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Bush Unwilling to Rein in the Racists in his Ranks
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Cynthia Tucker
November 26, 2005

Among black Americans,President Bush's approval ratings are hovering near the negatives. So it probably won't make much difference to black voters that the president's appointees at the U.S. Justice Department approved a racially charged voter ID law that was the brainchild of Georgia Republicans. Black Americans have already written off the White House.

But the machinations at Justice serve as a reminder that the president's relationship with his black constituents was strained and dysfunctional long before his administration's languid response to Hurricane Katrina sealed that estrangement once and for all. No matter that Bush himself is an unlikely bigot -- no matter that he has appointed Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice to the highest positions black Americans have ever held in a presidential administration -- the president has never been popular among black people.

Bush could have done more to overcome the GOP's 40-year history as the party of Barry Goldwater, who ran for president in 1964 on a states' rights platform that defended Southern segregation. Indeed, Bush made some gains among black voters, mostly through his work with conservative black ministers. Given that black voters tend to be social conservatives -- supportive of the death penalty and suspicious of abortion rights, for example -- you'd think that Bush would be holding his own with them.

But the president has never been willing to rein in the racists in his party's ranks. That's because he needs them; their dirty work helps to ensure GOP victories. Sure, the president may not be a bigot, but if you stand on bigots' shoulders, what does that make you?

Take the Justice Department and Georgia's new voter ID law, which would require voters to show government-issued photo IDs. It should have been easy for the Justice Department to reject the law -- passed earlier this year over the loud objections of most Democrats in the Georgia Legislature, who denounced it as racist. (The Voting Rights Act requires that Georgia and eight other, mostly Southern states receive "pre-clearance" from the Justice Department before they make any changes affecting voting.)

A five-member team of Justice Department analysts recommended that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales object to the new voting requirements because they would discriminate against black Georgians, who are much less likely than whites to have access to automobiles. (If you don't drive, you probably don't have a driver's license to show at the polls.) The analysts pointed out that the state made no effort to show that the law would not dilute minority voting strength, as the Voting Rights Act requires. And, noting the cost of getting a state-sponsored ID, they concluded Georgians would be required to pay what amounts to a poll tax to obtain one.

As if that weren't enough evidence, state GOP legislators betrayed the law's racist birthright. The bill's sponsor, Republican state Rep. Sue Burmeister, told the Justice Department a strange tale about the late Ed McIntyre, a former black mayor of Augusta, whom she claimed offered to deliver black voters to her if she were willing to pay for them.

According to a Justice Department memo, Burmeister said that if black people in her district aren't paid to vote, they won't go to the polls. And if the new Georgia law resulted in black disenfranchisement, that was simply because so many blacks had voted fraudulently before, she added.

Perhaps it's no surprise that Gonzales overruled his staff and approved Georgia's voter ID requirements. (Last month, a federal appeals court judge delayed implementation of the law, saying that it appears to be an unconstitutional poll tax. A lawsuit continues.) Gonzales is nothing if not loyal to President Bush -- who doggedly adheres to Karl Rove's Machiavellian tactics to win victories for Republicans, no matter the cost. And disenfranchising even a few thousand black voters in Georgia -- voters who tend to support Democrats -- could seal the GOP's hold on the state.

In matters of race -- from his first presidential campaign to the moment you read this -- Bush always chooses politics over principle. During the 2000 primaries, when Bush faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from John McCain, his response was the race card. Bush appeared at Bob Jones University, a South Carolina Bible college that, at the time, prohibited interracial dating among its students. This sent an unmistakable signal of solidarity with a certain segment of the white South: those who still resent the changes wrought by the civil rights movement.

There is nothing in his record that suggests Bush is racist. But he doesn't mind cozying up to racists if they offer political advantage. That's the president's greatest failing: He always chooses dividing the nation if he can plot a path to victory through the wreckage.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She can be reached by e-mail: cynthia@ajc.com.

A quick point on states' rights. There is no such thing. Conservatives believe states have rights, but in reality the constitution guarantee's right to people and ONLY people. Governing institutions - like states, have "powers" not rights. We give them power and we can take it away. A right is something we decide we have (the 9th Amendment). If you hear a conservative talk of states' rights, ignore him. He's a fool. When he says this right or that right isn't in the constitution, ignore that too. Our rights don't have to be enumerated (the 9th Amendment).