At The Nation site, Ari Berman draws the parallel I drew recently between current attempts of the GOP to bar minority voters from the polls, and what the Democratic party did with Jim Crow laws across the American South. Berman writes,
The region’s changing demographics are a "ticking time bomb for Republicans," said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. The Southern GOP is 88 percent white. The Southern Democratic Party is 50 percent white, 36 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other. The GOP’s dominance among white voters—who favor Romney over Obama by 26 points in the region—has allowed Republicans to control most of the region politically. But that will only be the case for so long if demographic trends continue to accelerate. Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote.
The regression in the South today when it comes to voting rights is eerily reminiscent of tragic earlier periods in the region’s beleaguered racial history. "After Reconstruction, we saw efforts by conservative whites in Southern state legislatures to cut back on opportunities for black Americans to cast a ballot," says Crayton. "It’s hard to dismiss the theory that what we’re seeing today is a replay of that scenario."
In The Root, Sherrilyn Ifill also draws the historical comparison, noting that voting-rights laws, which the Republican party is actively seeking to roll back, were enacted "to bring equity to a voting system that had been fixed in favor of Southern, rural land-owning elites." As she notes, the strategy of suppressing minority votes (and those of the young) is all about the attempt of a party whose white male demographic base is wanting to continue to exercise majority power at the federal level after it has become the party of a demographic minority:
Now, it seems, the Republican Party is done with politics. The party has, in effect, abandoned serious engagement with the essence of political activism: trying to persuade voters to support the candidates and viewpoints of one or another political party. Urban voters, blacks, Latinos, young people and now perhaps even a majority of women voters appear beyond the reach or interest of the GOP.
As a result, the Republican Party is now a minority party that still demands majority power. And perhaps this is why the party appears determined to shrink the majority, borrowing from pre-civil rights-era Southern states that used voting and election laws to manipulate the voting strength of the electorate.
Ifill also notes--and this is a point that ought not to be overlooked--that the Southern strategy of Richard Nixon and Lee Atwater deliberately spread the politics of race-based fear to the North. Ifill doesn't make the following point, but she might well have: the coalition of white "ethnic" working-class Catholic "values" voters who began to move to the GOP in this period, and white Southern evangelicals, was all about race and racial fears--though many Catholics who now vote Republican for "values" reasons don't want to admit the extent to which naked racism has driven working-class Catholic voters in the Northern states to the Republican party.
And speaking of that Catholic buy-in to racism and suppression of minority votes: at Truthdig, Bill Blum argues convincingly that it's entirely likely the Supreme Court under Catholic John Roberts's leadership will uphold laws restricting the access of minority voters to the polls. As he points out, the Supremes did, after all, for many years uphold Jim Crow-based laws denying the vote to African Americans or diminishing their ability to approach the polls. Blum observes,
Contrary to the right’s mythology touting the virtues of our lost democracy, voting was never a truly public pastime during the nation’s formative period. As political scientist Ruy Teixeira, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has noted, only 4 to 6 percent of the eligible electorate (which did not include women, black slaves and in many states white men without property) turned out to vote in the country’s first five presidential elections. And although voter turnout grew markedly after 1824, Jim Crow policies implemented after the Civil War caused turnout rates to nosedive again.
The catalog of suppression techniques included the poll tax, first enacted in Georgia in 1871 and, by 1904, adopted throughout the former Confederacy; the literacy test, first imposed by South Carolina in 1882; white-only primaries; and state laws and local ordinances that made it difficult for black voters to establish residency and register. And where all else failed, the old South was never above outright intimidation of black voters and African-Americans seeking elective office.
And again Ari Berman at The Nation: today, Berman reports that at an event organized by the Arkansas Democratic party in Charlotte last evening, Bill Clinton addressed the attempts of Republicans to turn the clock back to the 1890s as they seek to deny access of minority voters to the polls. Clinton asked the group he addressed last night,
Do you really want to live in a country where one party is so desperate to win the White House that they go around trying to make it harder for people to vote if they’re people of color, poor people or first generation immigrants?
Having grown up in Arkansas not too many years after Clinton did, and having seen (as he did) with my own eyes the effects of many years of withholding justice and equality from a targeted minority, I myself certainly would answer Clinton's question with a resounding no. No, I don't want to live in a country in which systematic injustice and systematic inequality are enforced by the top levels of my "democratic society."
Democratic societies implode when they practice blatant injustice in areas such as voting rights--and in areas like access to education, jobs, health care, and the civil right to marry. We do nobody any good--ourselves least of all--when we create a society into whose very foundations we've woven injustice and inequality.