Back in 1995 in the film “The American President,” Michael Douglas delivered a speech answering a rival that for many defined the cynical, hardball nature of politics when he said his opponent was “interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.”
Indeed. Exhibit “A” is basically any TV commercial or social media video you saw from either side in the 2014 Mississippi GOP Senate primary. This race made fans of hardball politics blush, cringe and recoil.
Part of the narrative being offered is that efforts to gain increased black voter participation in the Republican U.S. Senate primary somehow “set race relations in Mississippi back 50 years.”
How incredibly ridiculous that claim sounds! Here we are in Mississippi during the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer — a time in which people were being murdered for engaging in voter registration efforts — listening to people claim that legal black voter participation in a Republican primary is a step backward in the state’s race relations.Freedom Summer’s battles weren’t fought over the right of black voters in Mississippi to participate in the primary elections of one party or the other. Those battles were fought over the right to vote — period.
If some black Mississippi voters chose in 2014 to make legal second primary votes in the Republican primary to influence the outcome of that runoff, it was their right under current Mississippi election law unless they voted in the Democratic first primary.
What should have been the destination of the political journey begun in Mississippi before and during Freedom Summer a half-century ago was a state in which voters are voters and that all voters enjoy the free exercise of the franchise to vote as they please.
Mississippi law doesn’t require partisan voter registration and the significant limit is that voters can’t “crossover” between casting a first primary vote with one party and then a second primary vote in the primary of another party. Beyond that prohibition, voters have the right to choose.
Setting race relations back 50 years? Please.
I remember 50 years ago in Mississippi — complete with all the vestiges of segregation in schools, public accommodations, public transit and governments and courts at all levels.
There well may be some bruised feelings and legitimate disagreement over political tactics, but the ultimate decision of black voters in Mississippi to legally impose their will on a second primary election most certainly did not set race relations back 50 years.
With some 40 percent of Mississippi’s electorate now comprised of African-American voters, the political party that fails to reach out to those voters and attempt to engage them do so at their own political peril.
Perhaps what we’re really afraid to talk about is the fact that perhaps the old stereotypes are beginning to fall away.
The de facto partisan segregation is a model that bridged 1964 and 2014 — in which the majority of the state’s black voters tended to identify as Democrats while the majority of the state’s white voters tended to identify as Republicans, or so we all chose to believe based on election outcomes.
In the recent primary, the actual political behavior didn’t fit that model. But it didn’t harm race relations in the least.