For this month's Readers' Review: "Drown" -- the debut collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Junot Diaz. Twenty years ago, Diaz published ten heart-breaking tales about a fragmented family from the Dominican Republic finding their way in 1980s America.
From the five states that make up the Deep South, there is just one white Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives — and the Congressman is in jeopardy of losing his seat this November. It’s a trend that has been underway for years in many Southern states. Whites are aligning with Republicans, and blacks with Democrats. Political observers say the shift is happening, to some extent, across the country. But the political division along racial lines is most apparent in parts of the South, where an increasingly black Democratic Party is in the political minority. Diane and her guests discuss race and politics in the South.
- Paul Butler professor at Georgetown Law School.
- Sean Trende senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics and author of "The Lost Majority: Why the Future of Government Is Up for Grabs - and Who Will Take It."
- Nia-Malika Henderson national politics reporter for The Washington Post.
- Naftali Bendavid national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Over the last half century, the number of southern Democrats elected to the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives has become smaller and smaller. At the same time, political parties in the South are increasingly divided along racial lines.
MS. DIANE REHMHere to talk about this political and racial divide is Naftali Bendavid, national correspondent at The Wall Street Journal, Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown University and joining us from the studios of WOSU in Columbus, Ohio is Sean Trende, senior election analyst at RealClearPolitics.
MS. DIANE REHMYou're invited to join the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you.
MR. NAFTALI BENDAVIDGood morning.
MR. PAUL BUTLERGood morning, Diane.
MR. SEAN TRENDEGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you with us. Naftali Bendavid you recently wrote about Congressman John Barrow from Georgia and his re-election this November. Who is he? What makes his race so significant?
BENDAVIDWell, at the moment, he is the only white Democrat in the House of Representatives from the Deep South and I found that that was sort of a striking phenomenon because it wasn't that long ago when white Democrats essentially were southern politics. And so the fact that there's only one left from the Deep South struck me as very interesting and representative of some broader trends that are going on.
BENDAVIDNow, on top of that, he's just been re-districted so there's a decent chance that he'll lose, in which case there might be no white Democrats in the House from the Deep South. So yeah, I went down and followed him around a little bit as he attempted to stave off a re-election defeat and to try to campaign as a Democrat in a fairly conservative district and to try to, you know, stem some of this tide that we've been seeing.
REHMPaul Butler, how do you see it? Take us back a little bit and what kinds of trends do you see going on?
BUTLERSo this is a trend of the last 20 years. If you look at a place like Georgia, 20 years ago, about 50 percent of white people voted for Democrats. Now, not just in the Deep South, but really all over the United States, the Republican Party is doing a great job at appealing to white people, to making them think that it's in their interest to vote Republican.
BUTLERSo we're going to a situation where not just again in the South, but all over, a lot of the Democrats, now about a third of the Democrats in the House are people of color. A lot of people think that after this election, if you add white women and people of color, that will be 50 percent of the House of Representatives, Democrats.
BUTLERRepublicans, again, largely white, only two African-American Republican House members, 42 Democrat Republican House members.
REHMInteresting, Sean Trende, where in the South is this racial divide most pronounced?
TRENDEWell, it's most pronounced in a state like Mississippi and there's actually, interestingly enough, a pretty tight correlation between the percentages of African-Americans in the state and how Republican the whites in the state are.
TRENDESo you have a state like Mississippi where African-Americans approach about 40 percent of the population and you start to see 70, 80 percent Republican voting among whites. As you move more towards the peripheral South, as you move into urban areas, suburban areas it's a little less polarized, but the polarization is still there.
REHMSo Naftali, are we seeing this all across the country or primarily in the South?
BENDAVIDI think it's something we're seeing all across the country, but most dramatically in the South. And so what we're having is a situation where increasingly, and again this is particularly -- though not exclusively in the South, you have a party that is supported by whites and that elects white officials and a party that is supported by blacks and elects black officials.
BENDAVIDAnd I guess the question that is maybe for all of us to grapple with is how comfortable we are with that kind of a polarization. There's been a lot written about the increasing partisan polarization of the country, but if we overlay on that a racial polarization, you know, then that just creates that much more of a divide, I guess you'd say, between the people of the country.
REHMPaul, why did southern Democrats start realigning themselves with the Republican Party to begin with?
BUTLERSure, so a couple of things happened. A lot of people say it's because of the Voting Rights Act. That's this act passed in 1965, one of the most successful civil rights acts of all time. One, it says that states, when they draw districts, they can't reduce minority voting power.
BUTLERThe way that a lot of states have responded is by drawing these districts that put all the minorities in one group and that's to increase Latino and African-American voting power, so increasingly when states do that, they don't put any whites in the district.
BUTLERYou know, they draw the lines. The lines are very bizarre. They look like blobs or amoebas if you look at them. Again, that's to exclude as many whites as possible. And so what happens is the people who run in those districts, they make appeals that are attractive to African-Americans.
BUTLERIf they don't have enough white voters to care about or to need in order to get elected, they don't make those kinds of appeals that would draw in those kinds of voters. So, you know, we have this group of southern conservative Democrats, the famous Blue Dog Democrats. There are a lot of those around.
BUTLERAgain, 20 years ago, about 50 -- now there are only 25 because when you run for office, if you're running for one of these majority/minority districts, you don't have to make appeals that are going to get white voters.
BENDAVIDYeah, the Voting Rights Act was passed at a time when there was a lot of evidence that a lot of whites wouldn't vote for an African-American. And so the idea was to prevent dilution of African-American communities and voting blocs.
BENDAVIDThere are some leaders, particularly in the Democratic Party and among African-Americans who are asking whether or not concentrating blacks into a small number of districts does just as much to dilute their voting power as previously spreading them over a lot of districts did. So there is something of a re-examination of the Voting Rights Act going on.
BENDAVIDI don't think a re-examination of whether or not it should exist, but sort of how it's being implemented and how politicians are implementing it in their individual states.
REHMHow do you see that ,Paul?
BUTLERYou know, Diane, if your idea of racial justice is color blindness, that you can't look at someone and tell because she's Asian-American how she's going to vote or what her values are, then this is bad news. You know, if I'm looking at a guy, a white guy in Alabama and somebody says, I'll bet you he's going to vote for Obama, I'll take that bet.
BUTLERHe's not going to vote for Obama. I can look at him and know if he's a white man in Alabama, he's not. Same thing for African-Americans. Other than Condoleezza Rice, there's not an African-American woman -- there are very few that are going to vote for Romney.
BUTLERSo again, if you believe in color blindness, this is bad news. If, on the other hand, your idea of diversity says that it's okay for people who -- that it's deeper than skin, that it's okay for people who are Asian or Hispanic to have certain values, to share certain experiences and that that's okay to consider when they go to the voting booth, then you think it's just another reflection of this great American melting pot.
REHMBut Paul, as an African-American yourself, how does this make you feel about what's happening in this country?
BUTLERDiane, I've got really mixed feelings. I'm very proud as an African-American that we have Barack Obama, the first African-American president. I'm concerned that the majority of white people didn't vote for him in 2008 and according to the polls, even fewer of them are going to vote for him now. So we've come a long way. We have a long way to go.
REHMYou know, this morning on National Public Radio, Sean, I heard a woman say she would certainly not vote for President Obama. She said, I cannot stand to look at him and then she said, and I do not believe that that is a real first lady that we have in the White House. I want to see a real first lady in there. Is that a reflection in your mind of, again, some bias against an African-American president?
TRENDEYeah, I mean, I think that without being able to travel into her mind, I think, you know, the odds are fairly strong that, you know, that's a reflection of race. The question is and the tougher question to sort out is how would this person be voting otherwise?
TRENDEI mean, the Democrats have been identified as the party of civil rights since 1948 and really has been the party of civil rights since the 1960s. So was this woman voting for Michael Dukakis and Walter Mondale and Bill Clinton and John Kerry? I would say probably not.
TRENDEI think these things were sorted out long ago. But again, that's something that's incredibly hard to sort out. What we do know is that in 2010, the Republican Party won about 62 percent of the white vote, which is probably, we estimate, the highest share of the white vote won by either major political party since 1822. So this polarization is real. It's just a question of what's driving it.
REHMAnd looking back, there certainly has been a breakdown in the alliance between the national Democratic Party and southern Democrats, hasn't there, Naftali?
BENDAVIDYeah, I mean, this history is a little bit tempestuous. I mean, it was, you know, when we talk about how many white Democrats there were several decades ago, a lot of those were, in a sense, they were very conservative and today they'd be Republicans. And some of them were racists, it needs to be said.
BENDAVIDBut then there was this transition period in the 1980s when a lot of southern whites moved to a more comfortable ideological home in the Republican Party and the white politicians who remained Democratic were this sort of bridge between the two parties. They were called boll weevils and they were called Blue Dogs.
BENDAVIDAnd they're really disappearing, you know, the Blue Dog coalition at 52 members just a couple of years ago, now they're down to 25. After the next election, there may just be a dozen. So one result of all this is the disappearance of this sort of political archetype of the moderate southern Democrat.
REHMNaftali Bendavid, he's national correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Paul Butler is a professor at the Georgetown University School of Law. Sean Trende is with RealClearPolitics, a political news website. Short break, we'll be right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about changes in party affiliation, what's happening not only in the South but all across the country, here's a question from Peter in Tarrytown, NY, who says Abe Lincoln was the first Republican elected to the presidency. Most of the Southern slave owners were Democrats. Since that time, parties have switched their positions. What brought that about and why did mostly Southern conservatives turn to the Republican Party that ended that practice? And why did mostly northern liberals embraced the Democratic Party that supported that practice? Paul?
BUTLERSo, part of it was strategic decisions by both parties about the best ways to get their people elected. So the Democrats decided that since they were the party of civil rights, that more African Americans and now Latinos would vote their way. The Republican Parties thought that they lost that base. So, they would make appeals to people with other kinds of interest.
BUTLERAnd, you know, part of that is just politics. It's all good if the reason that white people are voting the way that they are is because they're mainly Republican. If on the other hand they're voting that way because they're white and they're voting against Democratic candidates because they support African Americans, then under the law that's a problem.
REHMAnd, Sean, how can anybody know the difference?
TRENDEWell, that type of stuff is tough to sort out. And, really, the story of the Southern realignment is something that would take an hour. I mean, it really starts to get underway in the 1930s when FDR passes the new deal, it's the first major legislation, social legislation that helps African Americans as well as whites. And the estimates are that FDR won about 70 percent of the African American vote in 1930s, at a time that the Southern Democrats still ruled the Democratic Party.
TRENDEAnd that 70 percent is still pretty constant through the '40s and '50s. And so, what we see in response to that is Southern whites start to gravitate towards the Republicans. And by the 1950s, Eisenhower carries almost the majority of the vote in the South, Richard Nixon in 1960 gets about 46 percent of the Southern vote. So this really is a gradual realignment that takes place over the course of almost 80 years that's really coming to a culmination today.
REHMAnd, Naftali, you've got two different explanations, one from Republicans, the other from Democrats. Republicans say those in the Democratic Party have been turned off by the liberalism of Democrats. Those in the Democratic Party say it's all redistricting. Where does the truth lie?
BENDAVIDI think the truth is probably a combination. I mean, I think that it's undeniable that more whites are voting Republican and that's particularly true in the South and that a lot of that is because they are conservative and they see the Democratic Party as too liberal. At the same time, I think it's also pretty undeniable that redistricting often led by Republicans is concentrating blacks into smaller numbers of district.
BENDAVIDAnd so this is complex. And, you know, one of the points that Republicans will make is, look, redistricting and gerrymandering have been going on forever. And this tactic of isolating your opponents in small numbers or districts has been happening forever. The thing that complicates this is that to the extent that in the South when we say Democrats, we're talking about African Americans, the whole thing has a racial overlay as well as just a political one. And that's where it gets complicated not only because of the Voting Rights Act, but just because of sort of who he wants to be as a country.
BUTLERYou know, the thing that makes this even tougher is that there really are differences among races and ethnic groups and their views. So, African Americans tend to want more federal power. They often known trust states to treat them fairly. If you look at something like health care, 29 percent, only 29 percent of white people support Obamacare, almost 80 percent of African Americans do.
BUTLERSo there are real differences in points of view. And part of what these parties are doing is just reflecting those different ideologies. You know, the real interesting question is for some groups like working class white people, we ask, are they really voting your interest or are they voting your white? It's a big question in political science, for example, why so many Southern poor people vote Republican, when Republicans have been traditionally the party of big business.
REHMThat's really interesting and it really does call into question the entire intent of the Voting Rights Act, what it was intended to do and now how it has evolved or devolved, Naftali.
BENDAVIDYeah, there are people on both parties who would say that some of the way the Voting Rights Act has played out has been bad for Democrats, good for Republicans and possibly bad for African Americans. And, again, it's not that people are necessarily calling for a wholesale repeal of the Voting Rights Act by and large, it's just a question of how it's being implemented.
BENDAVIDAnd to the extent that African Americans and other minorities are being concentrated into small numbers of districts with the idea that we don't want to break up these communities. We want to make sure they have a voice. But if the result is, let's say in some states...
BENDAVIDIsolating them. And so you have, let's say, two black districts and eight white Republican districts, whose interest is that serving? I mean, who is that really good for? And that question is being raised a lot on all sides, but it's hard to know what is going to come of that.
REHMSo was LBJ see in the future when he said we just lost the South.
BENDAVIDI mean, I think the evidence would suggest that he was. He may not have known the details of how it played out, but it's clearly the Democrats had a lot of control in the South and now they have almost none. And there's another aspect of all this, by the way, which is that when you isolate people in a certain community, it's harder for them to win statewide. You know, African Americans are about 12 percent of the country, but there are no African American senators.
BENDAVIDAnd why is it? And some would argue that it's because African American congressmen, you know, they don't build bridges to the broader community. They are focused on their communities and that makes it harder to build broader coalitions.
REHMThat's really interesting. We've been talking a lot about race. What about sexual delineation? Here's an email from Matt who says: I grew up in New England, went to college in the South, moved to North Carolina in 2008. While my city is fairly diverse and liberal, the rest of the state seems to be moving in the direction of Alabama or Mississippi. I'm 28, gay and married, and no longer feel welcome. My husband and I plan on moving back to New England. We have no desire to remain in the South and certainly do not want to start a family here. Sean Trende.
TRENDEWell, I think you just hit on the answer to one of the earlier questions about why so many poor whites vote Republican and it's that in a lot of these rural areas they're very socially conservative. Evangelical churches dominate. And so, it's kind of the reverse of why the Upper West Side of Manhattan votes overwhelmingly Democrat even though the people there are rich, it's because of the cultural issues, which are very important and really have dominated American politics for most of its existence.
TRENDEAnd that's a very sad story that's being read. It's awful. But it's just the reality of politics in the South right now. It's an interesting question, one thing that's always been interesting to me is that you do get a large degree of cultural conservatism in the African American community, although that is changing. President Obama has played a large role there. It's interesting that that cultural conservatism that was rarely reflected in the representatives that are chosen. That's always been puzzling to me.
REHMSo, what about that, Paul, that cultural conservatism among minorities themselves?
BUTLERYou know, a lot of African American Republicans blame the Republican Party. If you look at things like views on abortion, on gay marriage, on school prayer, African Americans, especially in the South are not liberal on these issues. Again, that is changing but that was prime territory for Republicans. Why didn't they go after their votes? Again, was it that an important part of Republican identity was whiteness?
BUTLERYou know, certainly Mitt Romney would deny that and I think most leaders of the Republican Party would deny that. But you got to wonder why if there were all those votes out there, ripe for plowing, why they weren't soft?
REHMNia-Malika Henderson joins us now. She is national politics reporter for the Washington Post. She is attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, FL. Good morning, Nia.
MS. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSONGood morning, Diane.
REHMTell me about the effort the GOP is making to reach out to blacks and Latinos this week. What have you seen?
HENDERSONWell, one of the things you've see is a prominent display of African Americans on the stage here. You had Mia Love, who of course is running for congresswoman out in Utah. She would be the first black woman to join the Republican ranks as a congresswoman ever in the history of that party. And she has been a real favorite here. Of course you had Condi Rice as well, Suzanna Martinez spoke last night.
HENDERSONAnd they got very rousing receptions, particularly when they talked about their own stories as examples of American exceptionalism. In terms of what Romney is doing himself and what his campaign, he's got a core of black advisers who are making efforts to reach out to African Americans. In my view, they haven't been very visible, nor have they been very consistent. But I am told that they will be robust.
HENDERSONOn the one hand, there is a realization from his camp that most African Americans will vote for President Obama, as they've done for Democrats for many, many years now. But they are going to make some efforts and that starts with ginning up support among black Republicans. There have been obviously some black Republicans here, some converts you had, for instance, Arthur Davis who was a big Democrat back in 2008 has since switched to be a Republican.
HENDERSONAnd so I think their effort to chip away at the black supports with black Republicans. But as you see, these recent polls have just shown that there is just not a lot of support. I think BET just had a poll that came out on Monday and it showed that 2 percent of African Americans support the Romney-Ryan ticket, which is below John McCain, certainly below what George Bush was able to get in 2004.
REHMIt's interesting to hear that Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that Republicans are losing the demographics race badly. He said, quote, "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."
HENDERSONThat's exactly right. And I think particularly what you hear from Republicans -- and I've talked to many over the course of this convention -- is they sort of pivot away from the issue of African Americans and focus mostly on Latinos, because they know that demographic obviously growing and they still feel like there's some room to grow in terms of that support here. And in some ways, they've given up on African Americans, at least in this term, in this election because of the loyalty that a lot of African Americans have for this president.
HENDERSONBut, yeah, there is a lot of private hindering in about where this party is going. And you've seen some discussion around the approach to white voters that Mitt Romney has taken in a lot of discussion about whether or not the ad he's had about welfare really tried to stew that anger among primarily blue collar white voters. And you've seen a lot of dust-ups with media types of going after his campaign over that ad.
HENDERSONBut, again, I think one of the things the realizations that they're having is that the pool of white voters is just shrinking. In 1980, it was something like 86, 88 percent of the voting population. And now it's about 74, 76 percent.
HENDERSONSo they've got to grow somewhere else.
REHMNia-Malika Henderson of the Washington Post, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I want to open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Norman in St. Louis, MO. Good morning to you.
NORMANI really listen to your show almost every day and I love it.
REHMThank you so much.
NORMANI'm wondering if there would be some sophisticated method of polling hatred because it seems to me that the Republican Party has been campaigning on divisiveness for like three or four decades now and they have -- it's not just racism, but you see anti-gay, you see anti-Muslim, anti-this, anti-that. And it just seems to me that if there's a hate group around and you ask them how they're voting, that you would get the answer that they're voting Republican.
REHMI'm not sure that we can lump all people in that way. But, Paul Butler, to what extent is hate at work here?
BUTLERWell, we know that there is still racial bias, racism is alive and well in the United States, but there are some good news as well. President Obama in 2008 actually got a higher percentage of the white vote than John Kerry did. And he got about the same percentage of the white vote as Bill Clinton. So that suggests that even though most white people didn't vote for Obama, it's not because he's African American, it's because he's a Democrat.
BENDAVIDYeah. In many ways actually this current election, you could say, is coming down to a fight over a few percent of the white vote. I think the minority vote is in many ways largely settled. It's going to go to President Obama by and large. If President Obama can duplicate getting 43 percent of the vote, which he got last time, he'll probably win. If it's closer to 40 percent or below, he'll probably lose.
BENDAVIDSo, for all the complexities and nuances of this campaign, in many ways, it's come down to that one very basic fight and who feels like they can appeal to that group, you know, the most effective way.
REHMLet's go to Pensacola, FL. Good morning, Tina.
TINAGood morning. I just wanted to know if they could talk about Lee Atwater and the Southern strategy. Lee Atwater was the mentor for Karl Rove. And I'll take my comments off the air.
REHMAll right, Sean Trende.
TRENDEYeah, I mean, the Southern strategy for Republicans actually dates back to the 1800s. There were all kinds of Southern strategies after the Civil War and what unfortunately won out was the Atwater approach in the '70s and '80s, although a lot of what drove the Southern realignment was the South becoming richer and having suburbs and things like that. So, the racial resentment appeal is a bit overstated but it's a large part.
TRENDEThat doesn't mean that it wasn't a large part. We saw some attempts of backpedaling on that in the second Bush administration. You know, George W. Bush had a fairly inclusive Cabinet. He didn't oppose all forms of affirmative action and actually filed amicus briefs on behalf of some forms of affirmative action in the Supreme Court cases. It didn't really get the Republican Party anywhere.
TRENDESo, it'll be interesting to see if they've become frustrated by that. Revert to some of the more overt forms of racial appeals or whether that type of outreach continues.
REHMSean Trende, senior elections analyst at RealClearPolitics. That's a political news website. Short break here and more of your calls, your comments when we come back.
REHMAnd we have many emails. Here's the first from Francis who says, "If the Republican Party continues to be only the party of whites, what does that mean for them as demographics continue their march toward whites becoming a minority in this country? Won't there soon be a reckoning at some point that will marginalize white conservatives in national government? Further, will this not continue in local government at some point?" Nia.
HENDERSONWell, I think Lindsey Graham said it best when he said this is a real problem, that there are not enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term, either nationally or locally. And Mitt Romney actually talked about this, too. He was overheard on an open mic at some point saying that his party would be doomed unless they were able to expand -- to get more Latinos, specifically, and deal with the immigration problem.
HENDERSONYou had other Republicans talk about that Newt Gingrich brags about how he's learning Spanish and can speak Spanish now. So there is an underlying concern and movement around this. Jeb Bush among the people concerned about it. But I think there is a sense that this time it's almost like one last go round for this demographic.
HENDERSONBut I think one of the problems is the demographic where it's mainly whites. It just hasn't won a national election in quite some time. If you look back in 2004, George Bush was able to win because he did so well among Latino voters and ran, in many ways, in 2000 as a compassionate conservative. And in some ways, I think that's what you saw Mitt Romney try to do yesterday. Wrapping himself around Susana Martinez. You saw him sitting next to Condi Rice in the family box on that first night. A lot of the newspapers ran with that photo of him leaning over to talk to Condi Rice as his wife gave that speech.
HENDERSONSo I think -- I mean, that was obviously intentional, obviously purposeful. And it isn't even necessarily that they're trying to get black voters or even Latino voters by those images. But they're really trying to make an indirect appeal to independent white voters. But, again, there's a real problem, I think, and Republicans acknowledge that they're got to do something different in terms of appealing to a broader array of people. It just isn't clear that this is going to be the election that they're going to be able to do that.
BENDAVIDBut the party's also split because it's true that there is that sentiment among a lot of Republicans. You know, we're in trouble if we can't do a better job of reaching out to minorities. On the other hand, a lot of states have passed fairly tough anti-immigration laws, generally led by Republican legislators. And have pursued other policies that don't find favor among blacks or Latinos. So you have sort of two things going on at the same time. And I think there's a real tension within the party that needs to be resolved before it can figure out which way it's going to go forward.
REHMHere's a question from Ron in St. Louis. "How can you discuss the changes in southern party alignments without mentioning that the Democrats were the ones who created and were enforcing the Jim Crow Laws that excluded blacks for decades? I haven't even heard the term used." Paul Butler.
BUTLERSo it's true that there's been this remarkable change in the racial rhetoric of the various parties. So, you know, my grandfather wouldn't have dreamed of voting for a Democrat. He was an African American. Lincoln was the man who freed the slaves. He was a Republican. So my family were real strong African American -- were real strong Republicans for a long time.
BUTLERBut then what changed, the civil rights revolution changed. Martin Luther King, he went and watched Lyndon Johnson sign the Voting Rights Act, a Republican. He watched Lyndon Johnson and John Kennedy support the Civil Rights Act, things that have gotten us to this place where we have near parity in terms of the number of African Americans in Congress. Almost ten percent of Congress is African American. And that's good news. That's racial progress and when we look at the party that's most responsible, it looks like more Democrats.
BUTLERAgain, the Voting Rights Act, bipartisan support, the extension was supported by President George W. Bush so that's good news. But, you know, now in this election it's true that the Republicans seem to have written off the African American vote.
REHMHere's another asking about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act currently making its way through the lower federal courts requiring pre-clearance of changes to voting rules for jurisdictions with a history of discrimination. If the Supreme Court declares Section 5 unconstitutional this term as some of the justices are clearly inclined to do, what will that mean for our democracy? Naftali.
BENDAVIDWell, that's true. There's two sort of major sections of the Civil Rights Act, Section 2 and Section 5. And Section 5 is the one that says that states with a history of voting discrimination they need to have their changes or their redistricting reviewed by either the Justice Department or a court before they can take effect. In fact, Texas there was a judge, actually a panel of judges, earlier this week that rejected a redistricting on the part of Texas, which is a Section 5 state, precisely for this reason.
BENDAVIDAnd there's been some talk that maybe Section 5, you know, would be found unconstitutional sometime soon. I'm not sure it would have enormous impact. It would be a big symbolic change, but, you know, there are still other tools, other methods that if states are undertaking actions that are viewed as discriminatory, you know, that they could still be corrected. But it would certainly be a big landmark if a major section of the Civil Rights Act is thrown out by the Supreme Court.
REHMPaul, what do you think would happen?
BUTLERWell, I think when we look at if the Supreme Court gets this case -- there was a Voting Rights Act case a couple years ago. Chief Justice John Roberts said, you know what, things have changed in the South. There's a lot more racial equality in terms of who gets elected. Blatant discrimination is rare. I'm not sure that we still really need the Voting Rights Act. He said we don't have to get to that in this case, but, you know, this term, next term.
BUTLERIt looks like that case is on the way and this is not a court that likes any kinds of race conscious remedies. It prefers color blindness, which would probably mean that districts would be drawn without regard to increasing minority voting strength, which would mean, ultimately, fewer African American and Latinos in Congress.
REHMPaul Butler is professor of law at the Georgetown University. Let's go now to Louisville, Ky. Good morning, Michelle.
MICHELLEGood morning, Diane. Thank you for taking my call.
MICHELLEYou know, when my earlier question had been about the (word?) in your districts and it actually was taken up and already addressed. So if I may use my time to ask a totally different question. I'm curious to know other, than a couple of mentions here and there why no one is talking -- you know, we're talking about race, race, race, race.
MICHELLEWhy didn't no one bring up the fact that race is, in and of itself, sort of almost a code word, if you'll pardon my using it, because the demographics of racial groups can be, like, for example, most of the poor are minority African American, Latino. And so when you talk about disenfranchisement of the poor or policies disproportionately affect the poor, you're still talking race. But you're also talking class. And no one's talking about that and that bothers me.
REHMIs that actually true? It was my understanding that a majority of the poor in this country and those on welfare are predominantly white. Am I wrong, Paul?
BUTLERDiane, you're absolutely right. So class matters a lot and I don't think anyone, Democrat or Republican, would disagree with that. But there's something sticky about race, as well. You know, I'm a graduate of Harvard Law School. I have this great job teaching at Georgetown Law School now. It's still hard for me to get a cab. I'm a middle class African American. You know, I still get looked at by the police more than my fellow white law professors. So, again, race matters, probably not as much as it mattered 50 years ago, you know, but it's still important to acknowledge.
REHMCan you comment, Sean Trende?
TRENDEYeah, I mean as far as the politics go, it's interesting when you look at voting patterns. Wealthy African Americans vote roughly the same as poorer African Americans. You see a -- some spread, but not a whole lot. When you look at whites, there's a distribution in Republican versus Democratic voting. And Barack Obama actually did carry, I believe, white's making $15,000 a year or under, although that could reflect the student vote.
TRENDEWhat's interesting, we've talked a lot about Latinos. And when you look at the Latino population, it actually spreads out a lot more like the white vote does. It's just that Latinos are -- the word that I think the caller was looking for wasn't mostly poor, but disproportionately, I think, is the appropriate word.
TRENDEAnd that's an interesting question long term with the Latino vote is that does this continue as Latinos -- since the Latino immigration surge has mostly stopped. As Latinos start to climb up the socioeconomic ladder like my immigrant grandparents did, do the voting patterns of their wealthier children and grandchildren become more Republican as was the case with the large surge in immigration from 1890 to 1920. It's a good question.
REHMAll right, you wanted to add something, Paul. Okay. To Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., good morning, James.
JAMESHi, Diane, huge fan of the show.
JAMESI'm a liberal, I guess, from New England. But I'm also active duty military. So largely, you know, conservative organization. And I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because of what he stood for and his platform and I still very much believe in that. And I guess in regard to that, my question to your panel would be their input on what it's going to take for us, as a country, to stop voting based on race and gender and sexual orientation and really be able to focus on the issues that really affect people on the ground level?
BENDAVIDWell, that's obviously a very big question and a complicated one. Both parties, I think -- leaders of both parties would admit that they haven't done a very good job at reaching out, you know. Many leading republicans will say we've done a terrible job at reaching out to African Americans and Latinos. And many democrats would say we really need to do a better job of reaching out, particularly to blue collar whites.
BENDAVIDBut I think the reason the question is complicated is that, you know, we have culture. We have a culture in our country and there's, you know, things that run through the African American community, values that it holds, a history that it has, same thing with Latinos, same things with white communities. And those things run really deep. And so it's hard to say when these things are going to change. It often takes kind of major transformations that are on a societal level in order for voting patterns to change.
HENDERSONI think that's right.
REHMAnd here's an email from Jill. Apparently a number of people have reacted in this way. She says, "I get incensed as I just did when I heard one of your guests refer to the President as an African American. I wish all of us would stop using color as an identifier." Now, Paul, I'm sure you do, too, but it's going to be a long time before that happens.
BUTLERYou know, and just like Italian Americans are justly proud of their rich culture and heritage, I'm proud of mine as an African American. I'm proud that the President of the United States is African American. I think that's good news about the progress that we've made. So, you know, I think a lot of people have a vision of racial justice that doesn't mean we can't notice race, that doesn't mean we can't be aware of diversity. It just shouldn't have negative consequences.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." To Greensboro, N.C., good morning, Tanya.
TANYAGood morning, Diane, thank you.
REHMSure, go right ahead.
TANYAOkay, this is a very, very important discussion we're having and I don't hear it happening enough. So thank you for having this show. My concern is the obvious race stating that is going on in the Republican Party. I don't hear the same race stating on the Democratic side. Whenever I'm hearing Republicans, especially during the convention in almost every speech, talking about how Barack Obama is not -- doesn't, you know, represent us, he's not a real American. The First Lady doesn't look like a first lady. Now this is obvious, just in your face, racism. And the media's not calling attention to it.
REHMWell, we just did. Nia, do you want to comment?
HENDERSONWell, of course, I think there have been a lot of discussions about race and how it's impacted this particular presidential campaign. I know, you know, I've been on shows talking about race. Here we are talking about race at this point, as well. You know, Mitt Romney has, I think people would say, dabbled into some of the identity politics. He had that joke around Obama, the birther joke. He's had some aids call into question whether or not Obama knows how to be an American, you know.
HENDERSONAnd I think, you know, American politics is inherently divisive. And it's a way that we express our resentment. It's a way that we often express our hatred of one another without resorting to violence. And it's -- you know, I hate that is that way, but it often comes down to that. And you certainly see both camps playing into, I think, identity politics. On the one hand, you have Democrats arguing that, you know, it's the rich who want to really take advantage of the poor. And they only care about themselves.
HENDERSONAnd then on the other hand you have Republicans who are in some ways, and I'm generalizing here, arguing that there are these sorts of, you know, core people who are trying to take advantage of the system in terms of these welfare ads and Obama supposedly wanting to change them. So, I think, you know, it's unfortunate, but this is the language of our politics. And this is the way we sort of express our cultural and our cultural divide.
REHMAll right. I'll take one last call from Indian Mound, Tenn. Good morning, Martha.
MARTHAWell, as a lifelong Southerner, I am really ticked off that you have a panel that has no Southerners on it. And yet you're presuming to have a whole show about us.
HENDERSONWell, I'm a Southerner first. I am a Southerner.
MARTHAOkay, well, anyway...
TRENDEI'm from Oklahoma.
MARTHAOklahoma's south, that's the first I'd heard. But, anyway, the second thing is the entire preoccupation seems to be with race. There is so much more going on. And race in the South is so much more complex than, I think, you can even deal with. But the big thing here is voter suppression. And we have -- the laws that our Republicans in the state promulgated after the Democrats left with an ideal voter fraud prevention law they just gutted it and then put in all these ID requirements that discriminate -- excuse me -- discriminate against rural people. They discriminate against the elderly.
MARTHAThey discriminate against a lot of people that would vote Democrat. Plus...
REHMNow, Martha, I'm sorry we are out of time. But I want to assure you we have done many programs on voter ID laws. We will continue to follow that issue. I want to thank our guests today, Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal, Paul Butler, professor of law at Georgetown University, Sean Trende, of RealClearPolitics, Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post. Thank you all. And thanks for listening everybody, I'm Diane Rehm.
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