For a generation after the Civil War northern Republicans “waved the bloody shirt” to remind voters that the Democrats were all disloyal sympathizers with the South. The modern equivalent is for northern liberals, now Democrats, to accuse all Republicans of being sympathizers with the South, and thus racist. A perfect example is this column, “Bigotry Beneath the Fog,” by Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post.
Once in a while the fog machine that’s kept on “high” around here to obscure everyone’s real intentions breaks down. There’s always a mad rush to crank it up again, but for the briefest moment we can see our elected representatives for what they really are, not what they pretend to be. Wednesday we had one of those rare high-definition moments, when the House Republican caucus defied its leaders and refused to back renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
That tells you about all you need to know, doesn’t it?
Well, actually, no. If you’re Eugene Robinson, or one of the many who see a racist every time they look at a conservative, the recent detour on the road to re-authorizing parts of the Voting Rights Act didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know.
If, on the other hand, you’re one of those, like me, who believe that the nature and role of race in our politics is fundamentally different in 2006 from what it was in 1965, when the VRA was passed, you are willing to look beneath the racial fog that Robinson et al. generate and consider whether the “temporary” provisions of the VRA are still needed.
You’d never know it from reading Robinson et al., but the guts of the VRA are permanent. It is only some measures, such as the “pre-clearance” provisions of Section 5, that require re-authorization. One can question the continued need for those provisions, as Roger Clegg does here, without being a racist. “There is,” he notes,
no appreciable difference in the voting rights enjoyed in jurisdictions covered by Section 5 versus noncovered jurisdictions. So why, in 2006, are Texas and Arizona covered, while New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Arkansas are not? Why some counties in Florida and North Carolina, and not others? Why some boroughs in New York City, and not others? Why Alaska?
If the covered jurisdictions looked in 1965 like they look now, no one then would have given any consideration to a bill like Section 5. And yet many in Congress appear to think they can renew Section 5 in perpetuity.
Star Parker is also right on the mark:
In expressing dismay the other day about the House delay on the reauthorization vote, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia observed, “After all, it was during the middle of the last census that the Georgia state Legislature authored a redistricting plan that severely diluted the power of the African American vote.”
We have traveled a long and winding road since 1965. Where once the objective was to protect individual black voters, now we have an objective of protecting the “African American vote.”
We now have provisions to protect so-called “majority minority” districts and, in effect, the Voting Rights Act has become a vehicle for justifying what amounts to racial gerrymandering.
As in other areas of civil rights law, where the original objective was to guarantee everyone an equal opportunity at the starting line of the race, the Voting Rights Act has evolved into a tool for trying to manipulate the outcome of the race.
An under-appreciated irony in the transformation of “civil rights” from its traditional concern with individual rights to the newer belief in group rights is that the underlying political theory of modern “diversity” politics looks more like a racial and ethnic confederacy based on John C. Calhoun’s notion of “concurrent majorities” than it does a federal union of states populated with rights-bearing individuals. (I have noted the surprising of affinity of today’s Democrats with Calhoun before, here and here.)