GAINESVILLE, Florida — Last week, former presidents and dignitaries celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which bans many forms of employment discrimination and whites-only lunch counters, among other things. This week, a Republican congressman declared that he’s not sure if the Civil Rights Act is even constitutional.
Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), a freshman congressman aligned with the Tea Party, held a town hall Monday evening in Gainesville where he fielded a wide range of questions from constituents. One such voter was Melvin Flournoy, a 57-year-old African American from Gainesville, who asked Yoho whether he believes the Civil Rights Act is constitutional.
The easy answer in this case — “yes” — has the benefit of also being correct. But Yoho found the question surprisingly difficult.
“Is it constitutional, the Civil Rights Act?” Yoho repeated before giving his reply: “I wish I could answer that 100 percent.” The Florida Republican then went on to strongly imply it may be unconstitutional: “I know a lot of things that were passed are not constitutional, but I know it’s the law of the land.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a moment when America took decisive action to reverse the legacy of slavery. And a warning that the American right wing is working hard to roll back that progress. We must remain vigilant.
On @msnbc, Julian Bond says several Republican leaders were invited to speak at the march today but declined.
March on Washington Organizers Look Back
Rand Paul, who opposes the Civil Rights Act and defended a white supremacist staffer who wrote an article titled “John Wilkes Booth Was Right,” is reaching out to the African American community again by stating, “I Don’t Think There Is Any Particular Evidence” of Black Voters Being Prevented From Voting.
Rand Paul knows very well that this isn’t true, of course; he’s seen lots of evidence from the inside. He’s part of the effort to prevent black voters from voting, and one of the ways they advance this goal is to lie about it.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a tea party senator with a long history of opposition to civil rights laws, told an audience in Louisville, Kentucky on Wednesday that there is no evidence of black voters being excluded from the franchise. According to local NPR host Phillip Bailey, Paul said that he does not believe “there is any particular evidence of polls barring African Americans from voting,” during a speech to the non-partisan Louisville Forum.
If Paul is not aware of the evidence indicating widespread efforts to prevent African Americans from voting, then he must not be looking very hard. During the 2012 election, black and Hispanic voters waited nearly twice as long to cast a ballot as white voters. In Florida, lines of up to six hours led an estimated 201,000 people to become frustrated and leave the polls. These lines existed largely because of a voter suppression bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) which reduced early voting hours in the state. After the election, top Republicans admitted that the purpose of cutting early voting was to reduce Democratic turnout. One Republican operative conceded that early voting was cut on the Sunday proceeding Election Day because “that’s a big day when the black churches organize themselves.”
Meanwhile, voter ID laws are rampant in states led by conservatives, despite the fact that these laws cannot be justified by any legitimate purpose. Although their proponents routinely claim that an ID requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud at the polls, such fraud barely exists. According to one study, just 0.0023 percent of votes are the product of in person voter fraud. Meanwhile, even conservative estimates suggest that 2 to 3 percent of legitimate voters will turn turned away by a voter ID law — and these voters are disproportionately African American.
As part of their much-heralded rebranding effort, the Republican Party bigwigs apparently thought it would be a great idea to send a Congressman to speak at historically black school Howard University.
Who did they choose for this important task? Which representative did they think would be the best to express their warm embrace of minorities?
Rand Paul, of course! The guy who, on more than one occasion, has said he’s opposed to the desegregation part of the Civil Rights Act: Rand Paul Ducks Record on Civil Rights in Awkward Howard Speech.
As Rand Paul told it, the biggest problem keeping African Americans from voting Republican is that they didn’t know Republicans have long been leaders on abolition and civil rights. As students at Howard University heard it, the problem was that Paul was condescending, misleading, and removed from the issues facing their community.
Would you be surprised to learn that Rand Paul immediately hauled out the blatantly deceptive right wing talking point that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and that Democrats are the real racists?
The Howard audience sure wasn’t.
Paul devoted almost none of his speech Wednesday at the historically black college in Washington, D.C., to explaining the GOP’s thorny relationship with black voters over the last fifty years, and most of it arguing that “the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights.” His history lecture focused almost entirely on the period before 1964, when the GOP began to champion the states rights arguments of southern whites. Echoing a popular conservative talking point, Paul repeatedly reminded the audience that Democrats passed Jim Crow laws in the south and that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, as were the first black legislators and the founders of the NAACP.
“Would everyone know here they were all Republicans?” he said at one point, referring to the NAACP’s founders.
“Yes!” came the booming response from nearly the entire audience, who appeared offended Paul would even raise the question.
The complete lack of self-awareness is stunning; it apparently doesn’t even occur to Rand Paul (or the GOP in general) that this talking point is insulting to the intelligence of African Americans, who are very well aware of the history of racism in American politics.
They don’t fall for this transparent, sleazy bullshit, and they’re never going to fall for it. But that doesn’t stop Republicans from trying to pull the scam over and over and over, even when they know they’re speaking to a highly educated, politically aware audience. It’s amazing, and I don’t mean that in a good way; a measure of the deep dysfunction at the heart of right wing politics.
(Note: Obama’s speech begins at about 40 minutes in, but there are some good moments before that.)