Home / General / Rich Lowry upholds National Review’s longstanding policy on voting rights

Rich Lowry upholds National Review’s longstanding policy on voting rights

1/21/1988 President Reagan meeting with William F Buckley in oval office

Shorter Verbatim Rich Lowry: “That many Democrats say that the filibuster should fall for this bill is a symptom of the fevered state of the party, which despite holding or winning every elected branch of the federal government has conjured out of nothing a vast conspiracy to stop people from voting that allegedly justifies one of the most blatant federal power grabs in memory.”

Arizona Rep. John Kavanaugh, defending propose Republican vote suppression measures: “There’s a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans…Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote — but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

I don’t think people are imagining the more than 250 current Republican proposals to stop some people from voting either.

Of course, Lowry’s opposition to HR. 1 because of its infringement on the Sacred Rights of the States to disenfranchise vot…I mean, run elections has a rich history in his magazine:

Respectable conservative organs like National Review not only supported segregation and opposed civil rights, but also opposed laws to safeguard voting rights. The NR formula on voting rights has always combined several classic elements. First, there are usually some arch, snobbish gibes at right-wing populist demagogues, who are crass and beneath the dignity of the deserving elites at National Review. Second, the dismissal of rank bigotry is set against a “frank” concession that most Black people do not actually deserve the franchise because they are, like the poor whites who support the demagogues, too ignorant to exercise their vote wisely. And third, it declares states’ rights to be the paramount consideration, so that ultimately no federal solution can be imposed, however troubling the abuses of the state-level authorities.

In 1965, James J. Kilpatrick’s National Review cover story dismissed the need for a Voting Rights Act. Yes, Kilpatrick conceded, white Southerns had mistreated Black people. (“No reasonable man would deny that in times past, the South has sinned against the Negro; here and there, in times present, the abuse continues.”) However, the fact remained, “Over most of this century, the great bulk of Southern Negroes have been genuinely unqualified for the franchise. They emerged illiterate from slavery; they remained for generations, metaphorically, under the age of twenty-one.” And the principle of federalism meant Congress could not dictate voting procedures to the states, so, sadly, the Voting Rights Act “undertakes to remedy a perversion of the Constitution by perverting the Constitution.”

A 1966 column by Buckley began with some mockery of Alabama governor George Wallace. But Buckley proceeded to his main point. “For some reason it has been hailed as a triumph of democratic justice that so many Negroes succeeding in voting last week,” he sneered, mocking the absurdity of illiterate Black Alabamans being permitted to vote. Weighing the competing absurdities of the two “evils” — Wallace’s buffoonery, or Black people voting despite having been denied an education by their state — he concluded “the latter” was worse. (The text of these columns are not online. Joshua Tait, a University of North Carolina historian specializing in conservative thought, shared the quotes with me.)


Conservatives are hysterical in opposition to proposals in Congress to guarantee voting access and limit gerrymandering. National Review calls H.R. 1, the main House bill to promote election reform, “a partisan assault on American democracy.” But NR should be more honest in its criticism: Democracy is not what it wants at all, and never has been.

Plus c’est la meme chose.

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