In what may have been his most important speech in some time, President Obama spoke on the issue of GOP voter suppression as the keynote speaker at a meeting of Rev. Al Sharpton's voter action group, the National Action Network. He pulled no punches either, ripping into Republicans over making voting harder for no benefit other than to themselves.
“The real voter fraud is people who try to deny our rights by making bogus arguments about voter fraud,” Obama said, in a speech to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in New York — an organization that he said should serve as a national model for organizing people around voting, led by a man who deserved “a big round of applause.”
The voting rights argument is a key element of the White House’s strategy to have the president focus on boosting base turnout for the midterms, especially among core Obama voters.
“There are well-organized and well-funded efforts to undo [the] gains” of the civil rights movement, Obama told the largely African-American crowd. “Just as inequality feeds on justice, opportunity requires justice, and justice requires the right to vote.”
Democrats face a different landscape than they did in 2012, when they had the benefits of running against new voting laws that were being challenged in court without having to worry as much about their voters actually being blocked.
The laws are on the books. Obama isn’t on the ballot. And the party needs an issue that can rile up the base, raise money from the grassroots, rally volunteers and form a rhetorical entry point to a larger argument about how Republican policies are hurting the constituencies most threatened by voting restrictions.
“The right to vote — what kind of political platform is that? Why would you make that a part of your agenda, preventing people from voting? How can you defend that?” Obama said. “This recent effort to restrict the vote has not been led by both parties. It’s being led by the Republican Party.”
That last paragraph there is the best case yet anyone in this administration has put forth as to what the true nature of the GOP voter ID effort really is: voter suppression in order to lower turnout of traditionally Democratic voting groups. For President Obama to publicly acknowledge this and then publicly rebuke the GOP for doing it (he later recounted the whole birther nonsense and had a good laugh along with the audience) was not only necessary but vital to our voting system.
Long-time readers will know that I harp on voting and voting rights weekly in this space. There's a reason for that. It's literally the last gasp of the current Republican party, the last weapon they have in order to stay in power. They talk of "outreach" and "reconciliation" with minority groups, particularly black and Latino voters, and then make it harder for all voters to vote in a way that falls most on the shoulders of voters of color.
So to hear the President call the GOP out on this is nothing short of historic. We need to make sure that we exercise that vote, so the people trying to take that right away do not gain more political power.
Here's the video of the speech: