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“His Hands Are As Dirty As Anyone’s”: If Jeb Bush Wants To Be A Different Kind Of Republican, He Should End GOP War On Voting

Jeb Bush appears before the Urban League today — the only other Republican candidate who accepted their invitation was Ben Carson — where he will tell them that antipoverty programs have failed, and the path to greater success for African-Americans is the one the GOP wants to pave. Politically, Bush surely wants credit for showing up in front of an audience not exactly guaranteed to be friendly. As Eli Stokols noted, “Just about everywhere Jeb Bush goes, he talks about his willingness to go everywhere.”

But at a moment when his party is fighting with all its might to limit the number of African-Americans who make it to the polls, it’s going to be awfully hard to make a case that the GOP has their interests at heart.

That issue is on display in a trial now going on in North Carolina. But before we get to that, here’s part of what Bush had to say:

“I know that there are unjust barriers to opportunity and upward mobility in this country. Some we can see, others are unseen but just as real. So many lives can come to nothing, or come to grief, when we ignore problems, or fail to meet our own responsibilities. And so many people could do so much better in life if we could come together and get even a few big things right in government.”

That’s about as close as he came to acknowledging that racism exists, and about as much on the topic as you’ll hear from any Republican. And while Jeb will happily tout his record on things like charter schools as helping African-Americans, one topic he didn’t raise was voting rights. That may be because on that subject, his hands are as dirty as anyone’s.

When he was governor of Florida, Bush’s administration ordered a purge of the voter rolls that disenfranchised thousands of African-Americans, in a happy coincidence that made it possible for his brother to become president. The private corporation they hired to eliminate felons from the rolls did so by chucking off people who had a name similar to those of felons; people who had voted all their lives showed up on election day to be told that they couldn’t vote.

The remarkable outcome taught Republicans an important lesson. Here you had an election in which their candidate got fewer votes than his opponent, and the whole thing was decided in a state where his brother was the governor and the co-chair of his state campaign was the state’s chief election official. He won by an official margin of 537 votes, and the purge was just one of the things that made it possible. The lesson was this: when it comes to voting, we can get away with almost anything. What came out of that election, as Ari Berman documents, was a wave of Republican efforts to win elections by keeping people less likely to vote Republican from being able to cast a ballot. African-Americans aren’t the only people on that list, but they’re at the top.

So we see cases like North Carolina, where once the conservatives on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — a landmark law for which some African-Americans literally gave their lives — the state rushed to pass a menu of voting restrictions, all of which are designed to reduce the number of non-Republicans who make it to the polls. Young people are more likely to vote for Democrats? The North Carolina law eliminated pre-registering, where teenagers can register before they turn 18 if they’ll be of age on election day. African-Americans are disproportionately more likely to lack a photo ID? The law requires it. African-American churches mount “souls to the polls” efforts, bringing people to vote early on the Sunday before election day? The law ends early voting on that Sunday.

This law is on trial in a federal courtroom in Winston-Salem; closing arguments are happening today. To be honest, whatever happens in that trial, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court have made it clear that they are quite open to all kinds of restrictions on voting rights. So from a practical standpoint, Republicans may continue to enjoy success in their efforts to make voting as inconvenient and difficult as possible, at least for the wrong people.

But if Jeb Bush is wondering whether he can get African-Americans to vote for him, the answer is almost certainly no, and the continuing struggle over voting rights is one big reason. It’s awfully hard to convince African-Americans you love them when you’re still on the wrong side of a conflict that was at the center of the civil rights struggle. African-Americans look at places like Florida, North Carolina, Texas, or Wisconsin — or almost every state where Republicans are in charge — and say, “They’re still trying to keep us from voting, half a century after the Voting Rights Act!”

If Bush really wants to be a different kind of Republican, he could try to end the Republican war on voting rights. He could say, “We can have a secure voting system, and still make it easy and convenient for every American citizen to vote.” Because it really wouldn’t be that hard. He could advocate extended early voting (including Sundays), and looser identification measures that are geared toward allowing every legitimate voter to cast their ballot, not shutting out as many people as possible. He could acknowledge that in-person voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud that ID requirements can stop, is so incredibly rare (one investigation found only 31 cases in over a billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014), that it’s wrong to disenfranchise thousands of people on the off-chance you might stop it. He could acknowledge that members of his party have used voting restrictions as a way to give themselves partisan advantage.

Or he could hope that showing up to the Urban League and shaking black people’s hands will be enough to wipe out decades of history, his own and his party’s. I’m pretty sure that won’t do the trick.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, July 31

August 1, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Jeb Bush, Voting Rights | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Potential Usefulness As A New Rhetorical Framework”: The Republican Party Is Still Trying To Decide If Minorities Matter

The Republican party has had well-documented difficulty making inroads with minority voters since the 2012 election. It’s probably more accurate to say that since the 2012 election Republicans have been engaged in a quiet and unresolved debate amongst themselves over which of the following three strategic courses to pursue:

1) Making genuine, substantive concessions to minority voters.

2) Making symbolic and rhetorical concessions to minority voters, without making significant changes to the GOP’s substantive agenda.

3) Making no concessions to minority voters whatsoever, in the hope of increasing the GOP’s already sizeable margins among white voters.

Two developments in the past month—the mass killing of black worshippers by a white supremacist at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and the launch of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—have thrown into stark relief how badly option one lost out to options two and three. The ongoing Republican presidential primary has become a contest to determine which of the latter two approaches the party will adopt in the general election next year.

The Emanuel AME killings set off a furious backlash to the southern right’s glorification of the Confederacy. And after a brief but conspicuous stumble, Republican presidential candidates neared a consensus that the party should no longer support conspicuous celebrations of it. Republicans began lowering Confederate battle flags from government buildings, and, in South Carolina, have begun the legislative process required to place the Confederate flag flying on the state’s capitol grounds into a museum.

This isn’t a meaningless concession. A CNN/ORC poll taken in late June found that 66 percent of whites, 77 percent of Republicans, and a majority of the country at large view the flag as a symbol of Southern pride more than a symbol of racism—a view that, while wrongheaded, suggests Republicans were willing to commit an affront to their own voting base in order to demonstrate that the Charleston killings had moved them in some meaningful way.

After initially whiffing on the Confederate flag question, former Texas Governor Rick Perry dedicated a major presidential campaign speech to acknowledging that the Republican party’s minority rut is one of its own making:

Blacks know that Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964 ran against Lyndon Johnson, who was a champion for Civil Rights. They know that Barry Goldwater opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He felt parts of it were unconstitutional. States supporting segregation in the south, they cited states’ rights as a justification for keeping blacks from the voting booth and the dinner table.

As you know, I am an ardent believer in the 10th Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, as part of our Bill of Rights. The 10th Amendment says that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved for the states respectively, or the individual. I know that state governments are more accountable to you than the federal government.

But I’m also an ardent believer in the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall deny any person in its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. There has been, and there will continue to be an important and a legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing Civil Rights.

Too often, we Republicans, me included, have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th. An Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the great contributions of Republican party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery. For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote, because we found we didn’t need it to win. But, when we gave up trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all.

It’s exceedingly, depressingly rare for conservatives to admit that African-American support for Democrats is historically well grounded. Held up against that low bar, Perry’s clarity here is refreshing. But the meaning of this passage lies less in his concession to historical reality than in his stipulation that “state governments are more accountable…than the federal government” and his promiscuous use of the term “message.” Perry’s interest in the 14th Amendment isn’t a harbinger of his support for, say, same-sex marriage. It is mostly limited to its potential usefulness as a new rhetorical framework in which to squeeze existing conservative policy commitments that have little or nothing to do with equal protection or due process.

If Perry represents the Republican faction committed to improving the Republican party’s “message” to minority voters, then Trump represents the faction that believes conservatives should run on the presumption that Republicans still don’t need minority votes to win.

Several Republicans, including Perry, joined the immense backlash to Trump’s suggestion that undocumented immigrants are disproportionately rapists and drug criminals. But the right didn’t react in lockstep. Among presidential candidates, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson have all spoken up for Trump, as have conservative intellectuals like Rich Lowry, who argued that “Trump’s rant on immigration is closer to reality than the gauzy cliches of immigration romantics.”

The view that there are enough aggrieved white voters in the country to elect a GOP president no longer dominates Republican strategic thought as it once did, and it will probably shrink further over time, as changing demographics make it less and less tenable politically.

But in this election, with this primary field, it could win the day one more time. What it lacks in broad appeal it makes up for in its ability to lend Republican policy arguments internal coherence. The range of issues that both affect minorities and demand substantive concessions from Republicans is growing, and that will make Perry-like efforts to smooth the sharp edges of conservative policy with gentler rhetoric more tortured as time goes on. In the long run, the only real option is for the GOP to change party dogma on issues like voting rights or immigration or social spending.

But for now, the notion propounded by Trump and Cruz and others, is that the Republican party doesn’t need to go to any trouble at all.

 

By: Brian Beutler, The New Republic, July 8, 2015

July 9, 2015 Posted by | Minority Voters, Republicans, White Voters | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Southern Strategy Doesn’t Work Anymore”: Rick Perry Wants To Reach Out To Black People. He’ll Have To Do A Lot Better

Yesterday, Rick Perry went to the National Press Club in Washington to deliver a speech that may have seemed unusual, in that it was characterized as an effort to reach out to African Americans, but actually contained much less than meets the eye. Perry presented traditional Republican priorities — tax cuts, regulatory rollback, slashing safety net programs — as a gift the GOP wants to bestow on African Americans and acknowledged that his party hasn’t exactly been welcoming to them. But if this is “reaching out” beyond the whites who form almost the entirety of the GOP’s voters, it isn’t going to accomplish much. Here’s an excerpt:

There has been, and there will continue to be an important and a legitimate role for the federal government in enforcing Civil Rights. Too often, we Republicans, me included, have emphasized our message on the 10th Amendment but not our message on the 14th. An Amendment, it bears reminding, that was one of the great contributions of Republican party to American life, second only to the abolition of slavery.

For too long, we Republicans have been content to lose the black vote, because we found we didn’t need it to win. But, when we gave up trying to win the support of African-Americans, we lost our moral legitimacy as the party of Lincoln, as the party of equal opportunity for all. It’s time for us, once again, to reclaim our heritage as the only party in our country founded on the principle of freedom for African-Americans.

We know what Democrats will propose in 2016, the same thing, the same things that Democrats have proposed for decades, more government spending on more government programs. And there is a proper and an important role for government assistance in keeping people on their feet. But few Presidents have done more to expand government assistance than President Obama. Today we spend nearly one trillion dollars a year on means tested antipoverty programs. And yet, black poverty remains stagnant.

Let’s be clear about one thing: The GOP didn’t “give up” trying to win the black vote. It spent decades building and maintaining electoral majorities on the encouragement and exploitation of racism. It was a sin of commission, not a sin of omission. And the reason the party is now reevaluating the “Southern strategy” isn’t that it had some kind of moral epiphany, it’s because the strategy doesn’t work anymore.

While we’re on this topic, permit me a digression on this “party of Lincoln” business, which is something Republicans say when they’re trying to convince people they aren’t actually hostile to black people. As Antonin Scalia would say, it’s pure applesauce. Here’s the truth: One hundred fifty years ago, the Republican Party was the liberal party, and the Democratic Party was the conservative party. They reversed those positions over time for a variety of reasons, but the Republicans of today are not Abraham Lincoln’s heirs. Ask yourself this: If he had been around in 1864, which side do you think Rick Perry would have been on? If you took more than half a second to answer, “The Confederacy, of course,” then you’re being way too generous to him, not to mention the overwhelming majority of his fellow Republicans.

All that isn’t to say that it’s impossible for Republicans to turn over a new leaf and truly give African Americans a reason to consider their party. But if they’re going to be at all successful, it will take both a change in policy and a change in attitude.

A change in policy, at least outside of some very specific areas, is extremely unlikely to happen. Perry discussed the issue of incarcerations related to the drug war, and that’s one example where Republicans really are coming together with Democrats to reevaluate the policies of recent decades. They deserve credit for that. But there’s almost nothing else they’re offering, other than to argue that the things they already wanted to do, such as cutting taxes, will be great for black people, too.

Then there’s the argument Perry and others make about safety net programs: that people of color are being enslaved by them, and if we only cut those shackles then they’ll rise up. This argument — that the Republican Party wants to slash the safety net only because it cares so much for the poor — has never persuaded anyone in the past, and it isn’t likely to in the future.

And what about the change in attitude? The most fundamental reason Republicans can’t get the votes of African Americans is that the party communicates to them, again and again and again, that it isn’t just ignoring their needs but is actively hostile to them. When conservative justices gut the Voting Rights Act to the cheers of Republicans, and then states such as Perry’s Texas move immediately to impose voting restrictions that they know will disproportionately affect African Americans, it sends a very clear message.

Perry began his speech with a harrowing story of a lynching in Texas in 1916, which was surely meant to convey to African Americans that he understands the legacy of racism. But it also sends an accompanying message: that he believes racism is about the violent oppression of the past and has nothing to do with the lives African Americans lead today. And that’s another message African Americans hear loud and clear. Every time any issue of race comes up, whether it’s about police mistreatment or discrimination in employment or anything else, the first response of conservatives is always to say, “Oh c’mon, what are you complaining about? Racism is over.”

If Perry really wanted to “reach out” to African Americans and convince them that something has changed, here’s a way he could do it: He could say something about the endless stream of race-baiting that comes from the most prominent conservative media figures. If you’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh or watched Bill O’Reilly, you know that one of the central themes of their programs is that white people are America’s only victimized racial group, while African Americans form a criminal class that deserves to be constantly harassed by the police because they’re a bunch of thugs the rest of us need protection from. Day in and day out, those programs’ white audiences are told that Obama is some kind of Black Panther enacting a campaign of racial vengeance upon them. “All too often I have seen this president divide us by race,” says Perry, when the media figures his party lionizes are constantly telling their audiences to see politics through the lens of their own whiteness and nurture their racial resentments.

And Perry can tell black people that it’s welfare that’s really keeping them down, but because of his party, the first African American president had to literally show his birth certificate to prove he’s a real American. That’s just one of the things it’s going to take an awful lot of reaching out to make them forget.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, July 3, 2015

July 5, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Republicans, Rick Perry | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Must Vow To Never, Ever, Betray The Conservative Cause”: GOP Candidates Will Now Have To Promise Supreme Court Litmus Tests

With two dramatic and far-reaching liberal decisions in as many days at the end of last week, the Supreme Court laid Republicans low, dashed their hopes and spat on their dreams, made them beat their breasts and shake their fists at the heavens. And in both cases, it was a conservative justice (or two) who joined with the liberals to do it. So while there will be a lot of discussion among Republicans about where they should go from this point forward on the issues of health care and gay rights, you can be sure that they’re also going to spend a great deal of time talking about how they can make sure this kind of thing never happens again. Conservatives already hated Anthony Kennedy, and now some have decided that John Roberts is a traitor as well. If you’re a Republican presidential candidate, you’d better have a strong argument for why whoever you’ll appoint to the Supreme Court will never, ever, ever betray the conservative cause.

In the first couple of days, the candidates reacted much as you think they might, with varying degrees of displeasure built on time-tested conservative cliches about judicial restraint and judges not legislating from the bench. Which was a little odd, since in one of two decisions (King v. Burwell), what they were hoping for was a little more judicial activism. Nevertheless, they’ve been saying those things for so long that it may be understandable. So when Hugh Hewitt asked Jeb Bush how he would avoid future betrayals like these, he said only, “You focus on people to be Supreme Court justices who have a proven record of judicial restraint.” Rick Perry said much the same, that he would “appoint strict Constitutional conservatives who will apply the law as written.” Marco Rubio reached farther back, arguing that “As we look ahead, it must be a priority of the next president to nominate judges and justices committed to applying the Constitution as written and originally understood.” Scott Walker issued a statement on his Facebook page about “five unelected judges” but passed on an opportunity to rail about them the next day. If you wanted a real denunciation of the Supreme Court that went beyond an objection to the substance of their decisions, you’d have to go to second-tier candidates like Ted Cruz, who proposed recall elections for Supreme Court justices, or Mike Huckabee, who loaded up his rhetorical musket to march at the Supreme Court redcoats. “I will not acquiesce to an imperial court any more than our Founders acquiesced to an imperial British monarch,” he said. “We must resist and reject judicial tyranny, not retreat.”

But guess what? That’s not going to be good enough for Republican voters anymore. Here’s what’s going to happen: At one town hall meeting after another, a Republican primary voter will stand up to the candidate before them and say, “What are you going to do about the Supreme Court?” Then everyone else will lean in to listen.

As well they should. Given the ages of the justices (four are over 76 years old) and the fact that the next president will probably have the chance to appoint a liberal to replace a conservative or vice versa for the first time since Clarence Thomas replaced Thurgood Marshall in 1991, there may be no single issue in the 2016 campaign of greater importance than the Supreme Court. If Hillary Clinton replaces a conservative justice, the court would swing to a liberal majority; if a Republican replaces a liberal justice, there would be a solid conservative majority with Anthony Kennedy no longer holding the swing vote.

Right now, conservatives are feeling like they’ve been betrayed. As conservative writer Matt Lewis noted on Thursday, “conservatives thought they had figured it out. The right created an impressive infrastructure and network to identify and promote conservative lawyers, clerks, and would-be judges,” and it was designed to keep these kinds of defections from happening. And Chief Justice Roberts was supposed to be the model for how it would work: a young, accomplished lawyer who did his apprenticeship in the Reagan Justice Department, where, like his colleague Samuel Alito, he imbibed the foundations of conservative legal thinking.

As it happens, the John Roberts whom Republicans are now denouncing as a traitor for his ruling in King v. Burwell is also the justice who engineered the unshackling of billionaires’ money in politics, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and the Court’s first declaration of an individual right to own guns — along with dozens of other extremely important and extremely conservative rulings in recent years. If anything, he’s an ideologue but not a partisan, meaning he sometimes does what’s in conservatives’ long-term interests, even if it isn’t what the Republican Party wants at the moment.

But the old Republican cry of “No more Souters!” may now be replaced by “No more Kennedys and Robertses!” Republican candidates are going to have make it very clear to primary voters that they have a whole list of litmus tests, and any lawyer or lower-court judge who fails to satisfy each and every one won’t be getting nominated to the Supreme Court. Vague words about judicial restraint and respecting the Constitution aren’t going to cut it.

I’ve argued before that litmus tests for Supreme Court appointments aren’t a bad thing — instead of having candidates pretend that they’re only interested in finding wise and humble jurists, and having the Court nominees themselves pretend that they have no opinions on any legal questions, we should just get everything out in the open so we can all know what we’re in for. In the past, Democrats have been more willing to discuss the litmus tests they have (particularly on abortion), while Republicans have insisted that they only want judges who will respect the Founders and interpret law, not make law. Of course, that isn’t really what they want — when the circumstances are right, they’re only too happy to have judges make laws (or overturn them) if it produces the outcome they prefer.

So if nothing else, the Republican candidates will have to be a more honest now. But they can’t be too honest. Tell everyone that you will tolerate only Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade, strike down the Affordable Care Act, restrict workers’ rights, roll back environmental regulations and get even more big money into politics, and you coulan, d run into trouble with general election voters. That makes it a tricky balance to strike, which is pretty much the story of the entire 2016 campaign for Republican candidates: Appealing too strongly to primary voters means potentially alienating the broader electorate, on almost every issue that comes up. As dramatic as the past week was, other issues will eventually push the ACA and gay marriage out of the headlines, at least for a while here and there. But in the short run, the candidates are going to face a lot of pointed questions about whom they plan to put on the Supreme Court.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, June 29, 2015

June 30, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP Presidential Candidates, SCOTUS | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Cinder In The Public Eye”: Clarence Thomas Says Black NBA Players Give SCOTUS A Reason To Gut Anti-Discrimination Law

On Thursday, the Supreme Court saved a key interpretation of the Fair Housing Act—a historic 1968 law that prevents discrimination in the housing market—by ruling in a 5-4 decision that a complaint does not have to prove a policy was overtly or intentionally discriminatory to be valid. It upheld the “disparate impact” standard, which allows complainants to show a policy led to unequal results, no matter the original intention.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, penned by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He argued that “disparate-impact doctrine defies not only the statutory text, but reality itself.” To make his case, Thomas pointed out that minorities sometimes do quite well. His examples: The Jews in Poland and, in America, the success of black professional basketball players.

Racial imbalances do not always disfavor minorities. At various times in history, “racial or ethnic minorities . . . have owned or directed more than half of whole industries in particular nations.” These minorities “have included the Chinese in Malaysia, the Lebanese in West Africa, Greeks in the Ottoman Empire, Britons in Argentina, Belgians in Russia, Jews in Poland, and Spaniards in Chile—among many others.” “In the seventeenth century Ottoman Empire,” this phenomenon was seen in the palace itself, where the “medical staff consisted of 41 Jews and 21 Muslims.” And in our own country, for roughly a quarter-century now, over 70 percent of National Basketball Association players have been black. To presume that these and all other measurable disparities are products of racial discrimination is to ignore the complexities of human existence.” [Legal citations omitted].

Thomas continues:

And if that “racial balancing” is achieved through disparate-impact claims limited to only some groups—if, for instance, white basketball players cannot bring disparate-impact suits— then we as a Court have constructed a scheme that parcels out legal privileges to individuals on the basis of skin color.”

Sports was a popular example for the dissenting justices. Justice Sam Alito, who wrote a separate dissent, cited the NFL to make a slightly different point:

 Of the 32 college players selected by National Football League (NFL) teams in the first round of the 2015 draft, it appears that the overwhelming majority were members of racial minorities […] Teams presumably chose the players they think are most likely to help them win games. Would anyone say the NFL teams made draft slots unavailable to white players “because of ” their race?

This is the same court that crippled civil rights legislation two years ago by striking down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, June 25, 2015

June 29, 2015 Posted by | Clarence Thomas, Discrimination, Fair Housing Act | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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