|Holder's Racial Incitement When looking for the Attorney General's motives, think lower. |
The United States of America has a black President whose chief law enforcement officer, Attorney General Eric Holder, is also black. They have a lot of political power. So how are they using it? Well, one way is to assert to black audiences that voter ID laws are really attempts to disenfranchise black Americans. And liberals think Donald Trump's birther fantasies are offensive?
"In my travels across this country, I've heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from citizens, who—often for the first time in their lives—now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation's most noble ideals," Mr. Holder said Wednesday in a speech to the Council of Black Churches. Voter ID laws and white discrimination, he added, mean that "some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang in the balance."
That's right. The two most powerful men in America are black, two of the last three Secretaries of State were black, numerous corporate CEOs and other executives are black, and minorities of many races now win state-wide elections in states that belonged to the Confederacy, but the AG implies that Jim Crow is on the cusp of a comeback.
It's demeaning to have to dignify this argument with facts, but here goes. Voter ID laws have been found by the courts not to be an undue burden under the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. The landmark Supreme Court opinion, upholding an Indiana law in 2008, was written for a six-member majority by that noted right-winger, John Paul Stevens.
Associated Press Attorney General Eric Holder
Black voter turnout increased in Georgia and Indiana after voter ID laws passed. Georgia began implementing its law requiring one of six forms of voter ID in 2007. According to data from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, the black vote increased by 42%, or 366,000 votes, in 2008 over 2004. The Latino vote grew by 140% or 25,000 votes in 2008, while the white vote increased by only 8% from four years earlier.
No doubt Mr. Obama's presence on the ballot helped drive that turnout surge in 2008, but then the black vote in Georgia also increased by 44.2% during the midterm Congressional races of 2010 from 2006. The Hispanic vote grew by 66.5% in 2010 from four years earlier. Those vote totals certainly don't suggest that requiring an ID is a barrier to the ballot box.
As for public opinion, an April 2012 Fox News survey found that a majority of Democrats (52%), Republicans (87%) and independents (72%) support voter ID laws. This is no doubt because Americans understand intuitively that ballot integrity is as important as ballot access to democratic credibility. Everyone's franchise is devalued if an election turns on the votes of the quick and the dead.
All of this honors Mr. Holder too much because the real key to understanding his speech is to think lower. A May 4 story in the Washington Post got to the heart of the matter: "The number of black and Hispanic registered voters has fallen sharply since 2008, posing a serious challenge to the Obama campaign in an election that could turn on the participation of minority voters."
In the 2008 heyday of hope and change, strong minority turnout helped push Mr. Obama to victory, especially in such swing states as Virginia and New Mexico. But as another election approaches, the minority thrill is gone. According to the Census Bureau, Hispanic voter registration has fallen 5% across the U.S., to about 11 million. The decline is 28% in New Mexico and about 10% in Florida, another swing state. Black registration is down 7% across the country.
The likeliest explanation is economic, as job losses and mortgage foreclosures lead to dislocation and migration to new areas. But it's also possible that many minorities are as disappointed as everyone else with the lackluster recovery. For all of Mr. Obama's attempts to portray Mitt Romney as out of touch, no one has suffered more in the Obama economy than minorities.
Which explains Mr. Holder's racial incitement strategy. If Mr. Obama is going to win those swing states again, he needs another burst of minority turnout. If hope won't get them to vote for Mr. Obama again, then how about fear?
Mr. Holder's Council of Black Churches address is merely the latest of his election-year moves that charge racial discrimination of one kind or another. These include voting-rights lawsuits to block voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, intervention in immigration cases in Arizona, and various housing and lending discrimination suits. Whatever the legal merits of these cases, their sudden proliferation in an election year suggests a political motivation.
The courts will eventually expose much of this as meritless, but it's a shame the media won't call Mr. Holder on this strategy before the election. Imagine the uproar if a Republican AG pursued a similar strategy. It's worse than a shame that America's first black Attorney General is using his considerable power to inflame racial antagonism.
A version of this article appeared June 1, 2012, on page A12 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Holder's Racial Incitement.