The nation has seen more than a few odd attorneys general over the years. Among them have been the eccentric John Mitchell, Richard Nixon’s man at the Justice Department; Bill Clinton’s peculiar Janet Reno; and the personality-challenged John Ashcroft, who served under George W. Bush. Personal oddness or political partisanship is one thing, but an attorney general who plays the race card flirts with the ghosts of American history.
Since the days of President Lyndon Johnson’s crass racial attitudes, presidents and members of their administrations have understood the particularly destructive role that race has played in America’s past. Thus, they have generally avoided taking part in actions that inflame those wounds from a very ugly chapter of history.
Barack Obama and Eric Holder had the opportunity to help steer the nation toward race-neutral policies — perhaps into a post-racial era. Instead, the first black president has often dabbled in the politics of racial identity, and the first black attorney general has often shamelessly exposed his own solidarity with “his people.” This is the man who lectured us about America being a nation of racial cowards because white Americans haven’t engaged in sufficient “soul searching.”
However, this served as a lead-in to Holder’s reprehensible campaign to convince black Americans that their voting rights are under deliberate attack from “Republican-initiated” voter identification laws. Since last year, Holder has been on a tear, delivering this message to black audiences all across the country.
This divisive campaign has emerged on a short list of the Obama administration’s reelection tactics. Some other tactics are the claim that Republicans are waging a war on women and the class-warfare argument that wealthy Americans and Wall Street investment firms are getting richer on the backs of the 99 percent.
As the nation’s leading law enforcement figure, Eric Holder holds a great deal of political power. This makes his references to the existence of racially hostile political forces trying to rip away voting rights from black people all the more troubling and irresponsible. Holder is fully aware that blacks were forced to fight civil rights battles just to attain the right to vote in southern states. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner were murdered in 1964 by Mississippi racists while engaging in voter education and registration among poor blacks. Holder plays with fire by rhetorically tying contemporary voting issues to those dark days.
He has also coyly claimed that his concerns about voter ID laws are that they will place an undue burden on elderly, young, student, low-income, and minority voters. Yet most speeches given by Holder on this issue have been in front of largely black audiences.
Last December, he traveled to Austin, Texas, where he told an audience that voter ID laws harm racial minorities and that they are driven not by concerns about ballot integrity, but by racial animus.
Earlier this year, Holder cozied up to Al Sharpton at the annual convention of Sharpton’s National Action Network and praised him for “your partnership, your friendship, and your tireless efforts to speak out for the voiceless, to stand up for the powerless, and to shine a light on the problems we must solve and the promise we must fulfill.”
Holder’s next major salvo was in late May, when he addressed the Council of Black Churches. He pulled no punches, telling the black church leaders that their right to vote was under assault nationwide and claiming voter ID laws could keep minorities from casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election.