I am a fierce critic of Attorney General Eric Holder. I have long called for his resignation, and continue to do so, for his failure to investigate and prosecute the elite frauds that drove our financial crisis. So, my response to the Wall Street Journal's editorial denouncing "Holder's Racial Incitement" is motivated solely by the fact that the WSJ editorial is so foul and tendentious about Holder's comments, America, and the partisan effort to deprive American citizens of one their most precious rights -- the right to vote -- that it compels response.
The editorial is so calculated in it falsity and dismissive of the importance of the right to vote and the struggle of blacks to vote that it represents a new low for the WSJ. The editorial claims that Holder was reporting a "fantasy" when he told Conference of National Black Churches Annual Consultation on Wednesday, May 30, 2012 that:
[A] growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions, and problems that -- nearly five decades ago -- so many fought to address. 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; and that some of the achievements that defined the civil rights movement now hang in the balance.
Except, of course, that this is not how the editorial mischaracterizes what Holder told the audience. The editorial falsely asserts that Holder "assert[ed] to black audiences that voter ID laws are really attempts to disenfranchise black Americans. And liberals think Donald Trump's birther fantasies are offensive?"
First, the birther movement is itself a demonstration that racism is alive and malignant among many Americans. Racists are seeking to disenfranchise scores of millions of Americans by denying the legitimacy of the president who they elected. The percentage of Republicans who believe known falsehoods -- that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen and is a secret Muslim -- is extraordinary. These are fantasies, nasty fantasies, that cannot accept the legitimacy of a black president. More Republicans in Illinois -- the State that elected Obama a U.S. Senator -- believe that Obama is a secret Muslim than believe he is a Christian. There is no evidence supporting this fantasy. Similarly, a survey of 400 Republican primary voters found that 51% believed the fantasy that Obama was born abroad.
Second, Holder's speech emphasized the broad efforts used to produce the effect of discouraging black voting -- he did not emphasize voter ID laws. The editorial makes it appear that Holder's only concern was about voter ID laws. It ignored his actual themes, how precious the right to vote was, the terrible sacrifices that black Americans made to seek the effective right to vote, an explanation of why defending every eligible voter's right to vote was a top priority, and why the Voting Rights Act remained a vital protection of the right to vote.
Third, without mentioning Holder's defense of the Voting Rights Act, the WSJ appears to be arguing that the Act should be held unconstitutional. This is too important an issue, however, to have to guess at the WSJ's meaning. So, I ask directly -- and I ask that elected officials, subscribers, and the media ask -- is the WSJ taking the position that the Act should be declared unconstitutional?
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.
The WSJ is taking an amazing position. The Justice Department is supposed to enforce the anti-discrimination laws. When it fails to do so, as it frequently did under the Bush administration, the Attorney General is betraying his oath of office. That is why I have called on Holder to resign -- his abject failure to enforce the laws against the elite financial frauds that caused the Great Recession. The WSJ did not respond directly to Holder's explanation of the suits v. South Carolina and Texas.
In December, we objected to South Carolina's voter ID law, after finding -- based on the state's own data -- that the proposed change would place an unfair burden on non-white voters. And this past March, we objected to a photo ID requirement in Texas because it would have had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic voters.
Recall that the editorial claims Holder engaged in "racial incitement" by "assert[ing] to black audiences that voter ID laws are really attempts to disenfranchise black Americans." The editorial also claims that Holder's purported assertion is a "fantasy." But the editorial does not even attempt to refute Holder's explanation that South Carolina's "own data" showed that the State law "would place an unfair burden on non-white voters." South Carolina has a 250+ year history of adopting myriad means ranging from murder to subtle devices that its leaders knew would have a disproportionate effect designed to make it harder for blacks to vote and elect candidates of their choice. South Carolina's history of "racial incitement" and racial intimidation simply disappears from the WSJ's historical narrative. The Voting Rights Act, however, rationally takes into account that pattern of conduct.
Texas, of course, doesn't even fit the WSJ's purported "racial incitement" rhetoric, which claims he went before a "black audience" to present a fantasy claim of disenfranchisement of "black Americans." Holder describes the problem there as putting disproportionate burdens on "Hispanic voters."
Fourth, the editorial asserts that it is self-evident that the purportedly "sudden proliferation [of anti-discrimination suits] in an election year suggests a political motivation." This reverses the causality. Republican legislatures and secretaries of state have, in preparation for reducing an election, introduced a host of efforts to reduce the ability of Americans to vote and have done so in a manner designed to disproportionately prevent Americans who oppose their views from voting. That is despicable behavior. It represents political opportunism at its foulest -- harming our most important right for the purposes of partisan advantage. Given the fact that minorities tend to be strong supporters of Democrats, the Republican effort to reduce Democratic voting has inflicted disproportionate burdens on minorities. The Republicans are now purporting to be shocked that anyone could object to this and that the Justice Department would do its duty and enforce the anti-discrimination laws.
Fifth, the editorial's emphasizing Holder's race in conjunction with this claim represents a shameless airbrushing of U.S. and Republican Party history.
"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."
The WSJ asserts that the overwhelmingly white Republican politicians in Texas and South Carolina are the "victims" of "racial antagonism" by blacks "incited" by "America's first black Attorney General." Why did the WSJ use "if" in that sentence as if it were a counter-factual hypothetical? First, white Republican and Democratic Party Attorney Generals inflamed racial antagonism against blacks as a matter of course for over 150 years. There was no "uproar." The Supreme Court was typically controlled by slaveholders who added their own racial antagonism as a matter of routine. Texas' Republican State Attorney Generals has filed a suit claiming that the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. There was no uproar -- no editorial by the WSJ protesting the suit.
Suing to enforce anti-discrimination laws does not "inflame racial antagonism." It does the opposite. It is the apologists for discrimination who throughout world history have "inflamed racial antagonism." Here's a question the WSJ can answer fairly easily -- did the WSJ ever write an editorial calling on Congress to adopt the Voting Rights Act? Did it write any editorial on the Act prior to passage? If so, what did they argue? The media should join me in asking to see them.
The Republican Party chose, at its highest levels, to adopt "the Southern Strategy." Even some of its architects have apologized for this cynical strategy of "inflaming racial antagonism" for the purpose of causing Southern whites to switch from supporting the Democratic Party to supporting the Republican Party. Did the WSJ write editorials denouncing the Southern Strategy? The media should ask to see them.
Not content with airbrushing history, the editorial plastered over modern America and again mischaracterized what Holder said in his speech.
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.
But that is not what Holder said or implied. He said that America had made substantial progress -- and he reminded his audience the cost that blacks bore to make that progress possible and the centrality of voting rights to democracy.
Our efforts honor the generations who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance -- as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs -- to ensure that their children, and all citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government. And our efforts reflect the fact that the right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government, it is -- and always has been -- the lifeblood of our democracy. In fact, no force has proved more powerful -- or more integral to the success of the great American experiment -- than efforts to expand the franchise.
The editorial ignores the value and importance of voting rights. It does not even try to make the case that any of the efforts being made to restrict the vote are necessary to prevent material fraud. It did not contest Holder's point that "I also know firsthand what so many studies and assessments have shown -- that making voter registration easier is not likely, by itself, to make our elections more susceptible to fraud." The editorial makes no pretense that any of the efforts being made to restrict the vote could pass a cost-benefit analysis. (Why is it that conservatives insist on full blown cost-benefit studies to adopt even minimally burdensome rules but take steps that will reduce eligible voting -- the most fundamental right a citizen has -- substantially without any such study?)
Instead, we get the post-racial meme from the WSJ. Obama's election proves that racism is no longer an issue in America. Specifically, "minorities" have won statewide elections in the former Confederacy. The editorial takes the position that there cannot be serious discrimination against blacks in the former confederacy because "minorities" have won elections there. Let's look at history of blacks who have won the two most senior statewide elections (Governor and U.S. Senator) in the states of the former Confederacy since Reconstruction:
- Governor Douglas Wilder of Virginia -- full stop.
The German's have a phrase, einmal ist keinmal ("once is never"), that captures nicely this 130+ year history.
At the state level, where voting rights are determined and historically restricted for blacks, no material ethnic group has suffered such total exclusion from the most senior statewide positions.
The WSJ concludes its racism is dead meme by going to its core expertise -- flattering CEOs. CEOs are the editorial staff's hagiographic heroes, so the editors explain that they know racism is dead because "numerous corporate CEOs and other executives are black." Yep, they're everywhere you look. Of course, CNN described black CEOs as "rare," but the WSJ's use of the word "numerous" is brilliant because it sounds large but can mean anything.
CNN reports that since the creation of the concept of the Fortune 500 companies, 13 blacks have served as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. You could put every black American who has ever served as the CEO of a very large U.S. corporation in the modern history of America in a single elevator.
Follow William K. Black on Twitter: www.twitter.com/WilliamKBlack