BY: B. Keith Plunkett | UCF Staff @Keithplunkett
Most agree that it was a mistake when State Representative Bubba Carpenter told a crowd a few days ago that they should beware of Initiative 42 because it gave “a black judge in Hinds County” authority to rewrite education policy. When the comments were reported the denouncements came immediately from far and wide from Republicans and Democrats alike. The self-appointed arbiters of political good taste jumped in with both feet.
Republican establishment blogger Alan Lange at Yall Politics took Carpenter to task and demanded Carpenter “Keep his fu&#%ng mouth shut for the next three weeks” (Yeah. Classy, ain’t he?), lest he turn the Initiative 42 battle into more of a circus than it already is. Democrat or die blogger Ryan Brown at Cotton Mouth quickly jumped on Carpenters comments as evidence of the racial inequalities of education policy being promoted by Republicans. It’s a Machiavellian imperative that this type of response was coming. Was anyone surprised?
While no one short of the KKK or the Black Panthers will publicly defend the overt use of racial identification as a qualifier for political debate, the truth is racial identification has been institutionalized into our political system by both parties for generations, and when politicians need to yank the chain to get what they want then they do.
Southern Democrats, once the party of overt racism of the Jim Crow variety, eventually found a way to use the demographic reality in their favor. It was in his push for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson told two southern governors, “These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference… I’ll have them n*ggers voting Democratic for the next two hundred years.”
Johnson also defended the Supreme Court appointment of Thurgood Marshall by telling a staff member, “Son, when I appoint a n*gger to the court, I want everyone to know he’s a n*gger.”
While there is plenty of evidence to suggest he believed in the wisdom of his now failed War on Poverty policy, of which he is most famously associated, and the Civil Rights Act, a goal of his predecessor John F. Kennedy, Johnson was also a politicians politician. He knew the inner workings of government and how to pull together the votes he needed when he needed them, and he resorted to the worst brand of identity politics to do it.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 the following year laid bare Johnson’s goal by instituting special jurisdictional provisions in Section 5 of the VRA. These provisions required that southern states who had participated in voting rights discrimination would have to get pre-clearance from the federal government before changing voting laws, in essence having the feds make sure the changes didn’t water down black voting strength before any changes would be approved. This is what gave rise to the institutionalized racial politics that Mississippi is still stuck in today, and why terms like “B-VAP” (Black Voting Age Population) and “majority minority districts” are part of the political lexicon.
It wasn’t until 2013 that the U.S. Supreme Court finally struck down the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the VRA as no longer viable in a vastly different nation. This effectively neutered Section 5 and released Mississippi and other southern states from decades of second state status. By this time of course, Johnson’s goal had been realized.
Democrats would like to have the VRA coverage formula re-instituted, of course. Something I have argued against because I believe it keeps Mississippians locked into this same type of racial identity politics.
It benefits Democrats politically to retain the VRA restrictions in Mississippi. They frequently use racial codes in attempting to pass everything from centralizing education authority to expanding Medicaid and the governments role in healthcare. And let’s not forget that the monstrous education policy known as Common Core implements race-based standards as a matter of federal education policy, a fact Mississippi’s Senate Conservative Coalition brought to light back in 2013.
Most recently, Republican Senator Thad Cochran used B-VAP districts in Mississippi in 2014 by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay Democrat operatives to get black voters to the polls, thousands of whom evidence showed had already voted in the Democrat primary just three weeks prior, a violation of election law. But more than the use of “walking around money” in those districts the Cochran campaign also promoted race-baiting ads to demonize opponent Chris McDaniel as someone who would cut food stamps and welfare programs that benefit African Americans.
The aforementioned blogger Lange claims in his indictment of Carpenter that he wants to recruit African Americans to the Republican Party, but his method for this has been to frequently use his own brand of racial identity politics by attempting to assert that Second Amendment rallies and conservative activists are racists.
The dog whistle of racial politics is a frequently used tool of the intellectually lazy and it knows no party or ideology. What it comes down to is who is doing the dividing as to whether it is politically acceptable. It’s shameful, no matter who is doing it and no matter the reasons.
What Carpenter said regarding the “black judge in Hinds County” was a way of communicating racial division into a political issue, of that there can be no doubt. It was uncalled for. But let’s dispense with all the holier-than-thou judgements from the politicos, shall we? Politicians, arm-chair politicos, writers, bloggers and even government institutions are equally as guilty of using race as a wedge when it suits the purpose of seeking power and when under the pressure of potentially losing it.
It is when people step up to speak the truth of policy and to engage one another on the basis of honest exchange regardless of identity that we see communities come together for a shared purpose. Honest disagreements will happen, and they should.
It is the dishonest that show their lack of character and their own lack of substantive intelligence on the issues when they are so quick to resort to racial division and identity politics, whether as a defense or by way of accusation.
Keith Plunkett is the Policy and Communications Director for the United Conservatives Fund. He has worked on communications and policy issues with a range of public officials from aldermen to Congressmen, and a variety of businesses, government agencies and non-profits. He serves or has served as a board member of several non-profit, civic and political organizations. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @Keithplunkett