I recently watched Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham preside over the confirmation hearing for U.S. attorney general nominee William Barr. He questioned National NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson, who opposed the nominee, on why Republicans get poor scores on the NAACP’s Congressional Report Card. He was especially curious as to why his abysmal report card score of “22” was actually the highest score of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
I’m one of his constituents and first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP and, since I assume that either Sen. Graham or someone on his staff reads The Post and Courier, I’d like to address his concerns.
Sen. Graham asserted that the NAACP has partisan political motives. That’s wrong. Our national board includes Democrats and Republicans. If the senator Googles the most recent NAACP Report Card, he’ll see that our survey focuses on public policy issues ranging from labor laws to emergency disaster appropriations to voting rights.
The common denominator is how public policy impacts equity and fairness. Public policy is not — and should not be — a Democratic or Republican issue, but a “people” issue that impacts citizens of all colors and economic classes.
Sen. Graham said, referring to the GOP, “Maybe the problem is all on our side. I don’t think so.” I’d suggest that the senator give that a bit more thought, and that he have a chat with Sen. Tim Scott.
Sen. Scott got a lower NAACP grade than Sen. Graham, but Scott voted against judicial nominees with questionable records on race and equity and was the first Republican to condemn Rep. Steve King’s overt racism. He was also a proficient and productive corporate co-chairperson for one of the Charleston Branch NAACP’s Annual Freedom Fund Banquets.
Sen. Scott not only condemned Rep. King’s racism. He also pondered why his GOP colleagues were slow to do so. I’d go further and ask why few of those in the GOP have criticized Donald Trump, whose vulgar and racist rhetoric and policy initiatives have given a permissive “wink and nod” to vicious hate groups.
I’d also suggest that Sen. Graham give a little more thought to his musing that “Maybe the problem is all on our side.” He might then question why — since the election of Donald Trump, whom he defends, and since he similarly questioned then-NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks during the confirmation hearing for Attorney General Jeff Sessions — his NAACP score dropped from “25” to “22.”
Racial prejudice is not limited to the GOP. I’ve met some “progressive” Democrats who are insultingly patronizing when it comes to issues of racial equity.
The difference is that — from the flight of “Democratic Dixiecrats” to the GOP in response to the civil rights laws of the 1960s to the “Law and Order” rhetoric of Richard Nixon to the “welfare queen” rhetoric of Ronald Reagan to the fear-driven “Willie Horton” campaign ad of George H.W. Bush — the GOP has made political hay by using racial dog whistles.
Donald Trump didn’t invent fear-based racial and cultural politics. He simply traded in old and more subtle GOP racial dog whistles for a racial bullhorn.
I hope this column makes it to Sen. Graham’s desk, and I hope that all of those in the GOP will consider what I’ve said. The ironic truth is that when it comes to the role of government — from personal responsibility to social issues — many black voters could logically embrace the GOP.
They’re prevented, however, from doing so because their ancestors were held in bondage and endured violent Jim Crow segregation. They categorically reject a political party that overtly deals in racially divisive rhetoric for political advantage. As an AME Church bishop once said, “I have no choice but to support Democrats. They may sometimes take us for granted, but they’re not like those in the GOP, who want to take us back to the plantation.”
If the GOP does some serious self-examination and openly rejects racism as a political tactic, true bipartisanship could again exist in America, because bipartisanship goes beyond empty platitudes and Black History Month events. What one of my preacher-uncles once told a Columbia politician is still true: “We don’t just hear what you say, we also see what you do.”
The Rev. Joseph A. Darby is first vice president of the Charleston Branch NAACP.