Sometimes Government Is, Too, the Solution
I got a phone call at a little after 10 a.m. last Wednesday from a friend who was at the NAACP National Convention in Houston. It had been great so far, they said, but they were on their way to hear Mitt Romney speak and were not looking forward to it.
My mind raced to to uncomfortable images of Mitt blathering about cheesy grits in Mississippi or demonstrating his common touch at a race by mentioning that some of his best friends own NASCAR teams.
Given his proclivity for pandering and his uncanny gift of gaffe, the prospect of Mitt Romney addressing a convention hall full of civil rights leaders was so deliciously ripe with possibilities that for the first time in my life I wished I could be in Houston.
At 1:30, I got a text from my friend, a quote from the Rev. William J. Barber II, which declared, "If we've ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now!"
Voting is critical for African-Americans in this election, not just to re-elect an African-American president, but for the preservation of rights - especially the right to vote, paid for over countless generations with courage, commitment, and blood.
Those rights are being suppressed today by the use of voter ID laws which disproportionately affect students, the elderly, and minorities. It is estimated that more than 20 percent of African-American males lack the necessary government-issued IDs to vote. Eleven states already have voter ID laws. North Carolina will become the 12th if Pat McCrory succeeds Bev Perdue as governor.
As many as 460,000 qualified North Carolinians could be turned away from the polls if that happens.
Voter ID laws are promoted as a necessary means to prevent voter fraud. When the extreme rarity of voter fraud in North Carolina was brought up recently at a public appearance by state Sen. Harris Blake, a co-sponsor of N.C. Voter ID legislation, the senator shot back that one fraudulent vote was too many. True, but if we aspire to be a government of, by and for the people, isn't one qualified voter (let alone hundreds of thousands) turned away also too many?
Required photo IDs must be provided free of charge to comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But for working people, time is not free and waiting at DMV offices typically requires a lot of time. Moreover, people who lack the required IDs often lack transportation, which is an additional hardship. And although the government-issued IDs themselves are free, the documentations required to obtain them (copies of birth certificates, etc.) are not.
Incredibly, not 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, minority voting rights are being threatened again. The 2012 Texas Republican Party platform includes a resolution advocating overturning the Voting Rights Act. Last week, the state of Texas challenged the law in Federal District Court in a case that seems destined for the Supreme Court.
According to a report by the Reuters News Service, "There have been more challenges to the Voting Rights Act in the past two years than in the previous 45 years combined."
Another critical concern raised by Romney's NAACP address is the GOP's insistence that there is a free market solution for every problem. The lingering recession of 2008 should leave little doubt that serving the public interest is not what free markets are for. They exist to reward shareholders.
African-Americans have been disproportionately affected by efforts to maximize profits by minimizing costs, especially labor, which is why so many jobs have been outsourced and why Americans are working more for less. We need capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience - something that is lacking in the free market capitalism espoused by Romney and the GOP.
The Reagan mantra is that government isn't the solution, it's the problem. In 2012, it is vitally important to understand that rapacious corporate greed is an equally imminent threat to working people.
In spite of the boos for his renunciation of Obamacare, Romney's speech was remarkably blunder-free. He never used the phrase "some of my best friends are..." or "you people." He did not call NAACP President Benjamin Jealous "Bro."
Nor did he connect. One witness observed, "I don't think he has any way to even remotely relate to the everyday citizen, let alone African-American citizens."
Rather, he made the case for Barber's admonition, "If we ever needed to vote, we sure do need to vote now!"
Kevin Smith lives in Aberdeen. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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