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With All His Other Tasks, President Biden Has to Somehow Save Voting Rights

I read a disturbing article yesterday, not that it said anything I hadn’t realized. It is from Ronald Brownstein, writing in The Atlantic; and the article, not behind a paywall, is titled, “Democrats need HR 1 and the new VRA to protect voting rights.’

Brownstein is probably the best political writer in the country. I well remember so many great articles he wrote for the LA Times for decades. When he writes something, it is worth paying attention to. I will not discuss his article at length, the essence of it is that the Republican are waging an all-out war on voting rights in this country. More than a few people say that it is the biggest assault on those rights since the Jim Crow laws. And the really scary thing is that they are intended not only to win the next elections, but to cement a permanent Republican majority which in unremoveable, because the voting laws cannot be changed if they forever keep Democrats out of power to change them.

We know that these various bills do everything but state, “Only Republicans can vote.” They wouldn’t need to go quite that far, all they need is to take away 10% of the Democratic vote in key states, and they can’t lose. The bills cut voting hours, limit mail-in voting, make people keep re-registering, impose rigid signature verification. They do everything but re-institute the poll tax, the grandfather clause, and the literacy tests, which were the three-cornered foundations of White supremacy in the post-Reconstruction South.

The Supreme Court just heard a case on an Arizona bill, which the Republican counsel essentially said that suppressing the Black vote was necessary to help Republicans win. Blatantly admitting that will not hurt them; the case will go 6-3, or maybe there is a very small chance of 5-4, for the Republican voting suppression side. That is the most important endgame of the Republican court-stacking; from getting GW Bush elected over Gore; to blocking Garland and getting Gorsuch instead; from paying off Kavanaugh’s debts and ramming him through; to getting Barrett in a few weeks before the election. Those events were all awful for many reasons, but the most important was that it was part of the plan of the Republican Party to guarantee control of the United States government in perpetuity. Now is when they expect it to pay off.

The “Big Lie” about the election is part of that. The term “election integrity” is another Orwellian phrase they have concocted to gain public support, and to rationalize this assault. The Republican-controlled state legislatures have already introduced 156 bills to suppress the vote. They revel in this, it is their sustenance. Power, power, power without end.

So what can be done about this, before it is too late? People credulously voted in all these Republicans when Obama was president, in 2010 and 2014, and not enough of them can be dislodged in the state legislatures. And, now it may too late, as once these bills go through, and are either signed by a Republican governor; or vetoed by a Democratic governor and then brought to the Supreme Court to be validated, they will control the results in 2022, and inevitably give the Republicans control of the House and Senate; and then more gerrymandering, which the Roberts Court has already said they will not touch, so more power, and more laws, and so on. One can easily imagine how this would play out.

But there is the House Bill, HR1,which if it became law, could fix most of this–unless the Supreme Court declared the bill unconstitutional,in the same way that the Court of the early 1930’s invalidated FDR’s New Deal legislation. This bill will pass the House. But in the Senate, there is the problem of getting 50 votes for it, which it is likely that they will get with an actual vote. But how do we stop the Republican filibuster, the timeworn tool of the Southern Democrats and then the Radical Right, to stop progressive legislation? The only way is to get rid of the filibuster, but that would take sufficient votes. Democratic Senators Manchin and Sinema have expressed opposition to getting rid of the filibuster, the result of which would ironically likely knock both of them out of the Senate, plus guarantee a permanent Democratic minority in that body. This seems like a completely ridiculous plan of action; can anyone convince them otherwise, in time?

Another suggestion is to get rid of the filibuster just for this bill, keeping it for other ones. I don’t think this would work, because it would essentially allow a party to do it for any bill if they had a majority, but it would fall under Senate Rules, so maybe. And perhaps there is some chance that those two Democratic senators would vote for that, and that the Supreme Court would not disqualify it? Then there is adding Court seats, but they would filibuster that, too. Democrats in the Senate, all of them, must understand that when the Republicans have control, they tyrannically impose it. Trying to keep Senate rules that help them when they are out of power, is utterly foolish and futile.

I do not like having to worry about these things, not when we thought we had perhaps saved democracy, for at least a while. We need a respite. But Brownstein thinks that this is an inflection point, which of course connotes that if Republicans get away with it, they win, and for many decades, maybe forever. If you can fix a game so that you can never lose it, because you control the referees and the scoreboard, how are you going to be dislodged? Not when you have a Supreme arbiter which lets you do it, and which you can keep stocking with the spoils of your cheating.

And it is not fair, but this is another weight that President Biden has to deal with. We can’t just wait for two or four or eight years, like maybe we used to think. The strategy the Republicans use is to win at all cost, and keep winning. If the only way they can do that is to stop 10% of the Democrats from voting, they will do that if they can. And they have the Supreme Court for backup. Most Democrats, in or out of office, never really understood what was going on, they let the Republicans have their way too much.

I heard an interview with former Majority Leader George Mitchell about five years ago, and he said he was proud of how he and Minority Leader Dole worked together on the Thomas hearing. Some senators wanted to filibuster, but Mitchell would not. So we let Thomas get through; and years later, too many Democratic voters never listened to Hillary, who said over and over how important the 2016 election was in terms of the Court. Too much of the Left couldn’t be bothered, they cast a “conscience vote” for Stein, or just didn’t vote.

Obama did not complain enough about Garland, and start redlining bills that benefitted Republican senators’ districts unless they gave him a hearing. Kennedy was somehow forced to retire. They finally woke up for Kavanaugh, but it was too late. Now Biden has to somehow get HR1 through. Maybe Attorney General Garland, if the Republican ever confirm him, can crack down on vote suppression schemes, but the Court leaves voting laws to the states. So we need the voting rights act, or we need to add four or so Supreme Court seats, and we’ve got about a year to do it. Meanwhile, Senator Ron Johnson is going to demand that every sentence of the Covid Relief Bill is read on the floor, to delay passage. The Republicans obstruct everything, including the legal right to vote. We can’t wait until 2022. Our future is now.

17 Responses

  1. “If you can fix a game so that you can never lose it, because you control the referees and the scoreboard, how are you going to be dislodged?”

    That assumes that a sufficient percentage of non-elite white Americans will never, ever, wise up and start voting their material self-interest over their vacuum-skulled prejudices. Yes, I realize that might be the case–but I’m a non-elite white American, who was a libertarian-type conservative for a while, back when I was young and stupid, and I wised up.

    As for how to dislodge the Elephascists if they succeed for now–maybe a general strike? I say “maybe” because I don’t know how that would be accomplished.

    • I do think hat if we had even just the voting protections we had in place last year, Democrats would hold the House and the Senate. But of course if they stop millions of Democrats from voting nationwide, the vote totals will change in their favor just by that.

      Now, there seems to me to be another approach, which is very difficult but necessary; that is to do everything possible to get people their IDs, to give them all the information necessary to be eligible to vote. Everyone has to stand up and do what they can to eligible to vote, and find out of hey can; and even stand in line for ten hours, as they did last time. i don’t know if that is possible, but it would be the only other option. As to a general strike, they do them in Europe, or used to; those re intended to show displeasure or maybe even bring down the government but I don’t think one would work here; the Republicans do not care if people starve, as we are seeing.

      • Like the Bourbons, the GQP has forgotten nothing and learned nothing.

        The more the GQP makes peaceful pursuit of social justice impossible, the more it will make violent pursuit of social justice inevitable.

        But as Saruman said to Frodo, that will not be my doing. I merely foretell.

  2. Excellent post, William.

    No question about it, we must restore and protect voting rights if our democracy is to survive. This legislation is crucial. Without it, antidemocratic forces will continue to gain power and ultimately destroy all that we hold dear in this country.

    Ari Berman, writing in Mother Jones, says the fight over voting rights will be a fight over the filibuster. We have Manchin and Sinema to thank for that. What incentives and/or pressure can Biden put on these two Senators to support abolishing the filibuster? There must be something or some way to convince them. Better minds than mine need to find a way.

    • And I have the vacuum-skulled faction of my fellow non-elite white Americans to thank for electing(?) so many Elephascist Senators that reluctant Democrats, such as Manchin and Sinema, hold significant power.

      I used a question mark because, without cheating (I count gerrymandering and voter suppression as specific forms of cheating), there might be significantly fewer Elephascists in Congress, state governorships, and state legislatures.

    • The threat is that Manchin will change parties, putting McConnell back in charge, where he can keep all bills from coming to the floor. I don’t know what we could offer him. Sinema is hard to figure, she is obviously not liberal, bur votes with the Ds most of the time, but she has decided that it is good to have the filibuster. The only thing I can think of is a massive information campaign showing what will happen if HR 1 does not pass, maybe that will change their minds

      • Well, if Manchin did change sides, The Former Guy has demonstrated that acting appointments are a thing.

        Executive orders are also a thing.

        And if the “Mainstream” media wants to put their thumb on the scale for the GQP, I expect the Executive Branch has ways to strike back which remain entirely within the First Amendment.

        No, I never thought I would be saying things like this, but (IIRC) to quote Guy Gardner during the Crisis On Infinite Earths, morality means one thing when things are stable, and another when things are falling apart.

        • OK, I was wrong. It wasn’t “morality”, it was “worthiness”.

          If this stupid comment system would allow me to post images on William’s threads, I would post the panel.

      • My hope is that Biden, with his many years working in the Senate, will find a way to persuade Manchin and Sinema. Everyone wants something. Find out what Manchin and Sinema want and give it to them. It has to be done. It’s a big effing deal.

  3. Over on Wonkette, someone asked how people can be so heartless and cruel. This is my attempt to answer that person.

    Well, one reason is that they’ve been brainwashed, from earliest consciousness, into a culture which was designed to maintain a system where a majority of people were condemned either to slavery, or to conditions not much better than slavery. Such systems cannot work without carefully training people in the Satanic lie that cruelty, in certain contexts, is not only acceptable, but praiseworthy–and accepted, or endorsed, or even commanded by God Hirself.

    But you probably knew that already.

  4. Norm Ornstein, writing in WaPo, says pressuring Manchin and Sinema ( I’m going to call them M&S ) will backfire because Senate Democrats need them going forward. So rather than try to abolish the filibuster, which can’t be done without M&S, Ornstein says reform it. He suggests three filibuster reforms that M&S might support. Interestingly, in Ari Berman’s Mother Jones piece, Amy Klobuchar also refers to the need for “filibuster reforms”. So perhaps the answer lies in reform, not abolishment.

  5. Well, now I can’t seem to post at all on RD’s newest thread.

    Haruhi-kami-sama how I despise WordPress’s comment system. 😡

    Sorry, but if this continues, I may give up trying to comment on this blog.

    • They finally cleared. What a pitiful excuse for a comment system. 🙄

  6. David Sirota, writing for Jacobin:

    “Joe Biden may live in the White House but conservative senator Joe Manchin is effectively president.”

    • I don’t know if Sirota specifically is guilty of the following, but if the Purity Left had not thrown tantrums in 2000 and 2016, we might well have an 8-1 Democratic majority on the Supreme Court now, and the Voting Rights Act would have remained functional, resulting in fewer members of the Treason Party (fka GOP) in Congress now, which would make the Democrats far more effective now, and Manchin would be an obscure figure, even to most politically aware people, outside of West Virginia.

      • I thought it was a good quote. I don’t know who the “Purity Left” is. I’m not knowledgeable about internet terms like that.

  7. make people keep re-registering

    Here in PA, where the Republican led legislature introduced no-reason-necessary vote by mail they have gone from you can register once and check a box to indicate that you wish to receive all your future ballots by mail, to now saying you have to re-request ballots EVERY YEAR. The GOP PA State Legislators truly suck

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