“Before I turn to President Biden’s historic failure to protect voting rights, a couple of stipulations must be made.
First, the No. 1 enemy to our democracy at this point is the Republican Party. It is Republicans at the state level who are proposing and passing regressive voting laws that will disenfranchise primarily voters of color and disempower local election boards. And it is Republicans in Congress who refuse to help defend voting rights. They want a different electorate, less Black and more beige.
Second, the president is not a member of Congress. He has no vote there. He can’t single-handedly alter any congressional policy beyond the veto.
Yet for all that, it is still important to recognize that Biden has consciously chosen not to use the full force of the bully pulpit to explicitly and repeatedly call for the protection of voting rights — and therefore our democracy — by any and all means necessary, including the elimination of the filibuster.
Biden has a vision of what he wants his legacy to be: the builder, not necessarily the defender. He wants to be the one passing out checks, not the one sticking out his neck. This was on full, contemptible display at a town hall with the president hosted by CNN on Wednesday.
Don Lemon, the moderator, asked Biden, “Why is protecting the filibuster — is that more important than protecting voting rights, especially for people who fought and died for that?”
Biden said that it wasn’t and that he wanted to see voting rights legislation passed, but then said:
“What I don’t want to do is get wrapped up, right now, in the argument of whether or not this is all about the filibuster or — look, the American public, you can’t stop them from voting. You tried last time. More people voted last time than at any time in American history, in the middle of the worst pandemic in American history. More people did.”
This is patently false. You absolutely can stop people from voting. We have seen this over and over again throughout American history. And, these laws won’t harm all Americans. They’ll harm minorities in America. They are aimed at liberal cities where the populations are often heavily Black and Latino.
Biden is basically saying here what Black America has heard forever: No matter how high they make the hill, your only choice is to climb it. I applaud your ascension. My God, aren’t your legs strong.
Black people are eternally disgusted that they always get the hill and others don’t. There is nothing glorious in Black people waiting hours in line to vote, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning, while people in whiter precincts breeze in and out. This is wrong. This is outrageous. This is a time tax. Don’t pat us on the head; take us down the hill.
Lemon later asked Biden about the filibuster: “If it’s a relic of Jim Crow, it’s been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?”
Biden responded, “There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done.” What?! Getting rid of it to protect Black people’s ballot access is getting something done. Something enormous.
But Biden is focused on the other elements of his agenda, the ones he tied himself to before the wave of voter suppression became clear.
“For example, wouldn’t my friends on the other side love to have a debate about the filibuster instead of passing the recovery act?” he continued at the town hall. “Or wouldn’t they love doing it instead of being in a position where we provide for — how many of you have children under the age of 17? Raise your hand. Guess what? You’re getting a lot of money in a monthly check now, aren’t you?”
Biden wants to be the Robin Hood of the working class, a swashbuckling blue-collar savior. He wants to go down in history as the president who rebuilt America. In that grand vision, risking it all to save voting access for Black people comes up short. It’s a nuisance, a horrible inconvenience.
Black people gave all to save Joe Biden’s candidacy, but Joe Biden refused to give all to protect their right to vote. Reciprocity is not compulsory.
If Joe Biden clearly, forcefully and repeatedly demanded that the filibuster be scrapped to defend voting rights, it still might not be axed. But Black people like me need to see you go down fighting rather than avoid the fight or grudgingly enter it.
Biden wants to make history with his agenda, but history is already being made by Republicans with this extraordinary voter suppression push.
During Biden’s victory speech, he said to his Black supporters, “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.” I’m sorry Mr. President, but that statement rings hollow because in Black people’s greatest time of need, you’re more concerned about roads than rights.“