Never one to shy away from racial issues, Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview with ABC News what many African-Americans and others have been thinking for a long time: The vehemence of President Obama’s opponents may be partly motivated by racism.
“There’s a certain level of vehemence, it seems to me, that’s directed at me [and] directed at the president,” Holder said, stating that he and Obama are treated differently than their predecessors. “You know, people talking about taking their country back. … There’s a certain racial component to this for some people. I don’t think this is the thing that is a main driver, but for some there’s a racial animus.”
This of course wasn’t the first time the attorney general has addressed race and racism. He has called Republican attempts to implement new voting laws race-based, and he famously called the U.S. a “nation of cowards” in 2009 for its unwillingness to confront racial issues.
“I wouldn’t walk away from that speech,” Holder told host George Stephanopolous in the ABC interview. “I think we are still a nation that is too afraid to confront racial issues,” rarely engaging “one another across the color line [to] talk about racial issues.”
The comments came in the context of Holder acknowledging that the nation has made progress on race, saying the country is in “a fundamentally better place than we were 50 years ago.”
“We’ve made lots of progress,” he said. “I sit here as the first African-American attorney general, serving the first African-American president of the United States. And that has to show that we have made a great deal of progress.
“But there’s still more we have to travel along this road so we get to the place that is consistent with our founding ideals,” he said.
In a recent profile on Politico.com, writer Glenn Thrush pondered why Holder has outlasted his critics inside the White House and seems immune to attacks from the outside. He suggested that it’s because of his close friendship with the president, one of Obama’s rare friendships that crosses work barriers.
“Holder has been willing to say the things Obama couldn’t or wouldn’t say about race,” Thrush wrote.
“He’s a race man,” Charles Ogletree, a longtime friend of Holder’s who taught and mentored Obama and his wife, Michelle, as Harvard Law School students in the 1980s, told Thrush. “He’s gone further and deeper into some issues of race than the White House would like, but I know he has the president’s well-wishes. It’s clear [Obama and Holder] believe in the same things.”
In the interview, Holder also went after former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who has called for Obama’s impeachment.
“She wasn’t a particularly good vice-presidential candidate. She’s an even worse judge of who ought to be impeached and why,” he said.
Holder was even willing to wade into another race-related Washington, D.C., controversy: the name of the Redskins football team.
“I think the name ought to be changed,” said Holder, a long-time Washington resident. “I think it is an offensive name. And the Redskins are … a team with a storied history that has huge amounts of support in Washington, D.C. And I think in the 21st century, they could increase their fan base, increase their level of support if they did something that is so, from my perspective, so obviously right.”
Holder made clear why he is opposed to Republican efforts to make voting more difficult in many states. He said his Justice Department will soon be filing challenges to restrictive voting laws in Ohio and Wisconsin, just as Justice has already done in Texas and North Carolina.
“Who is disproportionately impacted by them? Young people, African-Americans, Hispanics, older people, people who, for whatever reason, aren’t necessarily supportive of the Republican Party,” Holder said, noting that “this notion that there is widespread in-person voter fraud is simply belied by the facts.”
“I’m attorney general of the United States. I will not stand for — I will not allow people to take away that which people gave their lives to give, and that is the ability for the American people to vote,” Holder said.