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The Insiders: Liberals need to be honest about the Voting Rights Act

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It’s the easiest thing in the world for a liberal like Hilary Rosen to be in favor of the extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Most of the states affected by the act are reliably Republican, so the pointlessness of the exercise and the insult to those states’ voters is of little consequence.

It is always right to ask if anyone’s right to vote is being frustrated. However, that is no longer part of the analysis of the utility of the Voting Rights Act. No serious review suggests that the states covered by the act (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia) are disproportionately inclined to violate voters’ rights more than a host of other states. In fact, in a tweet today, it was reported that an Obama Justice Department attorney told the Supreme Court justices that Massachusetts has the worst modern record of minority voter registration — and Mississippi has the best.

Yet it’s irresistible for liberals to demagogue and hand-wring over the very notion that the Voting Rights Act may no longer be applicable as it was intended. If voters’ rights are being threatened, then they need to be protected.  But where is the evidence that the states that needed Justice Department oversight in 1965 still exclusively need such oversight today?

As readers know, I’m an Alabama voter and a proud Alabama loyalist.  Alabama’s governor, Robert Bentley, was in his early 20s when the Voting Rights Act was enacted, and Alabama’s able attorney general, Luther Strange, wasn’t even old enough to drive a car. The notion that the current Alabama political leadership harbors the type of systemic racism the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent is unfair, offensive and untrue. If you were a 40-year-old racially-biased elected Southern official in 1965, well, you’re no longer in office and you’re going on 88. Today, the vast majority of white Southerners believe the good guys won the Civil Rights battles and that our Civil Rights heritage should be celebrated. Period. There’s still a tangled mix of pride and shame among Southerners about our past and there is abject remorse among many who were adults in the early 1960s who succumbed to the prejudices of their day. However, it’s untrue and unfair to suggest that modern Southerners’ views on race are identical to those of the past.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has earned the right for us to defer to him on how we should combat Civil Rights abuses. And I’m respectful of the view he expressed in his recent Washington Post op-ed, where he says that, “If we are ever to actualize the true meaning of equality, effective measures such as the Voting Rights Act are still a necessary requirement of democracy.”  But he doesn’t mention the 41 states that are not included in the Voting Rights Act, and I think he should.  If the act is good for the modern South, then why isn’t it good for the rest of the country?

If we think the act is useful in the nine states referenced in the Voting Rights Act, then why don’t we think it’s good for every other state?  I would be for that. More protection is better than less protection. It’s the American way to be fair and not to punish one generation for the sins of a previous generation.

Rather than take the easy route, Rosen and her crowd should acknowledge the truth and either let the Voting Rights Act slip into history or refresh and renew it for all 50 states.