Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Congressional Republicans act like members of a white citizens council

By DeWayne Wickham

Just when it seemed the GOP’s pup tent was popping its stitches, Republicans have again dashed any hope that their party might become a political big tent.

The illusion of GOP inclusion came in the wake of last year’s election when black Republicans won congressional seats in South Carolina and Florida, the first time in over a century that a former Confederate state has sent a black Republican to Congress. The election of Allen West of Florida and Tim Scott of South Carolina – plus Jennifer Carroll’s election as Florida’s lieutenant governor – had some people thinking the GOP had broken free of its racial myopia.

Those breakthroughs came less than three weeks after Republicans were stung by the racially charged action of Dave Bartholomew, the Virginia Beach, Va., GOP chairman who was forced to resign after he was caught passing along an email that compared black welfare recipients to a dog.

While the election of Carroll, Scott and West overshadowed Bartholomew’s bad act, it has done little to burnish the image of the Republican Party among blacks and other minorities. That’s because when it comes to burning bridges with this nation’s minorities, the GOP can’t help itself.

Proof of its propensity now to act more like a white citizens’ council from the 1960s, rather than the political party that ended slavery in the 1860s, came earlier this month. That’s when Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives voted to stop delegates from voting on the House floor when the entire body is assembles as “a committee of the whole.”

The six delegates – minorities from the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands – have historically lacked the full voting rights of House members elected from districts in the nation’s 50 states. They could vote in a committee, but not on the House floor where legislation is finally enacted.

But when Democrats took control of the House in 2007 they adopted a rule that allowed the delegates, who like full voting members of Congress represent American citizens, to have a limited vote on the House floor when the entire body acted as a committee to speed up the legislative process.

Republicans argue it violates the constitution to allow delegates such a floor vote, even though a federal appeals court upheld it in a 1994 opinion. Since 1993 when Democrats who then controlled the House first allowed delegates this limited vote, it’s been a political football. Whenever Republicans were in power it was taken away. When Democrats gained the majority it was given back.

But this time there was reason to believe things would be different.

“America is more than a country,” Republicans said in the preamble to a pledge the GOP made to voters shortly before the November election. “America is an idea – an idea that free people can govern themselves, that government’s powers are derived from the consent of the governed…”

But now that Republicans control the House they’ve decided that Americans represented by the six delegates – five Democrats and one Independent – should have their ability to give consent to government actions through their elected representatives reduced again.

“If the representatives of people in Baghdad and Kabul couldn’t vote we’d call that an incomplete democracy,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson told me.

Sure we would. And we’d accuse those responsible of being political thugs. But such harsh language is no longer acceptable at a time when many people think kinder words will produce better political behavior.

So, suffice to say, I think the GOP’s pup tent has just gotten a lot smaller.

1 comment:

DrProfessor said...

It is possible, as I believe your column illustrates, to make a racial issue out of something that only coincidentally appears to pit white against black. Republican denial of house floor voting rights is a Constitutional issue, as they said, not a racial one. Republicans take issue with the concept of the appeals court having the right to determine who can vote in the House of Representatives. Objection to judicial lawmaking is a key concept of the Republican platform.

If the representatives in question had been white, the decision of the Republican leadership should have been the same, and I believe it would have been. It's not about color. It's about Constitution.