To Vote Is More Important Than To Eat, Sort Of

Not many of you will know that in 2012 fast-food giant Wendy’s took the top spot in “average service time,” as measured by Quick Service Restaurant magazine. In a mere two minutes and 10 seconds or so you can have what you went to Wendy’s to get.

Now, imagine that you came across a statistic that showed this about Wendy’s and other fast-food restaurants:

average wait to eat dummy

Imagine that you came across statistics that indicated, here in twenty-first century America, that it took almost twice as long for people of color to get their burgers and fries than it did white folks. Presumably, that would upset most Americans, even conservative Americans. Right?

Then why doesn’t this very real statistic, which I grabbed from Martin Bashir’s show on MSNBC, upset most Americans, including conservative Americans:

blacks wait in line

In honor of today’s 48th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act, how about finding a way to fix this voting disparity—whatever the cause—as opposed to “fixing” other problems that don’t exist, the so-called fixes tending to make it more difficult for people of color to exercise a much more important right than a right to fast and greasy food?

Reminder: More than 90% of Senate Republicans supported the legislation in 1965 and more than 80% of House Republicans did so, which represented higher percentages than Democrats, who still had many conservative southerners in the ranks.

When It Comes To Democracy, Tea Party Conservatives Lack “Basic Mental Ingredients”

I just can’t get the Supreme Court’s Voting Rights Act decision out of my head, particularly as I observe what trouble Egyptians are having establishing a bona fide democratic government. It’s just not that easy to form a true democracy and then maintain it. It’s taken us 237 years and we still don’t have it quite right.

As was widely reported at the time, just a couple of hours after the Supreme Court made the country safe again for restrictive, Jim Crowish voting laws in the South and elsewhere—via its ideologically-driven 5-4 mutilation of the Voting Rights Act—the Attorney General of Texas said:

With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.

Republicans in Texas developed the state’s blatantly discriminatory voter ID law and redistricting plan obviously in order to suppress and dilute the vote of minorities, who don’t value Tea Party conservatism as much as palefaces do.

Texas is—uh, was—required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to get approval from the Justice Department or the D.C. federal court before it could breathe new legal life into Jim Crow, and thanks to two separate panels of federal judges, reactionary Republicans in Texas failed to get what they wanted. The federal court found that racial minorities would be disproportionately and negatively impacted by both the voter ID law and the redistricting plan and thus blocked them.

But the Supreme Court, with its conservative majority full of phony “originalists“—folks who ostensibly believe in a Dead Constitution—essentially disabled Section 5 of the Act by striking down the “formula” in Section 4, the formula that determined which states and jurisdictions were covered under Section 5′s preclearance requirements.

Now, as Nina Totenberg reported on NPR Friday morning, it happens that not all conservatives are happy with the Court’s ruling in Shelby County v. Holder:

Although the decision was hailed by many political conservatives, its reviews from academic and judicial conservatives were considerably less admiring.

Harvard Law professor Charles Fried, a former state Supreme Court justice who served as the Reagan administration’s advocate in the Supreme Court, thought the court’s decision was just wrong.

“Because we’re not there yet,” he says. “We’re not there yet, and the facts on the ground in Shelby County itself showed that.”

The reactionary virtual-rag Breitbart.com responded to Totenberg’s reporting by, what else, suggesting Charles Fried is not an authentic right-winger, as his opinions “are not usually conservative.”

Okay. Totenberg quoted another conservative constitutional law scholar, Michael McConnell, director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center:

Stanford’s McConnell says the decision’s reasoning is just “made up.”

“There’s no requirement in the Constitution to treat all states the same,” he said. “It might be an attractive principle, but it doesn’t seem to be in the Constitution.”

McConnell’s conservative credentials are unimpeachable. He has defended originalism in ways that would make Antonin Scalia blush. He was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit by George W. Bush. He was also considered as a “short list” candidate to replace Chief Justice William Rehnquist—the job would go to Bush-appointee John Roberts, who authored the majority opinion in the Voting Rights Act case—and was also rumored to be a potential Court nominee under a McCain or Romney administration. McConnell also supports a partnership between a “neutral” federal government and religion, as well as a constitutional amendment that would outlaw abortion. So, McConnell cannot be charged with being a phony right-winger.

But because of the consistency of his originalist approach to constitutional interpretation, he would not have joined the majority in the Voting Rights Act case, writing:

Conservatives should be wary of reading specific prohibitions into generalized structural principles, just as liberals should be (but are not) wary of reading specific prohibitions into generalized notions of “liberty.”

The problem is that this conservative Court has made, and will continue to make, a living by reading into the Constitution what it wants to find there, even as its most outspoken members attack liberals for believing in a Living Constitution. If such hypocrisy were not so damaging it would be amusing.

But it is damaging, as the Texas Attorney General’s announcement made clear. Minority voters will be harmed—heck, the state admitted it to the Justice Department—and such harm will not stop with Texas. As Time’s Swampland notes:

Since the high court’s ruling on June 25, four of the other 15 states covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act — Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia — are in position to move forward on tightening voting laws.

Conservatives, whose ideas have limited appeal, have always wanted to limit participation in the democratic process and it took Congress, acting in 1965, to finally put a stop to it. So, conservatives found another way to restrict voting: overrule Congress in the name of judicial restraint!

As I said, I just can’t get over it. The day the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act was a bad day for American democracy, even as some conservative folks are today throwing rocks at Egyptians struggling to find their democratic way. David Brooks, a conservative but not a Tea Party nut, ends his Friday column by saying that Egypt “seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients” necessary for a transition to true democracy.

I wish he would say the same about conservatives on the Supreme Court and in certain parts of the country.

The Center Of “The Nation’s Life” Holds, At Least Today

Yep, the Supreme Court found that federally discriminating against same-sex couples who are lawfully married is unconstitutional. A great day for equality under the law, even if there is much unfinished business—38 states representing two-thirds of the population of the country still prohibit same-sex matrimony—before genuine law-based equality becomes a reality for all.supreme court white

I do, though, want to remind everyone just how “damaging” was Tuesday’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, which was a victory for reactionary forces still hard at work across the land. And I want to remind everyone that whether it is Tea Party-dominated Texas—which will, despite the heroic efforts of a Democratic state senator, eventually severely limit reproductive rights in that state—or other laboratories of intolerance in other cuckoo-conservative jurisdictions, the right-wingers are unrelenting in their pursuit of a reactionary agenda. They won’t quit trying to apply their Iron Age evangelical theology to contemporary governance.

Finally, I want to remind everyone that even though today’s DOMA decision is a winner, those Four Conservatives of the Judicial Apocalypse—Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts—still wield considerable power on behalf of the reactionaries among us.

Justice Scalia’s dissent in the DOMA case, in which he unbelievably and hypocritically denounced his colleagues in the majority as embracing “black-robed supremacy”—as if he had not embraced such supremacy in the Voting Rights case the day before (not to mention in Bush v. Gore, which “settled” the 2000 presidential election)—is dripping with disdain for what the majority did to DOMA, that is, strike down the Clinton-era law without what the black-robed Scalia claimed was a legitimate reason to do so. He said the majority had expressed,

a desire to place this Court at the center of the Nation’s life.

For better or worse—and there are examples in history representing each extreme—the Supreme Court is sometimes at the center of the Nation’s life. And that center can be a fresh stream of equality and justice and liberty under the law, as Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 or Roe v. Wade in 1973 or today’s DOMA decision demonstrates.

Or at the center of the Nation’s constitutional life can exist a stagnant pool of narrow-minded conservatism, as Dred Scott  v. Sandford in 1857 or Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896 or the Voting Rights Act demolition yesterday represents.

supreme court blackAnd as long as there are four reliable defenders of retrogressive philosophy, of constitutional stagnation, sitting on the Supreme Court—with a sometimes reliable reactionary like Justice Kennedy making a majority—it will be hazardous to have the Court in a position to make monumental declarations about what the law, including constitutional law, finally means.

For that hazard we can thank the folly of the Founders, or their genius, depending on one’s view.

But ultimately it is the people who vote conservatives into high office, and, more important, the people who sit at home and don’t vote at all, who are responsible for the anti-progress we have seen, will see.

Even if today we can, but only for a moment, celebrate.

“They That Sow The Wind Shall Reap The Whirlwind.”

I must share with you, those who don’t read through the comment section of this blog, a remarkable post by Henry “Bud” Morgan, a retired (and by all accounts superb) English professor who taught at Missouri Southern State University. And although he probably doesn’t know it, my daughter was one of his students (that’s how I know how good he was).

Mr. Morgan took the time to offer the following, in response to my piece on the Republican’s “war on voting” :

Duane:

I seems to me that the most tragic element of this voter suppression scheme is that the very people who are being most suppressed are the ones who paid perhaps the highest price to gain that vote. The Freedom Riders, the Edmund Petttus Bridge survivors, the three college students murdered in Mississippi in 1963, the numerous nameless elderly men and women who put on their finest garb to go and march in a protest when they knew in advance that they were going to be beaten severely by local thugs and willing cops, and all the others who were willing to put their bodies and lives on the line to gain the right that should have been theirs automatically, these are the very targets of the modern-day suppressors.

That American citizens ever had to fight for the right to vote should shame all of us; that they are now having to do it twice should make us question our values and our “loyalty” to this nation. In the Alabama of my youth, where voting required a poll tax, a literacy test, and a “voucher,” an already registered voter who would vouch that the person seeking registration was who he said he was, was the age he claimed, and lived where he said he did. The absence of already-registered Black voters presented a major hurdle for would-be black voters. When two of my black friends, vets like me, asked me to be their voucher, I agreed. The “literacy” they were required to take involved reading and interpreting an obscure section of the Alabama Statutes. When they both failed the test, one of them said, “Yeah, I know what that statute meant. It meant ‘Ain’t no nigger gonna vote in Alabama.’”

In 1964, when the Voting Rights Act was passed, it was the crowning achievement of brave and resolute people who had put all on the line. That a group of American citizens in 2012 is trying to reverse that Law is disgraceful, shameful, and a blight upon the nation.

“They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”

Henry

The only thing I can add to that is the following speech given by an American hero, John Lewis, at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.  Lewis was one of the original “Freedom Riders” that Henry mentioned, and now he serves the people of Georgia’s 5th district in the U.S. House of Representatives (that gives me chills to write).

Please take the time to watch this speech, which brought me to tears when I saw it this summer. There aren’t many heroes of America’s Civil Rights Movement left for us to appreciate in real time:

The New Negrophobes

Way back in March, I wrote about the “Tea Parties and The Southern Strategy,” mostly quoting from an article written by Bob Cesca.  To give you the flavor of that piece, here is a sample:

________________________________________________________

Discussing the use of the N Word, Cesca reminds us of Lee Atwater—the Republican political guru of the 1980s—and the once-infamous but now increasingly respectable Southern Strategy.  Atwater had told on himself in a 1981 interview reported by Bob Herbert of the New York Times:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

Cesca comments:

From the beginning, with their witch doctor imagery, watermelon agitprop and Curious George effigies, the wingnut right has been dying to blurt out, as Lee Atwater famously said, “nigger, nigger, nigger!”

________________________________________________________

Last night, the sainted Rachel Maddow, whose show is always packed full of information, ran a long segment on the new birth of the Southern Strategy. She began with the Southern political shift from Democratic to Republican loyalties, which we saw happening first in the 1964 presidential election between Goldwater and Johnson. 

Here is a series of maps showing that shift:

 

As you can see, the shift of conservative loyalty was fairly dramatic. Goldwater’s appeal to Southern white conservatives, of course, was based on his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and his failure to attract legions of black supporters and his “success” in attracting conservative whites sent a message to other Republicans, including Kevin Phillips, who was back then a Richard Nixon political strategist:

From now on, the Republicans are never going to get more than 10 to 20 percent of the Negro vote and they don’t need any more than that… but Republicans would be shortsighted if they weakened enforcement of the Voting Rights Act. The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are. Without that prodding from the blacks, the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.

Maddow connects this old Southern Strategy with the new Southern Strategy, which is not just confined to the South and not just confined to the dynamics of white versus black. And although Maddow didn’t explore this idea in much depth, this new strategy involves at least partly a view of restoring the dominance of white culture, a culture allegedly threatened by the ascendance of a black man named Obama and the “invasion” of illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Now, I’m not saying that all of the Tea Party anger, or all of the angst over the state of the country, is due to a this defensive tribal posture, so don’t even get on that horse and ride. As I have said many times, there are legitimate concerns over our national debt and the long-term stability of our fiscal health. There is legitimate unease over unemployment and the uncertainty of near-term improvement.

But the fact that there doesn’t appear to be much that can’t be said about President Obama or his wife, the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any price paid on the right for the outrageous charges spewing from the mouths of people like Limbaugh and Beck and Hannity—all remain comfortably popular and comfortably rich—and the fact that Republican politicians all over the country have had moments that would have doomed them in any other election year, indicates something beyond agitation over the state of the economy, at least for an uncomfortably large slice of the electorate.

Just as one example, Carl Paladino, a multimillionaire, Tea Party-backed Republican candidate for governor of New York, trounced Rick Lazio in the GOP primary last month, even though shortly after Paladino entered the primary, some very nasty e-mails were released that Paladino had forwarded to his “friends.”  Some of those e-mails were blatantly racist, including one that featured a video of African tribesmen doing a traditional tribal dance. The video was titled, “Obama Inauguration Rehearsal.” 

Another featured this photograph:

Now, most people interested in politics know all that stuff about Paladino.  But what we sometimes forget is that even after these things were known—after the obviously racist e-mails had been made public knowledge—Paladino still received an astonishing 62% of the Republican vote in the primary.  He got more than 273,000 votes.  In New York.

So, although there is a lot of angst and anger out there, much of it about the economy, there’s no denying that part of that angst and anger has to do with something akin to, but beyond, the Negrophobia that Kevin Phillips talked about so long ago. There are some white folks in the land who not only don’t care a whit about whether Paladino sends racist e-mails, but find the fact that he does culturally comforting. 

And although I know that Republicans and tea partiers don’t like to hear any accusations about condoning the kind of bigotry we see on display these days, until someone in the Republican Party—the home of tea partiers—stands up and renounces those among them who traffic in the supposedly “fringe” politics of subtle and not-so-subtle racism, then those of us on my side will wonder just how fringe this stuff is.

[Original maps courtesy of Wikipedia]

Learning To Live With Compromise

Johnnykaje, fellow Globeblogger, started me thinking about something, when she commented on a piece by asking a hypothetical: Would it be good or bad, if the Blue Dog Democrats changed parties?

I began thinking about the frustration that many Democrats (not necessarily Johnnykaje) feel over the fact that, despite having rather large majorities in Congress (258 to 177 in the House, 58-40-2 in the Senate) and Barack Obama in the White House, conservatives—whether they call themselves Republicans or Democrats—still seem to be able to block legislation most Democrats want to see passed.

And while I share that frustration, the wrong thing to do would be to force out—through some kind of ideological litmus test—those Democrats who only marginally fit the traditional Democratic profile.  That would essentially guarantee conservative victories, so it’s a non-starter, as all the leaders in the Democratic Party realize, but it’s damned tempting.

But part of the Democratic frustration stems from the fact that historically, when Democrats enjoyed strong majorities, great things were done.  In 1935, Social Security was passed under Democratic leadership, not just in Congress, but in the person of Franklin Roosevelt. In 1965, Medicare was passed, again under strong Democratic leadership from Congress and Lyndon Johnson.

So, I looked at the composition of those Congresses from those two years, and here’s what I found: The Democratic majority in both houses was not just strong, but unassailable. 

Here’s a breakdown, keeping in mind there are 58 Dems in the current Senate and 258 Dems in the current House:

1935 U.S. Senate

Democrats 69       Republicans 25       Other 2     

[Missouri:  Democrats 2]

1935 U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats 322   Republicans 103    Other 10  

 [Missouri: Democrats 6  Republicans 1—Yes, it was the 7th District!]

1935 Legislative Highlights

Social Security Act, which included Aid to Dependent Children

National Labor Relations Act, which protected union organization

Rural Electrification Act

_____________________________________________________________

1965 U.S. Senate

Democrats 68   Republicans 32  

[Missouri: Democrats 2]

1965 U.S. House of Representatives

Democrats 295   Republicans 140 

[Missouri: Democrats 8  Republicans 2—7th District again]

Legislative Highlights

Medicare and Medicaid (Social Security Act of 1965)

Voting Rights Act

Freedom of Information Act

_____________________________________________________________

Interestingly, today’s Missouri delegation—1 Democrat and 1 Republican in the Senate and 4 Democrats and 5 Republicans in the House—is by 1935 and 1965 standards, grossly skewed in favor of the Republicans.

So, when one stops and considers how powerful the Democratic Party was in the eras when Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid were passed, some of us probably expected too much with the relatively small majorities the party has today, and we’re going to have to learn to live with the word “compromise.” 

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