A devil's brew of cynicism on one side and demagoguery on the other seemed to guarantee renewal of the "temporary" features of the Voting Rights Act first passed in 1965.
The demagogues are straightforward. The Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, declared, "Voting rights is [sic] not a liberal issue or a conservative issue . . .What could be more fundamental to our God-given rights than the unimpeded right to vote?" Except that the key features of the Voting Rights Act were permanent. The right of minorities to vote is not at issue, only the renewal of certain "emergency" measures that place special burdens on some counties and not others.
Rep. Cynthia McKinney contributed to a misunderstanding of what is at stake in her remarks to a Georgia rally last year: "If we are to avoid the strange fruit of powerlessness, we have to pass the torch of leadership to a new generation of young, strong, uncompromising tree shakers. We can no longer be satisfied with leaders handpicked for us and not by us, because it's that strange fruit that wrecks our dreams and kills our community; the strange fruit that occurs when other people assume our powerlessness, and we act accordingly . . ." Got that?
Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we find Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and many members of the majority caucus chiming in that the Voting Rights Act must be renewed "as is." They are content to acquiesce in an act that stipulates persistent white racism because the law has proved a bonanza for Republican-elected officials. Racial gerrymanders -- creating so-called "majority minority" districts -- have remade the electoral map of the southern United States, resulting in the election of more black Democrats, fewer moderate or conservative Democrats, and more Republicans. And that satisfies the Republicans just fine.