Justice slowly returns after the reign of John 'Minorities Die First' Tanner, and under a new Administration
The BRAD BLOG is happy to have played an important role...
By Brad Friedman on 1/11/2010, 11:29am PT  

While criticism of Obama and Democrats is as easy as it is appropriate (as well as frequently engaged in here), their failures on the marquee items --- Afghanistan, health care, torture accountability, etc., ya know, the items Fox "News" and the other wingnuts like to talk about --- tend to obscure the very real differences between the current administration and the former one across a broader, and much less sexy (by cable news standards), level. That's just one of the reasons I reject the far too lazy "Democrats are just the same as Republicans" knee-jerkisms.

While on the big ticket items, as noted above, there is far less difference in real world results than all of us would like, but below the radar, in executive departments and policies, the difference has been, at times, and in some areas, like night and day.

Desi Doyen and I have made this point on a number of occasions in our Green News Reports --- most recently in last Thursday's edition, highlighting new, important and aggressive policy changes and initiatives at the EPA, federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Dept. of Interior.

Now, some important changes at the DoJ's Civil Rights Division, and of particular note to long time readers of The BRAD BLOG, its Voting Rights Division, are beginning to show real change and significantly for the better, whether you hear about it on Fox and CNN and MSNBC or not.

Adam Serwer of The American Prospect highlighted some of that positive change late last week on the heels of an upheaval at the DoJ's Voting Rights Division over which The BRAD BLOG played a very direct and significant role in 2007....

Serwer updates the story of the vast differences between the division under the formerly extraordinarily politicized Bush/wingnut management, and the palatable sense of relief in the department now that it's over. His story begins this way:

Sometime during Christmas week, Christopher Coates, the chief of the Voting Rights Section of the Justice Department, was quietly reassigned to an 18-month detail in the U.S. attorney's office in Charleston, South Carolina. Coates, a longtime career attorney in the Civil Rights Division, became head of the Voting Section in 2007. The previous head, John Tanner, left in 2007 in the midst of an uproar over racially inflammatory remarks.

We'll take this opportunity for a small victory lap and, and to offer another hat-tip to The BRAD BLOG's own Alan Breslauer, whose astute exclusive videography captured what would be John "Minorities Die First" Tanner's ultimate downfall.

In remarks at the 2007 National Latino Congresso in Los Angeles, Tanner responded to a question about his decision to allow disenfranchising Photo ID polling place restrictions in Georgia --- despite staffer recommendations against it --- by saying that it was a "shame" that some elderly voters would, in fact, be disenfranchised by the restrictions he'd approved on behalf of the DoJ, but that minorities didn't need to worry because they "don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first."

See the most noteworthy/objectionable section of Tanner's infamous comments in the video above right, which led to extremely contentious Congressional hearings, condemnations from politicians such as then-Sen. Barack Obama, Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Sen. Ted Kennedy, a call from the DNC for his "immediate firing", a rather pathetic apology, and then Tanner's eventual resignation from the post.

The result, as Serwer described it at The Prospect on Friday: "the racially hostile atmosphere --- and for the most part, the politicization of the section --- that had existed during the Bush administration dissipated with John Tanner's departure."

We're extremely proud to have a hand in that, given Tanner's key role both in disenfranchising voters in Georgia, as well as his part in whitewashing the 2005 investigation of massive fraud in the 2004 Presidential Election in Ohio.

See the Prospect piece for the complete, and rather encouraging update on other signs of positive turnaround at the Voting Section under Obama, including details of one incredibly bizarre incident at the recent going-away luncheon for one the last senior Bush Administration holdouts in the division!

And, by the way, for those wondering what happened to the good (and, often fearless --- see his classic exclusive video moment with Karl Rove for evidence of that fearlessness here) Mr. Breslauer, he now works for a member of the LA Board of Supervisors, though we hope some day for his return here!

While criticism of Obama is perfectly apt (and wholly necessary), it's important to balance those critiques with an acknowledgment, at least, of the fact that no, Democratic administrations, for all their maddeningly many faults, are not "just the same as Republican administrations", at least on the level of many executive agencies where real policy is set and enforced, and can affect the daily lives --- and Constitutional rights --- of millions of Americans.

There is much work still to be done, clearly, even at the DoJ's Voting Section (and many others!), but for those who give a damn about things like the air we breathe and democracy, the real differences between today's Republicans and today's Democrats are also very important keep in mind as we move forward...or, at least, try to...

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