90,000 Americans are dead.
1,400,000 confirmed U.S. cases.
36,000,000+ unemployment claims filed.
— CAP Action (@CAPAction) May 18, 2020
The Washington Post did an anodyne and extremely predictable beat-sweetener on “The Power of Stacey Abrams” last week, and it completely unhinged that portion of the Very Serious Commentariat which would predictably come unhinged at the very possibility that a voting-rights activist might be getting serious attention. Give Jen Rubin her due, she can hear the dog whistles:
There is now a whole genre of right-wing punditry declaring, in hysterical and angry tones, that Stacey Abrams would be the worst pick in the history of vice-presidential picks. No, really. The people who defend their vote for President Trump, who support the most unqualified Cabinet in history and who think political experience is overrated now see a catastrophe if the former minority leader of the Georgia state House, the founder of Fair Fight and Fair Count and a rising star in the Democratic Party is picked as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee…
Why all the venom? Let’s begin with the assumption that it is perfectly reasonable to argue she is not the best VP choice or that her lack of national experience would weaken the ticket. But the anger, the determination to ignore her accomplishments (she did found a voting rights group, deliver a response to the State of the Union and hold the minority leader position in her state for more than half a decade), the resentment over her insistence on calling out voter suppression as the reason for her loss and feigned offense at her ambition (horrors!) smack of racism. I suggest the tone of these voices — How dare she?! — would be far different if, say, Pete Buttigieg or Beto O’Rourke were promoting themselves for the job.
Abrams has committed the cardinal sin for an African American woman in the eyes of the right: She will not accept the legitimacy of elections won through voter suppression, and she will not be appropriately docile and humble. Unfortunately, I fear that this is just the beginning of the thinly disguised racism that we will see should former vice president Joe Biden select an African American as his running mate…
Abrams’ political style is “Person Who Is Never Afraid to Demand What Her Constituents Need”, which puts her squarely in the camp of such political stars as Shirley Chisholm (“If they won’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”), Bella Abzug, and Ann Richards, among others. The current Democratic quest for Biden’s VP gives her a space to advocate for her goals, and she’s out there doing the work.
Some samples: From the AP, Q&A: Stacey Abrams is ready to serve but not on top court
… AP: The pandemic has elevated calls for mail voting. Can states make the changes necessary for that by November?
ABRAMS: No-excuse absentee balloting has to become the law of the land. It’s so critical that the next (pandemic response bill from Congress) include the $4 billion or $3.6 billion to help every state scale (up their absentee mail balloting.) The reality is we cannot afford not to do this. We have no excuse not to comply and not to meet our responsibilities for democracy, and it’s absolutely possible if we scale it up.
AP: The president said recently that people “cheat” by mail voting. How do you compete with that given his platform?
ABRAMS: I would ask journalists to tell the truth, which is that voter fraud is almost nonexistent. Donald Trump voted by mail. It is actually the safest and most accessible way of voting. In 2017, Donald Trump convened a voter fraud task force. It was so impossible to prove rampant voter fraud that they disbanded the committee before they had to issue a report…
AP: Can you talk about black identity politics and what might seem to be a more accepting environment for “blackness” in politics today?
ABRAMS: Writ large, identity politics simply means I can see you, and I understand that there are barriers to your ability to access what is considered a general good.
I enter this space as a black woman with natural hair, who does not look like everyone else. That doesn’t diminish my capacity to be effective, but it heightens my responsibility to be vocal.
Going back to COVID-19, black people are dying at a higher rate here in Georgia: 32% of the population, 54% of the deaths. That’s directly tied to identity, and if we do not acknowledge it, we are never going to find the solutions to address it. And so I think identity politics is a necessary part of our politics, but it’s also not new.
This nation began with identity politics. White men who owned land were allowed to vote and no one else was. That is the most strident degree of identity politics I think you can imagine, and what makes America such an important country is that we evolve, we continue to expand who is a part of our narrative and who has access to leadership (and) access to opportunity.
AP: The bottom line for November – do you believe that 50 states will be able to put together a fair election, an accurate count of the public will?
ABRAMS: Yes, we can have a free and fair election if, one, we have federal investment in those state elections now. Because this is a matter not simply of will, but of capacity. What I want everyone to pay attention to is that as Democrats work to expand access to the right to vote for all Americans, Republicans are doing their level best to limit that access. Why would we want to limit access to our democracy? That should be a question every person asks.
From the NYTimes, Stacey Abrams Wants More Than the Vice Presidency:
… Traditionally, Democrats have sought a vice-presidential pick that appeals to swing voters, those suburban whites whose operative variable is not whether they show up to the polls, but whether they go blue or red upon arrival. Such a priority this year would elevate the appeal of a running mate like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.
But there is another, oft-overlooked slice of the electorate that Ms. Abrams argues is equally crucial to the party’s success, voters who grapple with a different binary: voting Democratic, or not voting at all.
“The focus on persuasion has often been trying to persuade someone to shift from their conservative ideology to a more moderate or liberal ideology,” Ms. Abrams said in an interview. “But for voters of color, it isn’t about shifting ideology — it’s persuading them that voting actually will have an effect.”
These other swing voters, oscillating between voting Democratic or not at all, are the Americans — largely racial minorities and young people — whom Ms. Abrams has devoted her career to reaching. As she explains it, there are overt voter suppression tactics, and then there is this more insidious thread, often unwittingly perpetuated by her own party, that tells this segment of swing voters that they are less worthy of courting…
Since 2018, Fair Fight, along with its nonprofit arm, Fair Fight Action, has raised millions of dollars and funded teams at state Democratic parties across the country. In 2019, for example, Fair Fight helped Kentucky Democrats file a lawsuit that restored to the rolls some 175,000 voters who had been purged by the Republican governor. And amid the pandemic, the organization has shifted its focus to the expansion of voting by mail.
Ms. Abrams stressed that these efforts can matter little if citizens do not buy into the act of voting itself — in other words, if the barrier to participation is not so much a law or policy but a belief that the system has never valued one’s voice to begin with…
And a coda, from Georgia native Ed Kilgore, at NYMag — If 2020 Doesn’t Make Stacey Abrams Veep, It Could Propel Her to the Governorship of Her State:
… Kemp, whose coronavirus policies have been nearly as ignorantly erratic as the president’s, is presently in the midst of an extremely perilous gamble wherein he is risking a fresh wave of coronavirus infections and deaths due to premature reopening of Georgia businesses that managed to earn a rebuke from Trump. A recent Cygnal survey of Georgians commissioned by a Republican rival showed Kemp with an approval/disapproval rating of 43/52; 54 percent of respondents gave a thumbs-down to his handling of the pandemic. Kemp’s appointee as U.S. senator, Kelly Loeffler, appointed in no small part to fund Republican-coordinated campaigns this year and in 2022 (when Loeffler, in the unlikely case she wins the November special election, would be up for a full term), has been a human dumpster fire politically, generating constant negative media coverage (fanned by Republican as well as Democratic opponents) for apparent conflicts of interest involving her and her husband’s vast wealth and stock holdings.
It’s a long way until 2022, but you have to say Brian Kemp, who ran an abrasive, borderline-racist campaign in 2018 as a “politically incorrect conservative” who enjoyed offending people, doesn’t have the sort of personality that would lift him to a second term absent a strong performance as governor. And his dubious handling of COVID-19 has given Abrams all sorts of opportunities to gain local and national attention, completely aside from her veep aspirations. She’s taken advantage of it, too…
The political landscape in 2022 will certainly depend on what happens this November; if Abrams’s party loses, with or without her on the ticket, she’ll have the consolation of the midterm advantage the “out party” normally enjoys. She’ll also have had some more time to joust with Kemp and other Georgia Republicans over voter-registration rolls and other familiar issues, and figure out how to improve on her excellent 2018 turnout operation.
Any way you look at it, the immediate future looks challenging for Georgia, and promising for the politician who may become the first woman and African-American to serve as its governor — unless she happens to be otherwise occupied in Washington.