“This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. Senate rather than hung from a tree.”
That was Clarence Thomas in 1991, responding to accusations of sexual harassment during his Senate confirmation hearings to become a Supreme Court justice to replace Justice Thurgood Marshall.
I didn’t agree with Justice Thomas then, nor have I agreed with his judicial opinions since then, but his charge of racism against the Senate was a powerful, rhetorical tool which effectively shut down legitimate inquiry into the character of the man chosen by President George H.W. Bush to succeed Justice Marshall.
It’s been more than 20 years since those hearings and, since then, America appeared to have been moving forward on issues of race, culminating with the election of President Obama.
It was an illusion.
Race still matters. Race divides. The stately pillars holding up the porticos of white privilege still stand, and today plantation masters are banding together to reassert their authority.
Lack of character and honor, manipulations of truth and character assassination, all supported by unlimited funds empowered by Citizens United, distinguish today’s opposition to President Obama.
Harriet Beecher Stowe would return from the grave if she knew that Simon Legree had been resurrected to put uppity blacks back in their place, this time using the ballot box and intimidation rather than the whip.
The Right has opened two fronts against President Obama.
First, try and delegitimize him by attacking surrogates, preferably African Americans, and second, to disenfranchise the voters who had the nerve to put the uppity Obama in the White House in the first place.
Beyond the caricatures of President Obama, beyond the finger-wagging in his face and the cries of “You lie” at the State of the Union Address; beyond the effigies, and the cartoons of watermelon patches on the White House lawn, the 2012 Republican campaign appears to synergistically link the individual interests of conservatives, Republicans and Tea-Partiers, together with racists and bigots, each group with its own separate agenda, to the attempted disenfranchisement of the president.
In an atmosphere in which commentators feel free to say President Obama has a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture,” anything is permitted.
African-Americans like presidential advisor Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod of the Department of Agriculture have been pilloried by the right wing.
The 82nd attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, the first African American to hold that post, was found in contempt of the House of Representatives on charges that deliberately misrepresented the facts related to “Fast and Furious.”
Each was the target of character assassination. Each was African-American.
The real goal of the Republican Party is to defeat Obama — whatever the cost to America. Republicans appear to have decided that perhaps because they can’t get more voters to vote for them they should find a way to get fewer voters to cast their ballots for President Obama.
The Brennan Center for Justice has determined that “fraud by individual voters is both irrational and extremely rare, that many vivid anecdotes of purported voter fraud have been proven false or do not demonstrate fraud, that voter fraud is often conflated with other forms of election misconduct, that raising the unsubstantiated specter of mass voter fraud suits a particular policy agenda and that claims of voter fraud should be carefully tested before they become the basis for action.”
That has not stopped Republicans from creating new voting barriers.
Because, as the Brennan Center says, “voter fraud is essentially irrational,” it is not surprising to find so little of it happens. Fewer than 100 cases of fraud were considered after the 2008 election, out of the 130 million votes cast. Indeed, the Brennan Center, after analyzing several races determined that Americans are struck and killed by lightning about as often as voter fraud occurs.
That has not stopped Republicans.
Since the beginning of 2011, at least 180 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 41 states. Twenty-four laws and two executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states, and 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election. These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
These are the new ropes.
The Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach, claims that between 1997 and 2010, Kansas saw “221 cases of reported voter fraud” — out of 10 million votes! As not a single criminal conviction resulted from those reports, it is impossible to assess their legitimacy.
Blacks, Hispanics and the poor, along with the elderly and the young, are those least likely to have an approved form of government-issued ID and it is those voters that Republicans have targeted.
In Pennsylvania alone, the number of voters expected to be disenfranchised is greater than Obama’s winning 2008 margin.
That is no coincidence.
Finally, witness Mitt Romney’s cowardice.
I don’t care about his wealth and success. I disagree with him on both economic and foreign policy almost without exception; differences which I can express at the ballot box — if I can get there.
I do care that he hasn’t condemned the attempts to disenfranchise voters. I do care that he hasn’t had the courage to separate himself from “birthers,” from climate-change deniers and creationists. I care that he cares more about winning than he cares about truth. I care that he used his speech to the NAACP as a means to affirm his affinity with white voters rather than try to heal or build bridges, or to bring all Americans together.
I care that high-tech lynchings, so decried by Clarence Thomas in 1991, have become political weapons of disenfranchisement that threaten to return America to its dark Jim Crow days, and away from the promise of America, where, “All men are created equal.”
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.