering the Pennsylvania court trial over its voter ID law, where poor people of color had to prove that they even existed, ID or not. Over two dozen witnesses, mostly black and Latino, provided account after account about how difficult it is for them to transact with the government over ID while state officials responded on the stand by placing those life stories in doubt. That case is still unresolved, pending a judge’s ruling
More stories about the costs and burdens of Wisconsin residents who lack ID are bound to surface. The Wisconsin state supreme court this week decided to hear two other challenges to the voter ID law filed by local NAACP and League of Women Voter chapters. Other Voter ID law challenges are waiting for their day in court in North Carolina and Texas—the latter of which is a protracted court battle that rivals only Wisconsin in terms of time elapsed without resolving the voter ID controversy. Texas’s law was stopped last year in federal court under a Voting Rights Act Section 5 challenge. When the Supreme Court invalidated Section Five’s coverage formula, Texas immediately reinstated the law, which ranks at the top of the nation with Wisconsin in terms of its voter restrictions. It is headed back to federal court, this time under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The stakes for all of these voter ID trials are not only who may or may not show up to vote in 2014 and 2016, but also whether government officials will finally recognize the true costs and burdens of being poor, black and brown in America as illustrated in these court testimonies. It’s not that they don’t care about voting; it’s that too many obstructions have been placed in their way.
By: Brentin Mock, The American Prospect, November 25, 2013
“A Nuclear End To Republican Denial”: Seeing The World As It Is Rather Than Pining For A World That No Longer Exists
Those who lament the Senate Democrats’ vote to end filibusters for presidential nominations say the move will escalate partisan warfare and destroy what comity is left in Congress. Some also charge hypocrisy, since Democrats once opposed the very step they took last week.
In fact, seeing the world as it is rather than pining for a world that no longer exists is a condition for reducing polarization down the road. With their dramatic decision, Senate Democrats have frankly acknowledged that the power struggle over the judiciary has reached a crisis point and that the nature of conservative opposition to President Obama is genuinely without precedent.
What happened on Nuclear Thursday has more to do with the rise of an activist conservative judiciary than with the norms of the Senate. From the moment that five conservative justices issued their ruling in Bush v. Gore, liberals and Democrats realized they were up against forces willing to achieve their purposes by using power at every level of government. When the Bush v. Gore majority insisted that the principles invoked to decide the 2000 election in George W. Bush’s favor could not be used in any other case, they effectively admitted their opportunism. Dec. 12, 2000, led inexorably to Nov. 21, 2013.
Bush v. Gore set in motion what liberals see as a pernicious feedback loop. By giving the presidency to a conservative, the five right-of-center justices guaranteed that for at least four years (and what turned out to be eight), the judiciary would be tilted even further in a conservative direction.
Bush was highly disciplined in naming as many conservative judges as he could. His appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito bolstered the Supreme Court’s conservative majority. The court later rendered such decisions as Citizens United, which tore down barriers to big money in politics, and Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act. Both, in turn, had the effect of strengthening the electoral hand of conservatives and Republicans.
With the conservatives’ offensive as the backdrop, Senate Democrats and liberals on the outside revolted in 2005 against the Republican threat to use the nuclear option when the GOP controlled the Senate. Progressives felt they had no choice but to throw sand into the gears of a juggernaut.
Liberals said things eight years ago that are being used by conservatives to accuse them of hypocrisy now. I didn’t have to look far for an example of what they’re talking about.
In a column in March 2005, I called the GOP’s effort to speed the confirmation of conservative judges “a blatant effort to twist the rules” that ignored “the traditions of the Senate.” I might take back the “traditions of the Senate” line, a rhetorical attempt to call conservatism’s bluff. But what animated my argument then is the same concern I have now: This era’s conservatives will use any means at their disposal to win control of the courts. Their goal is to do all they can to limit Congress’s ability to enact social reforms. At the same time, they are pushing for measures — notably restrictions on the right to vote — that alter the electoral terrain in their favor.
And it is simply undeniable that in the Obama years, conservatives have abused the filibuster in ways that liberals never dreamed of. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cited the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) finding that in our history, there have been 168 cloture motions filed on presidential nominations. Nearly half of them — 82 — happened under Obama. According to CRS, of the 67 cloture motions on judicial nominees since 1967, 31 occurred under Obama. Faced with this escalation, senators long opposed to going nuclear, among them Reid and California’s Dianne Feinstein, concluded it was the only alternative to surrender.
Republicans gave the game away when all but a few of them opposed Obama’s three most recent appointments to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit not on the merits but by accusing the president of trying to “pack the court.” In fact, Obama was simply making appointments he was constitutionally and legislatively authorized to make. His nominees were being filibustered because they might alter the circuit court’s philosophical balance. The GOP thus demonstrated beyond any doubt that it cares far more about maintaining conservative influence on the nation’s second most important judicial body than in observing the rules and customs of the Senate.
This is why the Senate Democrats’ action will, in the end, be constructive. The first step toward resolving a power struggle is to recognize it for what it is. The era of denial is finally over.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, November 24, 2013
So now the Democrats have exercised the “nuclear option,” which is not particularly nuclear. They’ve changed existing Senate rules so that judicial nominations can not be filibustered, but can pass with a majority vote. Over the next couple of days you’ll hear Republicans say that this is the most horrifying power grab since the February Revolution of 1917. They will weep and beat their breasts, lamenting the death of fairness and democracy, predicting all manner of horrors, perhaps culminating in a zombie apocalypse, now that a judge nominated by the president can be confirmed with a vote of a majority of senators. But then, their grief will turn to steely determination. “You shall rue this day!”, they will cry. “Revenge shall be ours!”
And that might sound like a reasonable argument for why this rule change was ill-advised. After all, as Iowa senator Chuck Grassley recently threatened, “So if the Democrats are bent on changing the rules, then I say go ahead. There are a lot more Scalias and Thomases that we’d love to put on the bench.” In other words, without the restraint of the filibuster, the next time Republicans have the White House and the Senate, which will happen eventually, they’ll go hog-wild, appointing the most radical conservatives they can find. But there’s one big reason that argument fails: They would have done it anyway.
Let’s not be naive here. The Republican party of today is not only ideologically radical but procedurally radical as well. They’ve taken virtually every opportunity they could to upend whatever rules and norms stood in the way of them getting what they want. Let’s say that it’s 2017 or 2021, and they’ve won the presidency and the Senate. Can anyone believe that if on this day in 2013 the Democrats decided to keep the filibuster for judicial nominations, Republicans would then do the same out of a sense of fair play? This is the party that over the last five years has filibustered literally every bill of greater consequence than renaming a post office. This is the party that got conservatives on the Supreme Court to upend the Voting Rights Act, then literally within days began passing one law after another to make it as hard as possible for minorities, students, and anyone else likely to vote Democratic to cast their ballots. This is the party that shut down the government in its endless quest to repeal the Affordable Care Act. This is the party that sincerely believes that its opponents are attempting to destroy America, and therefore any tactics are justified in order to stop them.
You can put the start date of this procedural radicalism at the inauguration of Barack Obama, but I’d date it back to the Florida mess in the 2000 election. In case your memory of that episode has faded, the whole election came down to a series of counts and recounts in a state in which the Republican candidate’s brother was the governor and his campaign co-chair was the state’s chief election official. Throughout the weeks that followed, Republicans did things like organize a small riot to intimidate election officials into not counting ballots, and the election was ultimately decided by five members of the Supreme Court who were so shamelessly partisan that they included in their decision an instruction that it could never be used as precedent in a subsequent case. And you know what price the Republicans paid for their ruthlessness? None.
It was then that Republicans realized once and for all that norms and rules are for suckers, and at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is whether or not you win. That belief hasn’t changed, even as the party has grown more ideologically extreme over the last five years. You can make an argument that Democrats should have taken the high road and not changed the filibuster rule today. But if you think Republicans wouldn’t have changed the rule to benefit themselves at the first chance they got—no matter what Democrats did—then you haven’t been paying attention.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, November 21, 2013
Racial tensions in the United States have changed since Obama’s election as president, and for the worse. As judicial opinions since 2008 have revealed, both the word “Obama” and the president’s image have become tools for harassing and otherwise discriminating, in the workplace and in places of public accommodation, against blacks and against whites in romantic relationships with blacks.
For instance, while at a company picnic, one white employee sat down next to his co-workers, held a watermelon slice in his hand, and asserted, “I’m going to sit down to eat my ‘Obama fruit.’” In a different court case, a plaintiff complained that the company’s C.E.O. once said he had a “gift for you for all the Obama people outside” — while handing a rifle to another employee. In yet another case, a white employee derided an African co-worker, calling the co-worker “boy,” threatening his life and telling him he should take Obama back to Africa to vote for him.
For other individuals, President Obama’s election has become a basis for denying and ignoring the realities of racism, both conscious and unconscious, in our country. Soon after Obama’s election, conservatives such as Gregory Coleman, a Texas lawyer, argued that the election demonstrated the obsolescence of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a point reiterated by the U.S. Supreme Court in its June decision invalidating a section of the act.
In fact, the results from three experiments by Stanford University researchers suggest that endorsing Obama enables some whites to feel more comfortable in favoring other whites at the expense of blacks. The Stanford researchers contended that, for these whites, supporting Obama seemed to reduce their fears about appearing racially prejudiced, giving them the “moral credentials” to exhibit favoritism toward other whites.
At least one case showed this phenomenon affecting the legal process. After admitting that he based his decision in a criminal matter upon the race of the defendant, a white juror later denied his admission. His decision could not have been racially motivated, he argued. Why he was incapable of racial bias? Because, he said, he voted for Obama.
By: Angela Onwuachi-Willig, The Charles and Marion Kierscht Professor of Law at the University of Iowa College of Law, Opinion Pages, The New York Times, November 20, 2013