U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, continues to campaign for Congress to restore many election monitoring powers to the federal government that a Supreme Court decision effectively stripped when it struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act in June. The ruling did not forbid the federal government from subjecting certain jurisdictions to federal approval to make local voting changes, but it did strike down the criteria that the feds have used for nearly 50 years to determine which locales (mostly in the South) would be affected. Until Congress comes up with new criteria, no jurisdictions will be required to get federal approval for changes to their election procedures. “I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act as an effective tool to prevent discrimination, more so subtle discrimination now than overt discrimination,” the veteran Republican said in a speech to a Republican National Committee event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Sensenbrenner’s statement is notable for two reasons. First, he is straying from the GOP mantra that the greatest threat to elections is voter fraud, rather than voter disenfranchisement. Although Sensenbrenner supports Voter ID requirements, which Democrats criticize as disproportionately disenfranchising minority voters, Sensenbrenner is apparently not dismissing the notion that roadblocks to minority voting continue.
More broadly, it is highly unusual for a Republican to proclaim that discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities persists in the United States. If anything, conservatives often dismiss talk of discrimination from the left as baseless fear-mongering, and reject programs established to combat discrimination, such as Affirmative Action or the Voting Rights Act, as antiquated relics that exist only out of a sense of political correctness.
Days before Sensenbrenner’s comment about the dangers of subtle racism, conservative pundit Charles C.W. Cooke wrote a column for National Review, “The Subtlest Racism,” in which he blamed a manufactured hate crime at Oberlin College on a premise of progressive ideology that America is a deeply racist nation.
“The progressive insistence that America remains a deeply racist nation occasionally takes on an air of desperation, transmuting itself in its more difficult moments into the perverse, almost infantile, asseveration that if America is not sinful, it should be,” he wrote.