The 2012 presidential election is the most critical election of our lifetime. This election will determine the course of equality and justice in America for the next 25 years.
Some will argue that the economy, job losses, ending military wars, Obamacare, women’s health-care rights and same-sex marriage are the prevailing issues. This year’s election, however, is so vital because the next president will have the opportunity to appoint the next three to four Supreme Court justices. The Supreme Court will determine whether equality and justice moves forward or takes a tragic step backward.
Last week the United States Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in one of the two cases that will greatly impact equality and justice for America’s most disenfranchised communities. For instance, in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Supreme Court will decide if affirmative action will continue and whether the use of “race to level the playing field is still needed in America.
Nine years ago Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote the majority opinion for the Supremes in Grutter v. Bollinger, which upheld that race could be a factor that universities and colleges could use in order to increase student diversity on campus. While many held this as a victory for affirmative action, in 2006 the celebration quickly ended as conservatives, mostly Republicans, lobbied extensively and urged then President George W. Bush to replace O’Connor with Justice Samuel Alito. Both Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts are severely conservative and critics of race-conscious programs.
In 2007, in a case involving integration at the K–12 levels, Chief Justice Roberts argued: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” Hence, when President Bush appointed them in a matter of one year, conservatives began the drumbeat to overturn any and all decisions that benefitted those who have experienced the dark side of America’s past with slavery, Jim and Jane Crowism, classism and sexism.
Also critical before the Supreme Court in October is the case of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Since 2011, a total of 24 voting restrictions have been added to 17 states, resulting in a total of 30 states enacting voter ID laws. Although many states maintain that voter ID laws are needed to combat voter fraud, researchers have found little, if any, recent cases of such fraud in these states.
Despite the rhetoric, the voter ID laws are a form of suppressing our voice, progress, and community. Conservatives are implementing these laws to dispel the progression of civil rights and affirmative action. Their coalition is so strong that Kermit Roosevelt, a former clerk for Justice David Souter, recently stated that there is a strong possibility that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will “go down.” If Roosevelt is correct, then Supreme Court’s ruling in 2009 — when it granted some local governments more leeway in changing their election procedures — is a foreshadow of what is to come.
In sum, the oral arguments on affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are only the beginning of what may be the erosion of justice for the African American and other communities. If the Supreme Court becomes more conservative, then Vice President Joe Biden was right: “They gon’ put y’all back in chains!”
Whatever your disappointments are with President Barack Obama’s debate performance or his failure to mention Gov. Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment, they must be put aside for the weightier matters that will impact our community.
For me, this election is not only about the economy, jobs, military, or health care. It is about making sure that America keeps its promise to ensure that all citizens are treated equally and fairly under the United States Constitution. Affirmative action may not last forever, but it ought to last long enough to give African Americans and those who have long been disenfranchised equal footing.
Let’s remember that it was the Supreme Court’s decision to shape history through racial integration, charging us as “separate but equal” in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson. The Supreme Court also shifted our education system in the desegregation of schools in Brown v. Board of Education, and by enforcing equal opportunity for diverse students in society.
While the economy, military, and social issues are all valid, they should not overshadow the importance of the power of the Supreme Court. Make no mistake, we will be hugely impacted by the decisions that will be made by the present Supreme Court justices, as well as the decisions of future justices. The next president of the United States will either pave the way for a brighter future for our community, or will create more hurdles and reverse legal battles that we thought we had won.
Beloved, I cannot state it enough: This election is critical. If we do not vote for President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Nov. 6, our fight for justice and equality in America could all be reversed because we failed to exercise our right to vote. You have the power to keep America on a trajectory of moving forward!
As always, keep the faith.
The Rev. Kevin R. Johnson is senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church.
HOUSTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney drew jeers from Black voters Wednesday as he criticized President Barack Obama and pledged to repeal the Democrats' health care overhaul.
Romney told the annual meeting of the NAACP that backing him over the Democratic incumbent, who won their overwhelming support in 2008, is in the best interest of their families. He acknowledged his Republican Party doesn't have a perfect record on race relations, but pledged during a sometimes rocky speech that, if elected, he would work with Black leaders to put the country back to work.
"I am going to eliminate every non-essential, expensive program that I can find — and that includes Obamacare," Romney said, drawing his first boos of the day.
Romney stood motionless with a reserved expression for 15 seconds before noting a survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as support for his position. His rebuttal was greeted with silence.
Indeed, Romney at times found himself adjusting his prepared remarks — with its typically business-oriented language — for his audience and sounded like an instructor explaining policy. Once he noted the slow growth of the GDP, the Gross Domestic Product, only to quickly adjust by adding "the economy."
Romney received polite applause at several points during the speech. But he was interrupted again when he flatly accused Obama of failing to spark a more robust economic recovery.
"I know the president has said he will do those things. But he has not. He cannot. He will not. And his last four years in the White House prove it definitively," Romney said as the crowd's murmurs turned to louder groans.
Finally, he stopped amid loud jeers.
"If you want a president who will make things better in the African-American community, you are looking at him. You take a look," Romney shot back.
Romney, running against the nation's first Black president, isn't going to win the African American vote. But he made a pitch with a major speech that also was aimed at showing independent and swing voters that he's willing to reach out to diverse audiences — and demonstrating that his campaign and the Republican Party he leads are inclusive.
Looking to cut into Obama's support among African Americans, Romney called education the "civil rights issue of our era" and vowed to put Blacks back to work. Citing June labor reports, he noted that the 14.4 percent unemployment rate among Blacks is much higher than the 8.2 percent national average. Blacks tend to be unemployed longer and Black families have a lower median income, Romney said.
All told, it's a difficult sell — 95 percent of Blacks backed Obama in 2008. But Romney's speech aside, Republicans and Democrats say he's making a statement just by showing up and speaking to the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group.
"The first thing you need to do is show up, so I ultimately think he's doing the right thing," said Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., one of two Black Republicans in Congress. "What he's saying to everyone is that he's (running to become) America's president and not just those folks he thinks he can get votes from right now. I think that's a very important statement."
"You've got to get credit for showing up — for being willing to go — no question," said Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant who worked in the Clinton White House. "It's more about your actions than it is about what you say."
Obama spoke to the group during the 2008 campaign, as did his Republican opponent, Sen. John McCain. Obama doesn't plan to speak this year. Instead, Vice President Joe Biden will address the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Thursday. Obama is scheduled to address the National Urban League later this month.
Romney rarely speaks to predominantly Black audiences at political events. One exception was a May visit to a charter school in Philadelphia, where he cast fixing the education system as a way to help Blacks and other minorities.
In framing education as a civil rights issue, Romney is following in George W. Bush's footsteps. At a sweeping address to the NAACP in 2000, Bush, then the Republican presidential nominee, said the education system should "leave no child behind" and labeled the "soft bigotry of low expectations" as part of the problem facing Black students.
Romney has a personal history with civil rights issues. His father, George, spoke out against segregation in the 1960s and, as governor of Michigan, toured the state's inner cities as race riots wracked Detroit and other urban areas across the country. He went on to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development, where he pushed for housing reforms to help Blacks.
In recent months, Obama has approached race from an intensely personal perspective. After the shooting of unarmed Black teen Trayvon Martin in a Florida neighborhood — an act many Blacks saw as racially motivated — Obama spoke directly to Martin's parents from the Rose Garden. "If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," Obama said.
Diminished enthusiasm for the president following the economic downturn could dampen Black turnout, and that could make the difference in Southern states Obama won in 2008, particularly North Carolina and Virginia. -- (AP)
This is the last question most Black elected officials from Philly to Los Angeles wants to think about: In the event Republican nominee Mitt Romney wins the presidency, what’s the contingency plan?
But, it’s a question many inquiring minds want to know. How would the African-American political establishment respond to such a scenario? What makes the question that much more unique and somewhat problematic is that most Black elected officials on the local, state and federal level are highly active Democrats. And with 96 percent of registered African Americans voting for President Barack Obama in 2008 – and a comparable number predicted to do the same in 2012 – many observers quietly wonder what Republicans will owe to an Black population openly hostile to their policy portfolio.
“Black politicians are not prepared for an Obama defeat,” snaps University of Mississippi political scientist Marvin King. “Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare will begin in earnest. Not only will taxes not be raised on the wealthiest Americans, but cuts in programs for low-income workers will be swift and severe. Other than prayer, there would not be much the African-American political establishment could do to rebuff a Republican onslaught.”
The race for the White House, however, is still tight. Obama is riding high on a bubbling wave of enthusiasm from his stellar debate performance at Hofstra University last week. During the highly anticipated town hall-style contest, the president visibly regrouped from his admittedly poor showing in Denver.
Still, debates don’t win elections. It’s all about the ground game.
So far, even the most pro-Obama pollsters, analysts and strategists are cautious while setting an optimistic tone. No one wants to say outright that their man might lose; but, no one wants to say the other guy could clinch it.
As for African Americans, the stakes are much, much higher. With a recession that evaporated a quarter of the Black middle class, leaving a recovery unemployment rate of 15 percent, there is a clear air of nervousness surrounding that sort of scenario. If that happens, African Americans – and their elected officials -- will be surrounded by an unfriendly GOP president, a likely GOP-dominated House and the slimmest of Democratic majorities in the Senate. To whom would they turn?
“Blacks need to prepare a concerted strategy for either outcome,” argues Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie, author of “Who’s Black Politics? Cases in Post-Racial Black Leadership.” “While President Obama has quietly made some overtures to Blacks, most of what he’s done has been largely symbolic.”
“What we learned from the last four years is that Blacks cannot assume that their issues will be addressed just because the president is a sympathetic co-ethnic,” adds Gillespie.
That said, few in the Black political establishment are willing to entertain the question of a Romney win. Calls to leading organizations such as the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators went unanswered. Both represent large blocks of Black elected officials, the venerable CBC being the umbrella for 44 African-American members of Congress and the quietly powerful NBCSL representing over 640 Black state legislators nationwide.
Both organizations are overwhelmingly and unapologetically Democrat – which means their members are likely campaigning hard for their president and various hot button House and Senate races. No one wants to raise that question as a possibility.
“Why would the question even come up?” grilled a defensive aide.
Others were publicly testy - then offered to speak anonymously - out of fear there would be reprisals from Democratic Party leaders for what would be viewed as “jinxing it.”
“You know that’s the wrong thing to bring up at a time when our boy needs us focused,” growled one longtime elder politico with close connections to the Democratic Party. “I’d be surprised if anyone calls you back.”
But, some did. Much of it is generational, with older Black Democrats less willing to fathom the thought of a Romney presidency. But, many younger Black Democrats appear keen to a very complex and sophisticated political game in which hardball is a constant strategy, and where success hinges on the ability to build bridges rather than burn them – even if it means reaching out to the other side.
“You know how the CBC says it doesn’t have permanent friends, just permanent interests?” asks one respected strategist who requested an off-the-record conversation because of sensitive relationships with the White House and numerous lawmakers on Capitol Hill. “Well, if Romney were to win, that would definitely be put to the test.”
“A big part of the problem is that Congress must embrace its responsibility to pass legislation and good policy. That’s where the rubber meets the road,” said the strategist, troubled by the increasingly polarized climate in Washington and blaming it on extremes on both the left and right. “But, instead, there are very few ready to step out of the partisan line or walk across to the other side in any meaningful attempt at working together. I’m not convinced there is any receptiveness on either side of the aisle.”
“Black politicians, like the CBC, will be struggling to find their voice if Romney wins,” the strategist adds. “But, if they are really committed to Black people, really willing to work on their behalf, they will have to find a way.”
Hiram College political scientist Jason Johnson agrees, adding that they’ll need to be more cautious on Capitol Hill. But, they’ll also need to be aggressive - like their Tea Party counterparts. “The Congressional Black Caucus will be faced with the same issue they faced with Obama in 2010-2011. Obama wasn't responding to their policy requests, or at least not fast enough for some members. So they struck out and did it on their own with the jobs tour. Will they be willing to go a step further with Romney? Will they be willing to become the Tea Party of the left? Willing to scuttle any piece of legislation, even DEMOCRATIC legislation that they feel isn't meeting their constituent needs?”
The strategist agrees, admitting that Black politicians have not had a “what if” conversation, simply because many are preoccupied with long hours on the campaign trail. But it’s a conversation they will need to have at some point. “This thing called the Electoral College is very unpredictable. To not have a contingency plan is ill advised.”
Obamacare faced a tough crowd at the Supreme Court. But those tough, probing questions from Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s key swing voter, give defenders of the Affordable Care Act reasons to have hope.
It is always unwise to read too much into the questions the justices ask during arguments. But at this point, it seems likely that Obamacare’s fate will hinge on its least popular feature, according to polls: the individual mandate that requires the uninsured to buy health insurance of face a fine.
The issue pressed by Kennedy’s questions, in particular, was whether there is a “limiting principle” that will prevent the government from forcing us to buy other things that might be good for us — like, say, health club memberships or healthy vegetables like broccoli.
But as Kennedy’s tough questions persisted, Kennedy sounded increasingly like he was searching less for ammunition than for reassurance. Was he looking for holes in the administration’s argument in order to knock it down or help him prepare arguments in its defense?
It’s hard to believe Kennedy didn’t know the answers to his questions before he asked the. But if he found good enough reasons to support the law, he could possibly win the support of Chief Justice John Roberts, whose court would sound more credible with a 6-3 decision than a 5-4.
Justice Kennedy asked Solicitor General Donald Verrilli if he saw any limits on the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution, a clause that provides the main argument for the government to regulate health care. To be persuaded, Kennedy undoubtedly needed to hear a “yes” answer.
And he got it, although Verrilli unfortunately stumbled in ways that brought generally poor reviews from media analysts. That was unfortunate because, as unpopular as the mandate may be, the constitutional arguments in its favor are strong.
For one, there’s no question that health care falls under interstate commerce. If you have an accident while visiting another state, for example, your health insurance coverage follows you.
And the slippery slope “broccoli” argument, echoed by several conservative justices, echoed the talk-show rhetoric of the tea party extremists protesting outside the Supremes’ courthouse. But it is easily refuted. First of all, health care is not broccoli, as the Obama administration argued. We don’t all eat broccoli but virtually all of us use the health care system.
Yet when the healthcare market provides free hospital emergency room visits, among other examples, we all wind up having to pay for it in higher insurance and health care costs.
Besides, those who talk about Obamacare intruding into the health care market need to remember how much government already is in health care, especially with the very popular programs of Medicare and Medicaid. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out, Congress requires us to pay for Medicare or Social Security, even if we think we won’t need it.
Ironically, even the court’s conservatives indicated no hint of a constitutional objection to a single-payer plan, in which the government provided insurance as it does with Medicare. However, as anyone who remembers the prolonged debate knows, congressional Republicans would not even go along with a tax, let alone a mandate — even though the mandate idea originated with the conservative Heritage Foundation in the late 1980s. Some leading Republicans who supported it then now oppose it, now that Obama has proposed it.
There’s an irony: The same democratic process that produced Obamacare provides the best “limiting principle” now. We may see that demonstrated once again, if the high court sends Obamacare back to Congress. If so, history might repeat itself.
But who knows? By the time the high court decides, I expect support for Obamacare to have grown, once the public can get past the mandate and focus on its more popular features.
E-mail Clarence Page at cpage(at)tribune.com.
As a major insurer, Independence Blue Cross is gearing up to play a major role in the country’s healthcare reform.
During a meeting with The Tribune editorial board, IBC President and CEO Daniel J. Hilferty addressed the company’s role in extending healthcare coverage due to the Affordable Care Act.
In March 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law which put comprehensive health insurance reforms in place.
Under the new law, most individuals who can afford it will be required to obtain basic health insurance coverage of pay a fee to help offset the costs of caring for the uninsured.
“This country needed health care reform. When 50 to 60 million Americans are without health insurance because they could not afford it or were accessing (care) through a clinic or through the emergency room, there needed to be a change,” Hilferty said.
“The Obama plan is the law of the land and we as a company are excited about implementing it. We see an opportunity, not only to bring folks who traditionally haven’t had access to care into care, but also to help people navigate their way through healthcare reform.”
Hilferty says majority of the costs associated with health care delivery are largely due to people accessing care through emergency rooms where the costs are higher.
“When you get everybody in an insured program, even though we’re paying more in taxes, you’ll have the ability to be better able to coordinate and manage the care of these individuals – get them in a patient-centered medical home with their own primary care physician. We’ll be able to increase the quality of care and drive down costs,” Hilferty said.
Under health reform, health insurers must pay a new premium tax in order to pay for many of the programs. According to Hilferty, IBC’s net tax rate will be 62 percent effective 2014.
This means that insurers like IBC will start charging some consumers more for coverage.
“There is going to be sticker shock because of all the costs that are associated with reform,” Hilferty said.
“Our biggest fear is that the backlash of these large premium increases will cause government - Congress and the president to say it’s time for a single-payer system,” he stated.
Under a single-payer system, a government run organization would collect all health care fees and pay out health care costs.
“So it’s in our best interests to (a) deliver a good product and (b) over a relatively short period of time, show that the cost burden is coming down,” Hilferty said, noting that approximately 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product is committed to healthcare costs.
Due to health reform, Hilferty says it is anticipated that chronically ill people will flock to the healthcare system, as opposed to younger, healthier individuals.
Coverage is expected to be extended to millions of Americans by the expansion of Medicaid and the development of a new health insurance marketplace.
Under the ACA, states are able to receive federal matching funds for covering some additional low-income individuals and families under Medicaid. Applicants who earn less than 133 percent of the federal poverty level – approximately $14,000 for an individual and $29,000 for a family of four – will be eligible to enroll in Medicaid.
Every state will have a new health insurance marketplace, also called an exchange, that makes it easier for residents to gain coverage. The state exchanges will help individuals find coverage that meets their specific needs. Open enrollment in the health insurance marketplace will begin on October 1.
Beginning in 2014, new tax credits will be available that will reduce the cost of private health insurance for individuals and families.
A report recently released by Families USA, a consumer healthcare advocacy organization, estimates that approximately 896,000 Pennsylvanians will be eligible for new premium tax credits in 2014.
IBC is a leading health insurer in Southeastern Pennsylvania serving almost seven million people nationwide, including two million in the region.