While their efforts to demobilize voters by robbing them of basic rights through onerous and unnecessary restrictions on access to the franchise is par for the Southern Strategy 2.0, there is a core level of hypocrisy present in the Tea Party GOP's machinations that should be called out for the base ugliness which it embodies.
Republicans are quick to claim the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.
However, the Republican Party is also the United States' de facto White political party: it lives off of the toxic fumes of "colorblind" racism and white identity politics.
Once more, history (and empirical reality) confounds and exposes the big lie that is the modus operandi of the Right.
The Tea Party GOP's efforts at robbing black folks of their constitutional right to vote is an affront to the legacies of both Martin Luther King Jr. and President Lincoln. The former fought and died in the Black Freedom Struggle; the Voting Rights Act was one of his crowning achievements. Lincoln defeated the Confederacy. This led to Reconstruction, what was one of the most radically democratic experiments in American history where men who were just a few years (or months) ago counted as human property would soon elect their own leaders (and kin) to Congress and the Senate.
King and Lincoln died to expand the franchise to millions of black Americans. The Tea Party GOP is working to steal the right to vote from black Americans so that Romney and Ryan can be elected to the White House. This is an ugly juxaposition: it directly contrasts a struggle for the Common Good with a selfish political exercise to install a plutocrat who will continue to represent the interests of the one percent at the expense of the rest of us.
There is another American icon that is claimed by the Tea Party GOP, one who has a "special relationship" with black conservatives. Frederick Douglass, radical abolitionist, intellectual, and freedom fighter, is consider a shining star, "one of their own" by black conservatives. In a twist of history, Douglass, this hero to black Republicans, would be disenfranchised by the very anti-voting access policies that the Tea Party GOP is implementing across the United States.
David Blight, one of America's great historians, called attention to this reality in a recent essay in the NY Times. Here, he unleashes rhetorical violence on the Republican Party and the white supremacist roots of their efforts to deny black folks (and others) the right to vote in the upcoming election:
By the mid-1840s, he had emerged as one of the greatest orators and writers in American history. But legally, Douglass began his public life by committing what today we would consider voter fraud, using an assumed name...
In Douglass’s greatest speech, the Fourth of July oration in 1852, he argued that often the only way to describe American hypocrisy about race was with “scorching irony,” “biting ridicule” and “withering sarcasm.” Today’s Republican Party seems deeply concerned with rooting out voter fraud of the kind Douglass practiced. So, with Douglass’s story as background, I have a modest proposal for it. In the 23 states where Republicans have either enacted voter-ID laws or shortened early voting hours in urban districts, and consistent with their current reigning ideology, they should adopt a simpler strategy of voter suppression.
To those potentially millions of young, elderly, brown and black registered voters who, despite no evidence of voter fraud, they now insist must obtain government ID, why not merely offer money? Pay them not to vote. Give each a check for $711 in honor of Frederick Douglass. Buy their “freedom,” and the election. Call it the “Frederick Douglass Voter Voucher.”
Give people a choice: take the money and just not vote, or travel miles without easy transportation to obtain a driver’s license they do not need. It’s their “liberty”; let them decide how best to use it. Perhaps they will forget their history as much as the Republican Party seems to wish the nation would.
Black conservatives are one of the rotten legs supporting the racist stool that is the Tea Party GOP. As such, their silence is expected. It is part of a bargain which they have made. For many, it is a lucrative hustle that pays the bills and brings the marginally talented an outsized amount of attention and exposure.
This makes their choice to stand mute, or in some cases to serve as the human props and political blackface mask in support of efforts to demobilize African American voters, no less contemptible. Black conservatives want to claim Frederick Douglass, but they spit in the face of his legacy.
Ultimately, such contradictions cause no cognitive dissonance or upset. Black conservatives who stand silent on these matters, or commit the civic sin of supporting the disenfranchisement of black and brown folks (as well as the poor), demonstrate that they too are slaves to the psychic wages of Whiteness--and the material gains that come with the choice to be a political Judas, Kiplingesque middle man, or colonial administrator who can interpret the drums of the natives.
Black conservatives such as these are not the descendants of Frederick Douglass, a great man who beat down an evil white overseer and slave breaker named Covey, escaped to freedom, and became a legend for all time.
Rather, the black conservatives of the C.L. Bryant stripe, those Clarence Thomases, Herman Cains, Allen Wests, and other related ilk, were more likely to play the role of the mythic Black Confederate, fighting and dying in the service of their white masters to keep other African-Americans in chains and bondage.
In total, black conservatives and the Tea Party GOP need to get Frederick Douglass out of their collective mouth, for they are not heirs, in any way, to his honored legacy.