An NAACP official says the candidates are "six of the dullest, non- charismatic, unattractive white men the Democratic Party could run." That is silly. But the NAACP is abusing the right to be silly when it gives Fritz Hollings an "F" on its "report card" rating senators' voting records.
At its convention, the NAACP treated two persons shabbily. George Bush was booed by persons who do not remember, or perhaps care, that in 1968 he was one of only five southern congressmen who voted for open housing legislation. And Hollings was denounced for having voted "wrong" all but 39.8 percent of the time as a senator.
Hollings' dander is rarely far down, and when it is up it is stimulating. The fellow who said that the absence of honest emotion is a characteristic of professional wrestling and national politics should have seen Hollings advising the NAACP that its report card is a "travesty."
Part of his problem is, properly understood, an asset in a national leader: he has been in politics for eons--34 years. He was governor (1959-63) when race relations in South Carolina more closely resembled those in 1883 than in 1983. He integrated Clemson University, the state college board of trustees and the state law enforcement division. He was the first southern governor to endorse John Kennedy--when even Kennedy's Catholicism was a problem in the South.
(A footnote on how far we have come: Kennedy offered to make Abe Ribicoff attorney general. Ribicoff-- then Connecticut's governor, later a senator--declined, arguing that if the first Catholic president had a Jewish attorney general that might generate unnecessary turmoil, especially in the South, in the coming civil rights controversies. Ribicoff became secretary of health, education and welfare.)
The NAACP's report card is, like all such rating systems, misleading. In a single year a senator can cast 500 recorded votes on the floor (the Senate has averaged 505 such votes per year during the last four years) and 2,000 more in committees. Any rating based on a few dozen votes obscures more than it reveals.
For 1982, the NAACP said Hollings' grade rose to 74.1 percent correct. His sins included support for a balanced budget amendment, for a less-than- the-most-expensive jobs bill (the bill he supported passed), and four busing -related votes (he opposes busing). He missed two votes about which the NAACP cared, and the NAACP counted missed votes as votes against its positions.
For 1981, Hollings' score was 66.7 percent. In addition to four busing-related votes, four "wrong" votes were on budget questions.
One concerned school lunches and child nutrition. Hollings fought in the Budget Committee to preserve the existing level of funds. On the floor, Ted Kennedy tried to add funds exceeding the budget resolution. Hollings, having made commitments in the struggle to maintain funding levels, opposed Kennedy. so Hollings (author, by the way, of the WIC program--women, infants and children nutritional program) was criticized by the NAACP for doing what was necessary, and what Kennedy was not in a position to do, to protect an existing program.
The NAACP opposes tuition tax credits, as does Hollings. But he has cast six "wrong" votes for such credits for college tuitions--usually in exchange for votes against credits for primary and secondary school tuitions. He has been the foremost opponent of those credits--yet the NAACP has given him six "wrong" votes and only one "correct" vote on the issue. The NAACP opposes a lower minimum wage for teen-agers --in spite of overwhelming evidence that a lower minimum would increase teen-age employment. Hollings favors the "youth differential," and so has 11 "wrong" votes.
The NAACP has counted votes against cloture (shutting off debate) as "wrong." In 1980, Hollings cosponsored a fair housing bill but opposed imposing cloture on opponents. He did the same thing in 1972 regarding the Equal Opportunity Enforcement Act. In both cases his and the NAACP's side prevailed in the end, but the NAACP recorded two anti-cloture votes against him.
A private research organization says the median income of black families, which was 55 percent of white families' in 1960, was just 56 percent in 1981. This is primarily because the portion of black families headed by women has more than doubled to almost 50 percent, and only 55 percent of black men over age 16 are employed today, down from 74 percent in 1960. Surely the best president for blacks is whoever can restore economic health, period. The NAACP's report card is an exercise in irrelevancy.