John Leo
We are once again in the midst of a great wave of overheated racial rhetoric. Jesse Jackson, of course, is out in front. Black voters didn't double-vote, mismark ballots or run into any normal election day foul-ups. No, they were victims of "a systematic plan to disenfranchise black voters" and "a clear pattern of voter suppression." Attempting to repair his relationship with Jews, Jackson identified three targets of ballot oppression: Holocaust survivors, Haitian boat people and American descendants of slaves.

Other black leaders seemed in no doubt that something had been intentionally perpetrated upon blacks. "African-American voters were disenfranchised -- period," said Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. Donna Brazile, Al Gore's campaign manager, was quoted as saying that "in disproportionately black areas, people faced dogs, guns, and were required to have three forms of ID." The weird reference to dogs and guns obviously linked the Bush brothers with Bull Connor, Birmingham, Selma and the hard-core racism of the past.

This theme came up during the campaign too, thanks to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP's National Voter Fund ran ads on black radio stations saying that "There are many ways intimidation was, and still is, used to keep African-Americans from voting. Mobs, guns and Jim Crow. Ropes, dogs, lies and hoses."

The NAACP was also responsible for the TV ad that re-created the horrific dragging death of James Byrd and all but accused George W. Bush of the murder. This disgraceful ad, which had some of the tone of Nazi propaganda films about Jews, played a central role in undermining Bush's appeal to black voters. In Texas, Bush got 5 percent of black vote, compared with about 25 percent in his re-election campaign for governor.

More subtle attempts to connect Republicans with slavery and hatred popped up during the campaign, for example, Gore's sly comment associating Bush's desire for a "strict constructionist" Supreme Court with the Constitution's original language counting each black slave as three-fifths of a human being. Gore sounded a similar theme when he told a black audience, "(The Republicans) don't even want to count you in the census."

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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