National Review's Rich Lowry: Fight For Civil Rights Is Over And “Won”

National Review editor Rich Lowry declared that the civil rights dream of the 1960s has been “won,” and thus assertions of ongoing discrimination are “imagined slights and manufactured controversies,” a claim that dismisses the current reality of economic inequality and voting rights struggles.

August 28 marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s March on Washington, an event dedicated to calling for civil and economic rights for African-Americans. It was there in 1963 that Dr. King delivered his famous "I Have A Dream" speech, and the events helped bring about enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act.  For the anniversary celebration, tens of thousands gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to hear President Obama and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) - a speaker at the 1963 march - give remarks.

In a Politico op-ed the next day, National Review editor Rich Lowry used the anniversary celebration as a vehicle to criticize today's civil rights movement as “an intellectually exhausted disgrace” with leaders who are a “degeneration” to the original effort. This is because, according to Lowry, Dr. King's dream “was a glorious triumph” and the fight for equal rights “is won,” while today's movement “subsists largely on imagined slights and manufactured controversies unrelated to the welfare of real people.”

As evidence of these “manufactured controversies,” Lowry mocked the notion that recent voter ID laws are discriminatory and declared: “What the contemporary civil rights establishment can't bring itself to acknowledge is that cultural breakdown has more to do with the struggles of blacks than any officially sanctioned discrimination.” He also ignored the continuing problem of economic inequality between whites and African-Americans.

Lowry's dismissal of the discriminatory nature of voter ID laws is illustrative of falsehoods he's pushed in the past.  At least 11 percent of American citizens do not possess a government issued photo ID, and the percentage of African-Americans without a photo ID is even higher - one study estimated the number at 25 percent.  Even if a state purports to issue an ID for “free,” there are costs associated with obtaining one that amount to a poll tax. As the Brennan Center for Justice determined, voter ID laws “create more burdens for minority citizens.”

What's more, the ongoing struggle for equal voting rights soundly debunks Lowry's assertion that civil rights issues are a problem of the past.  The recent spate of Republican state legislatures passing other voting restrictions, such as eliminating several early voting days, same-day registration, and “out-of-precinct” voting, also disproportionately impact minorities. Just this summer, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965, invalidating the provision within the monumental civil rights law that prevents states and local jurisdictions from enacting racially discriminatory election practices.

Rep. Lewis, a veteran of the voting rights struggles who was the victim of brutal violence due to his activism, referenced the Court's VRA decision during the March's 50th anniversary celebration,saying, “I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama, for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us ... We must say to the Congress, fix the Voting Rights Act.”

And rather than acknowledging pervasive economic inequality between African-Americans and white Americans, Lowry instead focuses his argument on what he calls “cultural breakdown.” 

Despite having dropped since 1960, the poverty rate for African-Americans is still double that for white Americans, the New York Times reported. The paper added, “Many experts consider the wealth gap to be more pernicious than the income gap, as it perpetuates from generation to generation and has a powerful effect on economic security and mobility.” CNN reported that as of 2010, white Americans were worth as much as 22 times more than African-Americans.

African-Americans also experience double the unemployment rate than whites. This gap has persisted since 1963, The Washington Post noted, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute: “Back then, the unemployment rate was 5 percent for whites and 10.9 percent for blacks. Today, it's 6.6 percent for whites and 12.6 percent for blacks”: