The Racial Progress Democrats Won’t Admit
Category: Op/EdVia: vic-eldred • 4 months ago • 33 comments
By: By Jason L. Riley
President Biden has spent the better part of his first year in office insisting he wants to steer the country in a less racially divisive direction. Last week he took it all back. When you invoke Bull Connor, Jefferson Davis, George Wallace and the Ku Klux Klan to describe your political opponents, your objective isn’t racial harmony but something closer to the opposite. Maybe we should thank him for finally coming clean.
With the White House struggling to advance its economic agenda, the president’s job-approval rating stuck in the mud, and midterm elections looming, it’s no great shock that Mr. Biden is resorting to racial demagoguery. The Democratic Party has long depended on keeping black people scared and paranoid to maintain their support. That’s how its activists raise money and how its candidates typically turn out the base. For many on the political left, racial progress is something to be played down or ignored altogether, and nothing seems to inconvenience them more than the incredible strides America has made in recent decades on voting rights.
You would never know it from listening to Mr. Biden’s nasty tirade in Atlanta, but black voter turnout has been rising since the mid-1990s even as more states have passed voting requirements that the president and his backers insist are “Jim Crow 2.0.” Nationally, the black voter-turnout rate exceeded white turnout for the first time in 2008, when President Obama was elected. It happened again when Mr. Obama was re-elected in 2012, prompting the Census Bureau to note that the “increase in voting among blacks continues what has been a long-term trend.” True, black turnout dipped in 2016, but only to the pre-Obama level. And the decline almost certainly reflected apathy toward Hillary Clinton more than any efforts to disenfranchise blacks. Two years later, “all major racial and ethnic groups saw historic jumps in voter turnout,” according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
In 2020, Asian and Hispanic voting levels made history again, while black turnout was the third-highest on record for a presidential election. When minority voters are sufficiently motivated, they seem to have no trouble casting a ballot. And when asked their views on voter-ID laws—as they were in surveys conducted last year by National Public Radio, Monmouth University, Rasmussen and others—large majorities of respondents, regardless of race or political affiliation, expressed support.
Democrats and voting-rights activists aren’t unaware of these facts but hush up about them so as not to undercut the voter-suppression story line. Liberals who complained about Donald Trump ’s relentless demagoguery on such issues as illegal immigration are giving Mr. Biden a pass because their criticisms of Mr. Trump were based on political expediency, not principle.
The positive national trends in black voter turnout are reflected in state data as well, including Dixie states, where most blacks live and where black voting rights historically met the most resistance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation voter database, which compiles census figures, black voter registration in the South is higher than in other regions of the country and sometimes higher than the corresponding white rate. In 2020, for example, black registration surpassed white registration in Maryland, Mississippi and Tennessee, and the black-white difference was less than three percentage points in Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina and Texas.
Turnout numbers tell a similar story. In 2020 blacks voted at higher rates than whites in Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. After losing the Georgia governor’s race in 2018, Stacey Abrams founded an organization to fight voter suppression and subsequently has become the progressive face of the cause. Yet by 2018 black voter registration and turnout rates in the Peach State surpassed those of whites. Her organization is a solution in search of a problem.
Democrats continue to assert, as Mr. Biden did in his Atlanta speech, that in 2013 the Supreme Court weakened the 1965 Voting Rights Act to the detriment of blacks when it ruled that federal oversight of voting protocols in states with a history of voter suppression could no longer be justified. The oversight, always meant to be temporary, was based on decades-old data, and the court concluded that times had changed. “There is no denying,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”
Since that ruling, black registration and overall voter turnout have continued to improve, yet Democrats have no choice but to remain in denial because acknowledging racial progress would upend their identity politics and risk putting the party out of business. Thus the nation was subjected to the spectacle of a president in 2022 trying to convince us that the black franchise is as precarious as it was six decades ago.
C’mon, Joe. You’re better than that.
Jason Riley is an opinion columnist at The Wall Street Journal, where his column, Upward Mobility, has run since 2016. He is also a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and provides television commentary for various news outlets.
Mr. Riley, a 2018 Bradley Prize recipient, is the author of four books: “Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders” (2008); “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed” (2014); “False Black Power?” (2017); and “Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell” (2021).