Obama: GOP wants to stop Democrats from voting
By: Edward-Isaac Dovere
April 11, 2014 05:55 PM EDT
President Barack Obama struck hard at restrictive voting rights laws Friday, calling them a Republican political tactic conceived to address a made-up problem.
“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.”
As Obama did Thursday in Austin in a speech commemorating the anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, he directly linked the struggle of African-Americans in the 1960s to the battle against voting laws today.
The crowd applauded — and laughed along with him when he joked about some states’ identification requirements: “Just to be clear, I know where my birth certificate is. But a lot of people don’t.”
“We’ve got to be vigilant to secure the gains we made, but also to secure more gains in the future,” Obama said, calling the right to vote “under particular assault right now.”
Lingering on an implicitly African-American experience of early voting, Obama said, “I know it’s better going to the polls on Sunday — because you go to church, get a little meal, you’ve got the bus waiting for you. I understand, but you can do it without that if we have to.”
Obama did not announce any new policy, but did say that he was fully supportive of the efforts by Attorney General Eric Holder — who addressed the convention Wednesday, speaking about the priority he’s placed on voting rights cases.
“There’s a reason the agency he runs is called the Department of Justice,” Obama said.
The president spoke about his own experience registering people to vote as a young community organizer in Chicago, and he reflected how, in a period where many 50th anniversaries of the civil rights movement are being celebrated, he himself is 52 years old.
“The progression we’ve made is my own life,” he said.