There’s a lot of silliness in this Politico piece reporting that Republicans (and one anonymous Democrat) would like Debbie Wasserman Schultz to be less strident in criticizing them. It’s worth noting that whereas Republican Chairman Michael Steele took hits in the media for criticizing Republicans, Democratic Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz is now taking hits for…criticizing Republicans. But what’s most pernicious in Molly Ball’s article is its selective memory about Jim Crow:
The congresswoman’s latest blunder came Sunday, when she said on television that Republicans “want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally — and very transparently — block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates.”
The equating of state legislatures’ efforts to require voters to show identification with laws that required separate schools and water fountains raised hackles, particularly in racially sensitive Democratic circles, prompting a quasi-retraction from Wasserman Schultz.
This raises the perennial question: Is it better to be obtuse intentionally or unintentionally?
Ball seems to think invoking state segregation is enough to make Wasserman Schultz’s comparison of contemporary GOP voter disenfranchisement efforts to Jim Crow seem ridiculous. (I tried and failed to find an example of criticism of Wasserman Schultz’s comments from “racially sensitive Democratic circles). She could do her readers a favor by describing what Jim Crow was.
Yes, the Jim Crow system included explicit racial discrimination imposed or allowed by state and federal government. But – as Wasserman Schultz alludes to – that discrimination was maintained by a regime of voter disenfranchisement that systematically denied the political rights of African-Americans through laws that never needed to mention race, including poll taxes and literacy tests. As historian Aldon Morris has written, Jim Crow was “a tripartite system of domination because it was designed to control Blacks politically and socially, and to exploit them economically.” Then, as now, some conservatives were very creative about finding ways to stop people from voting who were unlikely to vote for them.
Historical analogies are inherently fraught, and reasonable people can disagree about whether the similarities are strong enough to justify the comparison. And when Wasserman Schultz revised her original statement, she made it that much easier for reporters to label it a blunder. But Ball’s casual dismissal any analogy to America’s history of racial apartheid that lacks a sign saying “No Negroes Need Apply” typifies the cramped views of the Civil Rights struggle in our current conversation.