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The Last Liberal President, Voting Rights Edition



Speaking of voting rights, let’s return to the Golden Age of American Politics when there was a real liberal in the White House and everyone in American politics favored single-payer health care (I’m not sure why it never came remotely close to passing, but I blame Barack Obama.) From Ari Berman’s essential Give Us the Ballot:

[South Carolina GOP Chairman and top Strom Thurmond adviser] Dent told Nixon, “Thurmond was the only Southern leader in the GOP who could rally Southerners to the GOP banner.” Nixon had already been courting South Carolina’s sixty-four-year-old junior senator, telling the press in Columbia, “Strom is no racist. Strom is a man of courage and integrity.” (69)

OK, but Nixon was just pandering to win neoconfederate votes and there was no substance behind it, right? Not hardly. Nixon’s attorney general, future felon and arch-reactionary John Mitchell (not a dime’s worth of difference between him and Nick Katzenbach or Eric Holder!), proposed a substantial revision to the Voting Rights Act as its sunsetted provisions came up for renewal. Nixon’s proposed bill would have eliminated Section 5 — the preclearance provision — from the bill entirely, going Shelby County one better more than 40 years before the fact. The bill also would have eliminated the preclearance formula in Section 4, not to create broader rights enforcement — there would no longer be anything for the DOJ to preclear — but to send a message that there was no problem in states that were still aggressively resisting the Voting Rights Act.

But this was just a purely empty gesture to appease his southern base, right? Well, Nixon cared enough about the bill that the House actually passed his version. The original VRA was preserved because Senate Democrats worked with the well-to-the-left-of-Nixon Republican leadership to pass a renewal that kept Sections 4 and 5, which the Democratic leadership then got through the House. Nixon seriously considered vetoing the bill but in the wake of Kent State decided to hold his fire and let it pass.

Why, I’m beginning to think that the legislation a Democratic Congress put on Nixon’s desk doesn’t really reflect Nixon’s agenda or influence! But, the kind of person who is really committed to this Nixon-was-to-Obama’s-left nonsense might argue, maybe Nixon knew how this would play out, so his attempt to gut the Voting Rights Act was just empty pandering? Well, we can look at Nixon’s civil rights record on low-visibility areas more within his control. Most importantly, his appointment to head the Civil Rights Division was a complete nonentity who took orders from…Harry Dent. Those orders were not “robustly enforce civil rights,” and the CRD was hit with a wave of resignations. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget that Nixon’s Supreme Court nominations provided the four votes necessary to effectively overrule Brown v. Board of Education.

But Hillary Clinton would name Zombie Strom Thurmond to head the Civil Rights Division, introduce legislation to repeal the Voting Rights Act in its entirety and make Jeff Sessions her first Supreme Court nomination, so I’m writing in H.A. Goodman.

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