Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sunday Reading

Time to Mess With Texas — Eric Lewis in looks at the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act and the Obama administration’s response to restrictive new laws in Texas.

Republican legislatures and Governors in twenty states have recently passed restrictive voting laws, the patent purpose of which is to suppress minority turnout and dilute minority representation. The claim that voter-I.D. laws are meant to prevent voter fraud is hardly offered seriously; it is a solution in search of a problem. Gerrymandering has a long history in this country, but sophisticated modelling, coupled with a desire to limit minority representation, adds a layer of precise race-based discrimination. African-Americans and Hispanics tend to vote Democratic and so Republicans don’t want them to vote at all. The logic is an inexorable as it is reprehensible. This does not only happen in the Old South, but racist manipulation of the voting process in other parts of the country is an argument for including more jurisdictions rather than tossing out pre-clearance. (There is speculation that the Attorney General will also challenge racially restrictive voting laws in South Carolina and elsewhere.)

All of these phenomena gathered in a single storm in Texas. A large increase in the Hispanic population offers the prospect of turning this Yellow-Dog-Democrat turned Tea-Party Republican state into a blue or at least a purple state again. No Democrat has won a statewide election since 1994. The only Republican hope to continue this string of victories is to try to stem the tide of demographics by clogging the voting process to suppress turnout. The Texas litigation that was stopped in its tracks by the Supreme Court is well developed, with extensive factual findings on the race-restrictive motivation behind both the voter-I.D. law and the redistricting. This will provide a strong factual basis for arguing for the necessity of a period of pre-clearance.

The Supreme Court plays two critical functions in maintaining the integrity of our republican (small “R”) form of government. The first is counter-majoritarian, to protect the rights of “discrete and insular minorities” as stated in a famous footnote in the Carolene Products case. The second is majoritarian, to keep the arteries of democracy open and free-flowing through a robust, transparent, and accessible voting process. There is a long history of democratically elected governments around the world undermining the democratic process through restrictions on the franchise, a risk that the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution was designed to prevent.

This Roberts Court failed to protect the rights of minorities by ignoring the concerted voter-suppression efforts of today. Jim Crow with a smile and a request for an I.D. is still Jim Crow. The Supreme Court also failed to foster support for the simple act of voting, the keystone for democratic legitimacy. Attorney General Holder’s attempt at a work around is most welcome, but it cannot fully compensate for the Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision not to discharge its core institutional responsibilities.

Anthony Weiner and Liberal Morality — Ta-Nehisi Coates on what’s really wrong with the former congressman and his run for New York mayor.

Anthony Weiner is a politician who relished antagonizing the opposition. His appeal was singular and tribal — in an age of seemingly vacillating, gun-shy Democrats, Weiner took on whoever may come. You never once got the feeling that he was ashamed to be a liberal. He must have known that this made him a target for conservative activists. A wise man in Weiner’s position would be watchful. But Weiner is not a wise man. It is not his desire to get off that offends, it is the thick-wittedness of sending nude selfies on Twitter. It is the incomprehensible silliness of handing your opponents a gun and saying, “Please shoot me.” Repeatedly. It is wholly sensible that those of us who believe the liberal project is about more than embarrassing Republicans would not want Anthony Weiner as a pitchman.

There is something else at work here also — a lack of compassion. Here is where I differ with many of my liberal and libertarian friends. I believe that how you treat people matters. It is folly to embarrass your pregnant wife before an entire nation. To do the same thing again is cruelty. And there is the promise of more to come. One argument holds that what happens between Weiner and his wife is between them. I agree with this argument. But cruelty is not abolished by the phrase “consenting adults.” And the fact that the immoral is not, and should not be, illegal does not make morality meaningless. Huma Abedin has one choice. We have another. The choice should be made by voters — there should be no sense that if not for the powerful editorial pages Weiner would have won. As a city we deserve to see who we are, and what we actually care about.

I don’t think it is wrong to care about how people treat each others, which is another way of saying I believe that morality is important. I find the argument for same-sex marriage compelling not in spite of morality, but because of it. I think public office is an honored, and honorable, position. I do not think it is wrong to ask that our officers be compassionate. I do not believe it is wrong to ask that our officers be wise. I do not believe that it is the fate of all men to send dick pics hurtling through cyberspace. And I do not believe that Anthony Weiner is the best we can expect from maledom, to say nothing of New York liberals.

Why Righties Hate Detroit and New Orleans — Andrew O’Hehir looks at the reaction to the destruction of these two cities from the perspective of racial politics.

There’s definitely more going on with these two cities than old-school racial politics. Alien scientists observing these case histories from outer space might not assume, at first, that skin color had anything to do with it. New Orleans was hit by one of the biggest storms in history, and the government response was monumentally incompetent at all levels. Detroit’s bankruptcy comes toward the end of a long, dreary history: The deindustrialization of the American economy hit our most famous industrial city especially hard; the Big Three automakers blundered and mismanaged themselves into permanent mediocrity; investment capital flowed away from the Rust Belt and into low-tax, non-union jurisdictions in the Sun Belt and around the world; racial discord and rising crime drove the white middle class into the suburbs; financial inequality and the geographical separation between rich and poor became more extreme. As evidenced so memorably in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s mesmerizing film “Detropia” — and if you didn’t catch it on first release, now is definitely the time — Detroit is a remarkably quiet and empty city today, one that has lost two-thirds of its 1950 population of nearly 2 million, and contains an estimated 40 square miles worth of abandoned buildings and unused land, an area larger than Manhattan.

If those E.T. scholars wrote academic papers describing the Detroit tragedy as an “overdetermined” event with many causes and many possible interpretations, they’d be right. (I realize I’ve made my aliens into Marxists; you go with what you know.) But for those of us down here on the planet’s surface, it is inescapably a tale told in black and white. Detroit is the poorest and blackest large city in the country, ringed by some of the whitest and richest suburbs. We’re now in the second term of our first African-American president, and the overt racial violence that polarized Detroit and the rest of the nation in the 1960s and ‘70s feels, most of the time, like a distant memory. New Orleans and Detroit are exceptional cities in a different sense; most American cities have become polyglot, immigrant-rich communities in which no one ethnic group is a majority, which will likely be true of the United States as a whole by the middle of this century.

But the long, hot summer of 2013 – the summer of Paula Deen’s Aunt Jemima costumes and the upside-down O.J. verdict of the George Zimmerman case and the barely concealed conservative jubilation at Detroit’s demise – has reminded us that America’s ugly old-school racial narratives die hard, if they die at all. I don’t have a policy prescription for Detroit or a fixed opinion about urban-suburban consolidation or a federal bailout or some other method of patching the city’s fiscal cracks. I do know that the people who live there, most of them black and poor, have already been victimized by several generations of high crime and failing services and the flight of capital, and are about to get beat up some more.

Instead of trying to score short-term rhetorical points or assign blame for this mess, which are the only things people on either side of the political or pundit class ever want to do, I’d like to step back and ask a different kind of question: What in the name of Christ do we imagine that people around the world think about this disaster, when they look at us? When they see one of America’s most legendary cities, a capital of the Industrial Age and of 20th-century pop culture, reduced to poverty and decrepitude and dysfunction, compelled (in all likelihood) to strip away still more of its already minimal social services and break its promises to municipal retirees? Or when they see country-club denizens of the leafy suburbs a few miles away, most of them people who grew up in Detroit and made their fortunes there, angrily protest that they have no common interest with the inhabitants of the city and no responsibility for their plight?

Doonesbury — Community property.

One bark on “Sunday Reading

  1. It seems to me that there are lots of people out there who need to grow up and stop worrying about how much pigment is in another humans skin.

    I hate deliberate cruelty. Mr. Coates nailed it.

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