Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ad full of errors, and also full of it.

The National Black Republican Association is running an ad in Maryland (where black Republican Michael Steele is running for the U.S. Senate against Representative Ben Cardin.) The ad has a lot of Democrats riled, and it is because of a number of factual inaccuracies, although it does point out a few things which are true but not relevant to today's situation.

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (AP) -- A national black Republican group is running a radio advertisement accusing Democrats of starting the Ku Klux Klan and saying the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Republican, a claim challenged by civil-rights researchers.

Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, the black Republican nominee for Maryland's open Senate seat, disavowed the ad Thursday as "insulting to Marylanders." He said his campaign asked the Washington-based National Black Republican Association to stop running it....

The spot begins with one woman telling another, "Dr. King was a real man. You know he was a Republican."

Steve Klein, a senior researcher with the Atlanta-based King Center, said Thursday that King never endorsed candidates from either party.
"I think it's highly inaccurate to say he was a Republican because there's really no evidence," Klein said.

A King biographer, Taylor Branch, also said Thursday that King was nonpartisan.

In the ad, the woman goes on to say, "Democrats passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws. Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan." Her companion replies, "The Klan? White hoods and sheets?"

The KKK, never a political party, was a racist group of white men that started in the South after the Civil War, when Republicans were almost unheard of in former Confederate states. The mainstream Democratic Party never endorsed the Klan nor claimed to have founded it.

The first woman also says, "Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s. Democrats released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks."


First, let me address the factual errors here. Dr. King, who had to garner political support from whatever quarters he could get it, was in fact carefully nonpartisan. His whole philosophy of building a coalition to effect change through peaceful methods depended on not getting caught up in partisan political battles (which were as prevalent then as they are now) that ultimately had nothing to do with the goal for which he was striving.

That said, it is worth noting that nearly all of those who fought in the civil rights movement with him, have in fact become Democrats. In fact, it is interesting to note that the ad's authors waited until the death of the one person who could very clearly and authoritatively have refuted this claim, Coretta Scott King, before they came forward with it. If it was true, then why would no one have said so when Mrs. King was alive? Simple, because it is not true and she would have called them on it. In fact, if accuracy were their goal they could have named Jackie Robinson (also a civil rights icon) as having been a Republican and they would have been factually correct.

As far as the KKK, it was started by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (who was at the time officially banned from even participating in the American political process as were dozens of other high profile former Confederates).

Now I will say that the charge that Democrats fought against civil rights legislation from the 1860's to the 1960's is correct. And frankly, there have been times in our history when the Republican party was the more progressive party, most notably during Reconstruction. If I'd lived then I believe I would have been a Republican. However, corrupt barons of industry took over the Republican party after that (beginning during the Grant administration and pretty much had finished taking control by the time James A. Garfield was elected in 1880) and between 1880 and 1950, there was virtually no civil rights legislation at all, for anyone to either favor or oppose.

Then, in the 1950's an era of civil rights legislation began, and culminated (though not concluded) with the Voting Rights act of 1964. And yes, southern Democrats did oppose all of it.

But it got passed anyway. And what did the Southern Democrats do? Simple, they became Republicans. Starting with the Goldwater sweep of the deep south in 1964, and then continuing with Nixon's 'southern strategy' and on up to this day, people who had been voting Democrat for generations simply switched to the Republican party.

And Lyndon Johnson (who I still consider one of our worst Presidents for Vietnam) did one right thing, and he knew the price. He signed that voting rights act and when he did he said that the South would go Republican for the next thirty years. Other than the fact that he underestimated the time frame, he was right. And the most obdurate segregationists like Strom Thurmond? Many of them simply became Republicans right on the spot (though Thurmond had accepted integration by the end of his life, unlike his Senate colleague Jesse Helms who continued to play the race card as long as he was running for and serving in the Senate).

That is all history though. What about today's Democrats and today's Republicans? Very simple. Democrats recognize that the lingering effects of 400 years of slavery and 100 of institutional racism are still with us. Black people in general (not every one of them, but in general) earn less, have less opportunity and live in worse neighborhoods and their kids go to worse schools than most other Americans. Republicans simply refuse to even acknowlege that, let alone propose to do anything about it. Theirs is the philosophy of 'personal responsibility' run amok, suggesting that because it is technically possible that any individual could in theory become a billionaire if they work hard and have a little bit of luck, therefore it is OK to ignore the fact that things are unequal and they are unequal because of the lingering effects of the past.

Democrats have not delivered on much of what is needed for the African-American community either; and of course the promises made by our ancestors (forty acres and a mule) have never been honored, but at least Democrats have tried to deliver. Democrats favor spending the money that is needed to improve communities where a lot of poor people (who are disproportionately black) live, and favor affirmative action and other programs designed to help black people move up in the world.

From the article:

The ad asserts that "Democrats want to keep us poor while voting only Democrat".

Hmmmm.... It is true that black people, after making great economic strides upwards during the 1960's through the 1980's, have as a group largely stagnated and more of them are slipping back into poverty. Just one problem with the line of reasoning that this ad puts forward: Since blacks have quit moving upward and begun stagnating, who has been in control of government? In other words, even if Democrats did have such an agenda, we couldn't pass it because almost no Democratic written legislation ever gets out of this Congress. And if voters in Maryland elect Michael Steele, he will support the Senate GOP leadership, who will then continue to put forward the same kind of budgets and legislation that we have seen for the past decade. So if blacks are staying poor with the present leadership that we have, the answer is to change direction.

1 comment:

Mark Noonan said...

Well, it turns out that King was a Republican - which really is no surprise, most black Americans were Republican until the mid to late 1960s.

At any rate, Steele has disavowed the ad as it is generally unhelpful...he's on the cusp of victory and doesn't want to rile the system.