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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 06/07/2011

Hyperbole about Jim Crow shouldn’t obscure truth about GOP voting proposals

Yesterday Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman-Shultz retracted remarks accusing Republicans of supporting voting restrictions comparable to Jim Crow. She had said this:

“Now you have the Republicans, who 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. And it’s nothing short of that blatant.”

These remarks show a startling lack of historical perspective. Jim Crow voting restrictions weren’t merely characterized by institutional barriers to voting — those barriers were reinforced by the very real threat of violence, tacitly and sometimes explicitly supported by local authorities.

But while the analogy was inappropriate, Wasserman-Shultz was absolutely right that Republicans have used their new majorities in statehouses to erect institutional barriers to voting that are more likely to disadvantage Democratic-leaning constituencies, minorities in particular. Recent Republican proposals have or would put in place onerous voter ID requirements, curtail early voting, and prevent students from casting ballots where they go to school. These proposals are costly and could disenfranchise hundreds of thousands if not millions of voters, but most of those affected are more likely to vote for Democrats. Republicans have invoked the specter of voter fraud to justify the restrictions, but the type of voter fraud these laws are designed to address are extremely rare — the Bush administration, despite pursuing the issue vigorously, never produced more than a handful of voter fraud prosecutions.

There’s also something rich about Republicans lecturing Wasserman-Schultz on historical perspective. After all, they’ve spent the last several years building an absurd narrative of white racial grievance, sometimes drawing explicit comparisons between America under Obama and Jim Crow. Nowhere has this manifested more absurdly than in association with the New Black Panther Voter intimidation case, which conservatives used to allege a conspiracy between the White House and a black separatist group. Jennifer Rubin, who was at the forefront of publishing such innuendo and has spent the last two years tossing outrageous accusations of racism at the Obama administration, now insists that Wasserman-Schultz didn’t go far enough in retracting her analogy, writing that restating the “Republicans are racists” line in less flashy terms “is still a slur.” This is coming from the same person who suggested Attorney General Eric Holder was guilty of racism when he pointed out, accurately, that the New Black Panther case was not at all comparable to what black people faced in the South prior to the 1960s. Rubin really doesn’t have much room to lecture Wasserman-Schultz on historical perspective — or even on tossing around frivolous accusations of racism.

The GOP’s nationwide effort to pass laws that would disproportionately affect minorities’ access to the ballot box is very real. And Wasserman-Schultz’ hyperbole shouldn’t obscure that.

By Adam Serwer  |  11:00 AM ET, 06/07/2011

 
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