2016 — February 6, 2016 at 10:34 am

The one issue neither Democratic candidate has *really* talked about


Racism must be called by name if we want to undo the damage of conservative policies


Call it karma. Call it poetic justice. But definitely don’t ignore it.

Non-white voters will decide who becomes the Democratic nominee for president. And non-white voters will decide who the next president of the United States will be.

Former senior advisor to President Obama Dan Pfeiffer calls this quote from Dan Ballz “almost all you need to know” about the 2016 election:


The Democratic primary has already turned out to be historic. Either the first woman or the first Jewish person ever won the Iowa caucuses. Both candidates are angling to out-progressive each other as Bernie Sanders is making the first full-throated case for single-payer health care by any major candidate in American history.

And this is happening as the uninsured rate is at an all-time low with 9 out of 10 Americans insured.

What’s most inspiring about Bernie Sanders — and what I’d argue is the key to his overwhelming appeal of his candidacy to young people — is the passion and clarity he speaks to issue of our time: devastating income inequality created intentionally by  conservative policies. The very rich are eating up the gains of our economy and using their power to propel us on a path to corporate feudalism.

Since he was confronted by #BlackLivesMatters last summer, the Senator has made a noble attempt to offer policies that confront systemic racism. But thus far, his appeal to non-white voters hasn’t been as strong as is to white liberals.

That could change today.

Ian Haney López is the author of Dog-Whistle Politics, which explains how subtle and strategic racism has been essential in the conservative effort to wreck the middle class. This week, he teamed up to Heather McGhee to articulate how Sanders’ populist appeal fails to tangle with an essential fact: racism enables plutocracy.

López and McGhee offer a handy sketch of how Sanders can make this connection:

This is the race story that Sanders and every progressive leader ought to be telling every time they step to a microphone. The reactionary economic agenda made possible by dog-whistle politics is responsible not just for the devaluing of black lives but for the declining fortunes of the majority of white families. College costs have soared because anti-government dog whistling has mainstreamed extreme cuts to state budgets. Union busting, which drives down wages and benefits for all workers, has become popular because the image of the union worker has been tarred: now not a white man in a hardhat but a black woman behind a bureaucrat’s counter. When conservatives vilify every modest public benefit, from healthcare subsidies to unemployment insurance, as handouts to the undeserving, the social contract is shredded for everyone. By exposing how the political manipulation of racial anxiety has hollowed out of the middle class, Sanders can elevate a simple message: When racism wins, everyone loses.

Pursuing this line of argument would require remarkable courage given the tremendous effort conservatives have made to using the chimera of “colorblindness” to paint any attempt to discuss race as discrimination against white people.

But for Sanders this kind of risk makes sense, given how much his candidacy depends winning over non-white voters.

Hillary Clinton too has sought to address the concerns of #BlackLivesMatter and has been extremely outspoken in what may be the “dog whistle” issue of our time — voting rights.

Given her husband’s history of appropriating conservative tropes and policies on crime and welfare (in the name accomplishing huge wins for progressives like expanding voter registration, reversing trickle-down economics, the Brady Bill, expanding health insurance and appointing Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court), she has a special obligation or opportunity to make the connection between the right to vote and blatant racial discrimination.

“The nationwide push to make it harder to vote began in earnest after the 2010 election, when Republicans gained control of an unprecedented number of states,” writes Ari Berman, author of essential book on the Voting Rights Act Give Us The Ballot. “Their goal was to make the electorate older, whiter and more conservative compared with the younger and more diverse electorate that turned out in record numbers for Barack Obama in 2008.”

Republicans argue that the laws are about “voting integrity,” which is obvious bullshit given that America has no history of elections being swung by voter impersonation but 200 years of history of denying people the vote.

If you don’t think it’s a “dog whistle” issue listen to the arguments they make against opponents of the laws, suggesting that people who don’t want to get ID are lazy or irresponsible, probably not even worthy of having the right to vote. They sound like the exact arguments mad in favor of poll taxes and literacy tests that denied black people the vote until the mid-sixties — because they are.

Does 94-year-old Rosanell Eaton sound lazy to you?

Berman explains:

Eaton, who is African American and grew up in the Jim Crow South, had to recite the preamble to the Constitution from memory to register to vote. She had been participating in elections for 70 years when North Carolina passed its strict voter ID law in 2013. Lawyers for the North Carolina NAACP played a videotaped deposition during the trial of Eaton recounting how the names on her driver’s license and voter registration card did not match. To get her paperwork in order, Eaton had to make 11 trips to different state agencies in 2015, totaling more than 200 miles and 20 hours.

In Texas, you can easily end up spending more to get voter ID than you would have on a poll tax.

“Given the Republican Party’s reliance on white voters and unpopularity among minority voters, it should come as no surprise that the leading GOP presidential contenders have all supported tough voting restrictions,” Berman wrote.

These laws are only pursued and only possible because of whom the discriminate against — voters Republicans would rather deny the vote than win over.

And who loses? Anyone who hopes the government will at least stop feeding power and wealth to those who need it the least.

The vilifying of non-white voters make the conservative movement possible. But until Democratic candidates boldly connect these policies to racism, the plight of minorities in America is trivialized and all of us suffer.

Non-white voters will decide this election and both candidates should start paying them the respect they deserve.