I believe in judging Barack Obama's rhetoric and policies not as though he were the president of black America, but of the United States of America. On that count his speech soared. There aren't many topics more important than the security of our democracy. The president did not attack that topic gingerly, but forcefully, directly and without hedge.This is the speech to which he's referring, Remarks by the President at the National Action Network's 16th Annual Convention 04/11/2014:
From the White House transcript:
Just as inequality feeds on injustice, opportunity requires justice. And justice requires the right to vote. (Applause.) President Johnson, right after he signed the Civil Rights Act into law, told his advisors -- some of whom were telling him, well, all right, just wait. You’ve done a big thing now; let’s let the dust settle, don’t stir folks up. He said, no, no, I can’t wait. We’ve got to press forward and pass the Voting Rights Act. Johnson said, “About this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote.” (Applause.)Next comes the Bipartisan pitch: "Now, I want to be clear -- I am not against reasonable attempts to secure the ballot. We understand that there has to be rules in place." The segregationist propaganda used to justify the voter-suppression laws uses just this excuse: that in-person voter fraud, which in reality is about as close to being a non-existing problem as it could be, is actually a terrible problem that has to be solved by voter-suppression laws. Obama just can't seem to avoid using the Republican framing even when he's otherwise arguing effectively against a key Republican position. At least he follows it directly with, "But I am against requiring an ID that millions of Americans don't have. That shouldn't suddenly prevent you from exercising your right to vote. (Applause.)" And he does go on to explain what a crock the voter-fraud claim is.
Voting is a time when we all have an equal say -— black or white, rich or poor, man or woman. It doesn't matter. In the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our democracy, we’re all supposed to have that equal right to cast our ballot to help determine the direction of our society.
The principle of one person, one vote is the single greatest tool we have to redress an unjust status quo. You would think there would not be an argument about this anymore. But the stark, simple truth is this: The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago.
Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote. In some places, women could be turned away from the polls just because they're registered under their maiden name but their driver’s license has their married name. Senior citizens who have been voting for decades may suddenly be told they can no longer vote until they can come up with the right ID.
In other places, folks may learn that without a document like a passport or a birth certificate, they can’t register. About 60 percent of Americans don’t have a passport. Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn't mean you shouldn’t be able to vote here at home. (Applause.) And just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is, but a lot of people don’t. (Laughter.) A lot of people don't. (Applause.) I think it’s still up on a website somewhere. (Laughter.) You remember that? That was crazy. That was some crazy stuff. (Laughter and applause.) I hadn't thought about that in a while. (Laughter.) [my emphasis]
The speech is a good one. But I have less enthusiasm for it than Coates seems to have. Because nobody doubts Obama's ability to give a good speech. It's the follow-through that's usually so weak. For me, the archetype of nice words followed by action (or lack thereof) that doesn't come close to matching the seriousness of his words was his weekly address after the Supreme Court handed down its plutocratic Citizens United decision: "This ruling strikes at our democracy itself," the President said. How many times have we ever heard a President to declare a problem that serious? "I can't think of anything more devastating to the public interest," he also said. This is while the Democrats held a majority in both houses of Congress. But in that speech he also pleaded for a bipartisan solution. He made a half-hearted attempt to get on. And since then? What has he done to rally the public or get legislative against against that problem he said "strikes at our democracy itself," the problem of which he couldn't image "anything more devastating to the public interest"?
Well, he did talk about his bipartisan commission that made recommendations to address the concerns of Both Sides. And he had reassuring things like the following to say:
Voting is not a Democratic issue, it’s not a Republican issue. It’s an issue of citizenship. (Applause.) It’s what makes our democracy strong.We'll see over the next couple of years if he is more serious about voting rights than he was about undoing the Citizens United problem the Supreme Court created.
But it’s a fact this recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties -- it’s been led by the Republican Party. And in fairness, it’s not just Democrats who are concerned. You had one Republican state legislator point out -- and I’m quoting here -- “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.” (Laughter.) That was a pretty -- that’s a good insight. (Laughter.) Right? I want a competitive Republican Party, just like a competitive Democratic Party. That’s how our democracy is supposed to work -- the competition of ideas. But I don’t want folks changing the rules to try to restrict people’s access to the ballot. ...
But remember, just as injustice perpetuates inequality, justice opens up opportunity. And as infuriating as efforts to roll back hard-earned rights can be, the trajectory of our history has to give us hope. The story of America is a story of progress. No matter how often or how intensely that progress has been challenged, ultimately this nation has moved forward. As Dr. King said, "The arc of the moral universe is long, [but] it bends towards justice." We move forward on civil rights and we move forward on workers’ rights, and we move forward on women’s rights and disability rights and gay rights. We show that when ordinary citizens come together to participate in this democracy we love, justice will not be denied. (Applause.) So the single most important thing we can do to protect our right to vote is to vote. (Applause.)
Tags: confederate heritage month 2014, voting rights, white racism