This opens a fascinating inquiry. Is it unethical for a state to appear stupid? Is appearing to be unethical inherently stupid? If something looks incredibly unethical but is really just stupid, then is it unethical anyway?
Welcome to Alabama.
Alabama is in a dire budget crisis and must cut state services. So this week it announced that 31 satellite state Motor Vehicle Division offices would no longer have access to driver’s license examiners as a result of the cuts. Alabama added a controversial voter photo-ID law last year, and opponents who argue, like the Obama Dept. of Justice, that the idea of making sure that voters are who they say they are is part of a plot to deny the vote to African Americans could not have asked for a smokier gun. Of the ten Alabama counties with the highest percentage of non-white registered voters—Macon, Greene, Sumter, Lowndes, Bullock, Perry, Wilcox, Dallas, Hale, and Montgomery, according to the Alabama Secretary of State’s office—Alabama is closing driver license bureaus in eight of them. Every county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see satellite DMVs closed.
If Alabama was looking for a way to validate the “disparate impact” principle where a state can be found to be racist by the impact of its actions whether or not there was racist intent, it could not have done better. If it was trying to give ammunition to those who have argued that the Supreme Court “gutted” the Civil Rights Act when it ruled that the 1965 criteria that allowed the Justice Department to assume racism when an old Confederacy state was involved was out of date, and either new data had to be used or states with Stephen Foster songs as their State anthems were going to have to be treated like all the other states and allowed to govern themselves, it could not have been more effective.
“Make IDs essential to vote, then make it harder for blacks to get drivers licenses! What an ingenious plan! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Nobody’s going to see through that!
Or was it:
“Well, gotta cut somewhere—hey, lets; close the DMVs in these counties I just hit with those darts. What? Oh, who cares what the demographics are…we aren’t trying to target anyone…everyone knows that Alabama has a history of being fair and just! Want to go out back and juggle chain saws with me?”
What a conundrum. Stupid? Unethical? Stupid and unethical? So obviously unethical that it’s self-destructively stupid? So stupid that it is unethical for anyone that handicapped to be placed in a position of influence?
I read articles all over the internet by pundits writing “See? See? We told you IDs were a racist plot!” I was sent links to the decision by readers.
Guess what? Alabama had thought about the ID problem, and was prepared to deal with it, or think they are. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill announced, a day after the shift hit the fan,
“All 67 counties in Alabama have a Board of Registrars that issue photo voter I.D. cards. If, for some reason, those citizens are not able to make it to the Board of Registrars, we’ll bring our mobile I.D. van and crew to that county. By Oct. 31, our office will have brought the mobile I.D. van to every county in Alabama at least once.”
But it doesn’t matter! What matters is what people think is happening. All the news outlets trumpeted the “racist’ cuts and reinforced the impression that voter suppression is going on just like Eric Holder claimed, just like the Congressional Black Congress keeps telling their constituents, just as Hillary and Bernie keep insisting to scare up votes from Obama’s “base.” How many of them publicized the “Oh, did we forget to mention this? Oopsie!” message? Almost none.
The appearance of racism for a day or two is enough. It is unethical…or stupid….for Alabama to act as if its ugly history doesn’t exist, especially since its actions will be attributed to more than just Alabama, because the race card is now a weapon that will be deployed at any provocation, real or imagined.
So which is it? Unethical or stupid?
The answer is unethical and stupid.
Pointers: Too many to mention.