fresh voices from the front lines of change







The booing of Mitt Romney at the NAACP convention is just the latest hilarious result of Republican presidents and presidential candidates straining to court the African-American vote at the annual event.

Here’s a trip down Memory Lane…

1981: President Ronald Reagan Pretends He Will Enforce Civil Rights Laws

In June 1981, the new president sought to reassure the NAACP that his conservative revolution did not mean a rollback of civil rights, saying, “My administration will root out any case of government discrimination against minorities and uphold and enforce the laws that protect them. I emphasize that we will not retreat on the nation’s commitment to equal treatment of all citizens.”

Of course, what Reagan then did was root out the people in government who actually wanted to prosecute civil rights violations. George Mason University Prof. Michael Fauntroy covered the Reagan civil rights enforcement record in his essay, “Conservatives Roll Back the Clock on Civil Rights Enforcement”:

The dismantling of Federal civil rights enforcement under Reagan took two forms occurring concomitantly. First, was the freezing or reducing of funding for agencies charged with enforcement of federal civil rights laws and regulations. Rather than overtly end these programs and agencies, the Reagan administration sought to starve them to prevent them from doing their work. In this way, they could largely achieve their goal of civil rights deregulation without seeking the abolition of the programs and agencies, thereby providing some political cover. Second, was the hiring of individuals to lead these organizations, or take high-ranking positions therein, who were ideologically pre-disposed to not enforce federal civil rights laws and regulations as aggressively as their predecessors…

…One congressional investigation concluded that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission shifted away from class action lawsuits, elevated the standard of proof to establish reasonable cause, orally directed staff not to recommend the use of goals and time tables and not to intervene in cases in which goals and timetables were proposed as a remedy for discrimination, and accelerated closure of cases at the expense of quality of investigations. The Justice Department filed no cases under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 during its first year under Reagan; they filed two in 1982. Under presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter, the department averaged thirty-two cases a year.

2000: Candidate George W. Bush Pretends He Will Enforce Civil Rights Laws

Assuming the NAACP were suckers, “>Bush tried to pull a Reagan during the 2000 campaign, telling the convention: ” It must be our goal to expand this opportunity, to make it as broad and diverse as America its success–America itself. And this begins by enforcing the civil rights laws. Discrimination is still a reality, even when it takes different forms. Instead of Jim Crow, there’s racial redlining and profiling. Instead of separate but equal, there is separate and forgotten. Strong civil rights enforcement will be a cornerstone of my administration.”

The results? From The New York Times coverage of a Government Accountability Office:

When compared with the Clinton administration, its findings show a significant drop in the enforcement of several major antidiscrimination and voting rights laws. For example, lawsuits brought by the division to enforce laws prohibiting race or sex discrimination in employment fell from about 11 per year under President Bill Clinton to about 6 per year under President George W. Bush.

The study also found a sharp decline in enforcement of a section of the Voting Rights Act that prohibits electoral rules with discriminatory effects, from more than four cases a year under Mr. Clinton to fewer than two cases a year under Mr. Bush.

2006: President Bush Thinks African-Americans Hate The Estate Tax

After skipping the convention for years, Bush returned in 2006 and tried to the get the crowd to side with multimillionaire heirs, saying, “One of my friends is Bob Johnson, founder of BET. He’s an interesting man. He believes strongly in ownership. He has been a successful owner. He believes strongly, for example, that the death tax will prevent future African-American entrepreneurs from being able to pass their assets from one generation to the next.”

As ThinkProgress noted at the time, not many African-Americans in the country, let alone the convention, would likely care: “According to an American Progress analysis, just 59 African-Americans will pay the estate tax this year, and that number will drop to 33 in 2009.”

2008: Candidate McCain Thinks African-Americans Hate The Corporate Tax

McCain, drawing the shortest straw ever in having to follow Barack Obama at the 2008 NAACP convention, gamely tried to convince the crowd he offered the better economic plan for African-Americans, by defending the Bush tax cuts and promising more of the same: “we will preserve the current low rates as they are so businesses, large and small, can hire more people … we’ll lower the business tax rate so American companies open new plants and create more jobs in this country instead of going overseas.”

He did not mention what the crowd surely felt, the Bush tax plan he pledged to “preserve” resulted in the worst jobs record on record.

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