By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
President Joe Biden has been under blistering fire for months from civil rights activists for saying and doing little about the pending voting rights salvaging legislation in the Senate.
Biden’s silence has been especially galling since he’s taken to the airwaves many times to talk about battling the pandemic as well as other policy issues. But voting rights hasn’t been one of those issues.
The blunt reality is that Biden’s relative silence comes as the clock ticks down on the days until this year’s mid-term elections. Many are calling the 2022 mid-terms one of the most important in decades. At stake is control of both the Senate and the House.
The Democrats have only the thinnest of margin of control over both. One or two Democratic losses in either the House or the Senate could tip the balance of power back to the Republicans. Biden than would almost certainly suffer the same fate President Barack Obama did during his second term in the White House. He was effectively hamstrung by the GOP in getting any significant legislation or initiatives through Congress by a stonewalling, obstructionist GOP-controlled Congress.
The stakes then are much too high. Thus, the reason civil rights leaders and many Democrats have screamed loudly for Biden to get off the sidelines in the voting rights battle.
At last count, GOP-controlled legislatures in 20 states have passed a wide array of draconian restrictions on voting. There’s only one aim. That’s to lower the number of Black, Hispanic, young, LGBT and college-educated women who are staunch Democratic voters.
There are proposals to suppress the vote in many more states. The picture then is grim and demands action to reverse the suppression tide.
The Republican’s current Senate stonewall of voting rights legislation is in truth nothing but a continuation of the GOP’s decades long assault on voting rights. In fact, one of the GOP’s fondest wishes has long been to kill the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Twice it floated several trial balloons in Congress. The first one was in 1981 when the act came up for renewal.
A few hardline ultraconservatives in the administration of then-President Ronald Reagan administration made some loud threats to push Reagan to oppose its renewal. They were just that, idle threats.
Reagan, with no fanfare, signed the renewal legislation. However, the threats were a forewarning of things to come.
When the act came up for renewal again in 2006, the threats to thwart the law turned into a mini movement in Congress to delay or even block passage. A pack of House Republicans stalled the legislation for more than a week and demanded that hearings be held.
They used the same old argument that it punishes the South for past voting-discrimination sins and they didn’t like the idea of bilingual ballots. President George W. Bush signed the renewal order anyway.
But the GOP had served notice that the early saber rattling against the act was just a warm-up for a full throttle frontal assault. The GOP pecked at eroding the act with the rash of photo identifications laws that the GOP governors and GOP-controlled state legislatures enacted in recent years.
The aim was to discourage and damp down the number of minority and poor voters that overwhelmingly vote Democratic. It backfired.
Black and Hispanic voters thumbed their noses at the GOP vote suppression ploys and packed the voting booths again in mass numbers in the 2012 presidential election.
The effects of voter suppression laws were felt in 2016 with the election of President Donald Trump and the fall-off in Democratic votes in some areas in the 2020 election. 2022 and 2024 could be worse.
Biden did not just finally speak out on the need for passage of the new voting rights act. He also demanded that Democrats do something that he and some other Democratic senators have resisted.
That’s end the use of the filibuster to get the legislation passed. Without the filibuster, there isn’t a ghost’s chance of getting voting rights passage.
The problem for Biden and the Democrats is not an obstructionist GOP, but West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. Both have flatly said no to supporting the movement to end the filibuster.
Without their votes, the filibuster will stand. Getting new voting rights protections will be dead.
Biden spoke these stirring and challenging words, “Will you stand for democracy, yes, or no?” he asked. “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? This is the moment to decide.”
Indeed, it is. The future of democracy rides heavily on that moment. The task for Biden is to make voting rights not a priority, but the priority of his administration.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book is “Duped — The GOP’s Lock on America’s Underclass” (Middle Passage Press). He hosts the weekly Earl Ofari Hutchinson Show on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network Saturdays at 9 a.m.