WASHINGTON — Progressives are remarkably uninterested in progress. Social Security is 78 years old and myriad social improvements have added 17 years to life expectancy since 1935, yet progressives insist the program remain frozen, like a fly in amber. Medicare is 48 years old and the competence and role of medicine have been transformed since 1965, yet progressives cling to Medicare “as we know it.” And they say the Voting Rights Act, another 48-year-old, must remain unchanged, despite dramatic improvements in race relations.
The question concerning which the Supreme Court heard oral arguments last Wednesday was whether Section 5 of the VRA is still constitutional, given the disappearance of the conditions that once made it acceptable as a temporary and emergency truncation of states’ sovereignty under federalism. In 2008, two years after the fourth renewal of the act, Barack Obama won a higher percentage of the white vote than did Al Gore and John Kerry in 2000 and 2004, respectively. Today Mississippi has more black elected officials — not more per capita, more — than any other state. Yet defenders of the continuing necessity of Section 5 merely shrug about the fact that race is no longer a barrier to either the nation’s highest office or to state and local offices in what once was the state most emblematic of resistance to racial equality.