Despite rumors that House Republican leadership would skip the 50th anniversary of Selma, several Republicans showed up to commemorate the historic civil rights march. They missed the point so completely, that they might as well have stayed home.
Fifty-years ago, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, state troopers and a posse of white men met civil rights marchers on their way from Selma to Montgomery, to protest voting discrimination against African-Americans, and attacked them with billy clubs and tear gas. Images of the event that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday,” appeared on television, and in newspapers and magazines across the country, and around the world.
Fifty years later, Barack Obama — America’s first African-American president — would address the country from that same bridge, walk across it with several surviving Selma marchers, and celebration of the progress made since “Bloody Sunday.” And Republican leadership would miss it.
Rep. McCarthy, along with two dozen congressional Republicans decided not to miss the 50th anniversary of Selma, but while there they ignored the message of Selma. In one of the best speeches of his presidency, Barack Obama — as New York Times columnist Charles Blow described it — would “bend the past around so it pointed toward the future,” and honor the heroes of 50 years ago, while invigorating activists to rise to today’s challenges.
Blow noted that Shelby County, which launched the suit against the Department of Justice that the Supreme Court used to gut the Voting Rights Act. The president addressed current threats to voting rights head-on.
Republicans didn’t exactly rise to the occasion:
As the sole member of the House GOP leadership in Selma, Rep. Kevin McCarthy side-stepped the idea of restoring the Voting Rights Act. “There’s always different ways to solve a problem. But I think there’s always things we should look at,” McCarthy said. As far as Rep. McCarthy was concerned, the fight for voting rights was history. “I think today is celebrating what those did before us to make this nation better, and that’s what we’re all looking for,” McCarthy said.
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R, Alabama) said he agreed with the court that the Voting Rights Act had achieved its purpose, and voting discrimination was relegated to the dustbin of history. “I don’t think that the Supreme Court ruling has damaged voting rights in any real way,” Sessions said.
Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel complained that President Obama spoiled his speech with, “this argument that there’s still a big problem because of voter ID laws across the country,” which Strassel said is “simply not true.”
As Isaiah J. Poole wrote last week, 22 states have passed voting restrictions. Seven of the eleven states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008 put new voting restrictions in place.
Rev. William Barber wrote that voting restrictions in North Carolina not only require a government-issued photo ID, but also cut back early voting and Sunday voting, eliminated same-day registration, and pre-registration, and out-of-precinct voting.