Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A premature requiem for racism

The absurd logic behind the Supreme Court's new ruling striking down federal oversight of state voter laws reminds me of another brilliant move we collectively made 13 years ago.

When George W. Bush campaigned for president in 2000, his platform revolved largely around the idea that the U.S. Treasury had too much money, and that taxpayers deserved it back. (Yes, kids, terrorism wouldn't be on Bush's radar for another year, despite what his party's retroactive outrage over the USS Cole would have you believe.)

The Republican Party's view in 2000 was that our ship was righted, and thus it was time to restore the GOP to its 1980s glory. It's a pretty Orwellian thought, but it resonated with just enough Americans to sort of work (with an assist from the Supreme Court, of course).

With its latest decision, the Supreme Court is operating under similarly cracked logic — that because racism is allegedly over, there is no more need for some of the regulations that have diminished it.

Racism is NOT over. If it was, such a decision would be irrelevant. But to the degree that racism has fallen out of favor as a public sentiment, credit is due to the laws that curb state lawmakers' more nefarious impulses. Those people might not have had a change of heart, but they still faced accountability when making public decisions. No matter how much they wanted to, they couldn't simply change voting laws to disenfranchise groups of people. As a result, minorities were able to vote, if not completely free of impediment, at least free of the worst racial whims.

Those in favor of this ruling would have you believe that such institutional improvement was due to warmer hearts. It never was. These rules came to exist and still do in the first place because plenty of white people in power still wish, for whatever reason, to make it tougher for certain groups to vote.

Those are the people who cheer this decision. They publicly subscribe to the notion — and, sadly, have officials who should know better agreeing with them — that an unpleasant rule is one that isn't needed. This poisonous mindset is the one that has removed a lot of the cooling rods that governed the economy and civil rights in the past 12 years. Because, we're told, we don't need them anymore. By people who are dying to not have to follow them anymore. People who are living, breathing examples of why we did — and still do — need those laws in the books.

The Supreme Court, just as it did with its pet presidential case 13 years ago, dropped the ball here. They hope we didn't notice the inverted cause-and-effect at play in both cases. We did. And we won't forget it at ballot time.

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