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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The race card redux

The Washington Post reports that black Republican groups are prodding ex-U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, a former NAACP chief who recently lost a close Senate primary in Maryland to a white candidate, to cross party lines and endorse GOP nominee Michael Steele. It's worth a try, right? But the article also mentions a particularly noxious ad, apparently produced by the National Black Republican Association. The article quotes the ad thusly:

The ad identifies Martin Luther King Jr. as a Republican and pins the founding of the Ku Klux Klan on Democrats.

One woman says: "Democrats passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws. Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan."

"The Klan?" her friend replies. "White hoods and sheets?"

First woman: "Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s. Democrats released those vicious dogs and fire hoses on blacks."

Second woman: "Seriously?"

The ad says that "Democrats want to keep us poor while voting ONLY Democrat" and, "Democrats have bamboozled blacks."

Now, no self-respecting Democrat can ignore the fact that there were many in the party (especially the loathsome Southern "Dixiecrats") who did, in fact, spend years fighting against the civil rights movement (exhibit A: Robert Byrd, who still has some ground to cover in his rehabilitation). At the same time, however, no self-respecting Republican can possibly ignore the fact that the most hard-core bigots were welcomed into the GOP's big tent when they found Democrats too liberal for their liking (exhibit A: the 2000 presidential primary in South Carolina).

Steele (whose campaign web site notes on its home page that hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons has endorsed him but fails to mention that, hey, look, he's a REPUBLICAN) deserves credit for demanding that the ad be withdrawn. But it's disturbing to see a particularly nasty strain of racial politics infecting the Maryland Senate race less than two weeks after primary day.

This race is fascinating on a number of levels in addition to the unprecedented setup of a white Democrat against a Black Republican: Steele's opponent, Rep. Ben Cardin, is the scion of a legendary Baltimore Jewish political family, while Steele's base is in the fast-growing part of the state that's closer to Washington. There are plenty of legitimate issues here (minimum wage, anyone? GM's last few workers in suburban Baltimore might be interested in that), and judging from the series of debacles during the primary, it's anyone's guess whether the election itself will be cleanly held.

What's not needed in Maryland are puntrooskie plays from Lee Atwater's old game plan.


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