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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2000 / 14 Kislev, 5761

John Leo

John Leo
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Consumer Reports

Racial rhetoric conveniently ignores election facts -- WE ARE ONCE AGAIN in the midst of a great wave of overheated racial rhetoric. Jesse Jackson, of course, is out in front. Black voters didn't double-vote, mismark ballots or run into any normal election day foul-ups. No, they were victims of "a systematic plan to disenfranchise black voters" and "a clear pattern of voter suppression." Attempting to repair his relationship with Jews, Jackson identified three targets of ballot oppression: Holocaust survivors, Haitian boat people and American descendants of slaves.

Other black leaders seemed in no doubt that something had been intentionally perpetrated upon blacks. "African-American voters were disenfranchised -- period," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager, was quoted as saying that "in disproportionately black areas, people faced dogs, guns, and were required to have three forms of ID." The weird reference to dogs and guns obviously linked the Bush brothers with Bull Connor, Birmingham, Selma and the hard-core racism of the past.

This theme came up during the campaign too, thanks to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP's National Voter Fund ran ads on black radio stations saying that "There are many ways intimidation was, and still is, used to keep African-Americans from voting. Mobs, guns and Jim Crow. Ropes, dogs, lies and hoses."

The NAACP was also responsible for the TV ad that re-created the horrific dragging death of James Byrd and all but accused George W. Bush of the murder. This disgraceful ad, which had some of the tone of Nazi propaganda films about Jews, played a central role in undermining Bush's appeal to black voters. In Texas, Bush got 5 percent of black vote, compared with about 25 percent in his re-election campaign for governor.

More subtle attempts to connect Republicans with slavery and hatred popped up during the campaign, for example, Gore's sly comment associating Bush's desire for a "strict constructionist" Supreme Court with the Constitution's original language counting each black slave as three-fifths of a human being. Gore sounded a similar theme when he told a black audience, "(The Republicans) don't even want to count you in the census."

In countless post-election campaign rallies, Selma and Birmingham were invoked and "We shall overcome" was sung, making the unmissable point that more than "butterfly ballots" and local voting irregularities were at stake: It was a continuation of the civil rights struggle against the same racist forces. Even Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a major hero of the civil rights struggle, felt the emotional pull of this dubious theme. He wrote an article for Newsweek linking the Florida complaints with the violence of Selma.

Journalists of the left contributed their own over-the-top rhetoric. Two Village Voice reporters wrote that if Gore loses Florida, he should chalk it up "not to badly designed ballots, but to a centuries-old national system of labor, education and politics designed to keep African-Americans from rising above the legacy of chattel slavery."

As rhetoric like this takes hold, evidence that doesn't fit the conspiracy theory tends to be dismissed. USA Today reported on Dec. 8: "Though many real problems occurred, some of the most widely reported incidents on Election Day have turned out on closer inspection to be unfounded (yet) the allegations have taken on a life of their own, repeated endlessly by politicians and the media."

The newspaper reported that one allegedly intimidating "roadblock" near Tallahassee was a routine check for faulty auto equipment that stopped a total 150 drivers and gave 18 warnings or citations, six to minorities, 12 to whites. Another "roadblock" near Tampa turned out to be a police response to a burglary near a polling place in a black neighborhood. According to USA Today, one man was stopped for questioning, then sent on his way.

The mainstream media have not come up with hard evidence to support charges of a conspiracy against black voters. Yes, there was confusion, and the poorer counties tended to have the most outmoded voting equipment and the most voter errors.

The Washington Post reported that "one reason for the high rate of invalidated votes this election was the NAACP's massive get-out-the-vote effort in Florida, which brought many inexperienced or first-time voters to the polls." If an effort was under way to suppress the black vote, it clearly failed: 900,000 blacks voted in Florida, up 65 percent over the 1996 presidential election. That unexpectedly high total clearly strained the system, put pressure on officials and voters to move along quickly, and kept phone lines clogged when voter verification calls were needed.

But where is the evidence of Jackson's "systematic plan to disenfranchise black voters"? Charges like Jackson's do their damage without ever having to be proved. They have successfully blunted the appeal of the most racially inclusive Republican presidential nominee in recent history.

If the goal is to delegitimize a Bush presidency in the eyes of blacks, that may already have been accomplished, too. A Zogby-Reuters poll said that 60 percent of blacks who voted for Gore thought a Bush victory would be a stolen one. The long-term fallout, of course, will be even more racial polarization. But then Jackson and the NAACP probably knew that all along.

JWR contributor John Leo's latest book is Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police. Send your comments by clicking here.


12/05/00: Savage fantasy
11/27/00: Victims of the year get the recognition they deserve
11/20/00: It's a chad, chad, chad, chad world
11/13/00: The election rhetoric is running much too high
11/07/00: How yesterday's hero becomes tomorrow's heel
10/30/00: Would Bush's Supreme Court picks make a difference?
10/24/00: Yankees, go home!
10/17/00: Un-American activity?
10/10/00: A tempest in an ink pot
10/03/00: The Al Gore quiz
09/26/00: The sleeper effect
09/19/00: Baby-saving made easy
09/12/00: Line between reporting and editorializing continues to blur
09/05/00: In the key of F
08/29/00: Hollywood connection
08/22/00: Some friendly advice to the GOP
08/15/00: You can't make this up
08/08/00: The niceness strategy
08/01/00: When rules don't count
07/25/00: Anti-male bias increasingly pervades our culture
07/18/00: Banned in Boston
07/12/00: What Jacoby had to deal with!
07/11/00: Will boys be boys?
07/05/00: Partial-sense decision
06/27/00: Attitude toward death penalty gets in the way of facts
06/20/00: Double troubles
06/13/00: Fools paradise
06/06/00: Accidental conspirator
05/30/00: Faking the hate
05/23/00: Was it law or poetry?
05/16/00: Here, there and everywhere, people have gone bonkers
05/09/00: Tufts evangelicals are punished for acting on their beliefs
05/02/00: Elian's opera isn't over until nearly everyone sings
04/25/00: All the news that fits: The media serve up many stories from a standard script
04/19/00: Those darned readers: The gap between reporters and the general public is huge
04/05/00: Census sense and nonsense
03/29/00: Hollywood message films leave no room for other views
03/22/00: The Vatican confesses, but is it enough?
03/14/00: Watch what you say: The left can no longer be counted on to defend free speech
03/07/00: McCain's malleable messages
03/01/00: Bush's appearance at Bob Jones U. will dog him all the way
02/23/00: 'Multi-millionaire' show is new evidence we're insane

© 2000, John Leo