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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Congressional Democrats must grow a spine

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The insurrectionists who tried to topple the United States government on Jan. 6 did so at the behest of a man who had repeatedly lied about their votes not counting. Subsequently, hundreds of them have been arrested. Several have now come forward to say they were duped into believing they were fighting for their country. Some of their attorneys are openly blaming Donald Trump. In so doing, they are making arguments that essentially borrow from Denzel Washington (as Malcolm X): “Ya been hoodwinked! Bamboozled! Led astray! Run amok!”

I am struck by the stark irony that these same individuals have no sympathy for African Americans who — unlike them — actually are being disenfranchised. The Republican Party, which is acting as an accessory after the fact to the insurrection, is engaged in a national effort to battle fictitious election fraud by erecting barriers to voting that will overwhelmingly affect Black folks.

Today, even as I celebrate Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday, my excitement is tempered by the reality that it is infinitely easier to acknowledge the racial struggles of yesterday than it is to combat the racism of today. Mitch McConnell, who is the Senate minority leader, has the gall to suggest the federal government should not ensure voting rights for African Americans, thereby echoing his fellow Southern politicians of yesteryear. Dr. Christopher Browning, a professor emeritus of history at the University of North Carolina, has (appropriately) called McConnell “the gravedigger of American democracy.”

The plain fact is that African Americans have no permanent political allies. For example, the Republican Party was founded in 1854 specifically to oppose the spread of slavery. This fact, plus its initial support for our political and economic rights, led most of us to be members of the “Party of Lincoln” for more than a century. Yet, the Republicans aborted Reconstruction in the “corrupt bargain” of 1877. Thirteen years later they abandoned the Federal Elections Bill, which sought to restore voting protections for African Americans.

The modern Republican Party goes even further by actively promoting racially discriminatory voting restrictions. I gave up hope long ago that they would ever support voting rights. (Indeed, the verdict from the Supreme Court’s Republican appointees in Shelby v. Holder was inevitable.) The fact is that the GOP is incapable — at a molecular level — of protecting Black folks’ right to vote. Doing so would alienate their base, which is roughly 90% white.

Indeed, the Arizona Republican Party — in a voting rights case that is pending before the Supreme Court — literally argued that its party would be harmed if the state’s racially odious voting restrictions aren’t upheld. Sadly, we can’t even rely on Mitt Romney, Susan Collins and other “moderate” Republicans to stand in support of racial equity at the ballot box. (They failed to do so just this week.) In fact, I don’t know what a “Republican moderate” is, at least in regards to protecting the most fundamental American right.

Consequently, my focus is squarely on the Democratic Party. A few weeks ago, I wrote that the time has come for Senate Democrats to abandon the filibuster, at least when it comes to passing voting rights legislation. Former Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, suspended the Senate’s filibuster rules to allow a simple majority vote to advance several of then-President Obama’s nominees, whom Republicans had held in political purgatory. A few years later, then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell took the same action in advancing the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.

The bottom line is that Democrats in the House of Representatives, and especially in the Senate, must employ every tool at their disposal to protect the voting rights of their most important constituency. Were it not for us, they would not occupy the White House, a majority in the House of Representatives or (effectively) a majority in the Senate.

On the issue of equal voting rights, there can be no compromise, no placation of our enemies, no excuses. If McConnell has buried democracy, it is incumbent upon the Democrats to resurrect it. We’ll be watching with our ballots in hand.

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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