By George E. Curry
The new NAACP Report Card for the first session of the 112th Congress is out and it shows that every graded Republican member of the House and Senate received an F on issues considered important to the nation’s oldest civil rights group.
In the Senate, all 46 GOP senators received Fs from NAACP. Of those, 34 voted against the NAACP’s position every time, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and former presidential candidate John McCain. In the House, all 238 Republicans graded also received Fs. Although GOP House members have a reputation for being more conservative than their Senate colleagues, only 10 House Republicans voted against the NAACP every time.
In stark contrast to Republicans, 47 Democrats in the Senate earned As, three received Bs, one got a D and none received an F. The two independents in the Senate, Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, received a B and an A, respectively.
In the House, all 238 Republicans graded earned an F. House Democrats voted like their counterparts in the Senate: 159 earned As, 22 got Bs, four earned Cs, one got a D and four received Fs.
I have been studying NAACP legislative report cards for a couple of decades and I can’t remember a time when Republicans in Congress have been this solidified in their hostility towards civil rights. About eight years ago, Republican Congresswoman Mary S. Leach of Iowa earned a C. More recently a couple of Republicans have earned Ds as the rest flunked.
In the session of Congress that lasted from Jan. 5, 2011 to Dec. 23, 2011, only one Republican – Senator Scott Brown (R-Mass.) – voted with the NAACP 40 percent of the time. The GOP’s so-called moderate senators – Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine – supported the NAACP 33 percent of the time.
The NAACP graded members of Congress on votes taken on such issues as repealing funding for health care reform, judicial nominations, deep budget cuts, job creation and criminal justice reform. This NAACP Report Card should put to rest the lie that there’s no difference between Democrats and Republicans. There is difference – a huge difference at that.
Even the Black Republican alternatives are not viable alternatives. Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina backed the NAACP only 5 percent of the time. The only other Black House Republican, Allen B. West, also earned an F, supporting the NAACP 25 percent of the time.
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, most Blacks voted Republican until switching to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Dwight D. Eisenhower received 39 percent of the Black vote in 1956. In his close election with John F. Kennedy in 1960, Blacks gave Richard Nixon 32 percent of their vote.
In the bygone years, the Republican Party had such moderates as New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor John Lindsey of New York City and Connecticut Sen. Lowell Weicker. It even had Black Republicans who fought for civil rights. But the GOP began the political equivalent of ethnic cleansing in 1964 with the nomination of Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, who made an open appeal to segregationists. Goldwater’s “Southern Strategy” went up with flames, with Blacks giving Lyndon Johnson 94 percent of their vote.
Over the last half century, GOP moderates, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell have either been pushed out of the party or marginalized. Moderates have been replaced by rabid Tea Party activists who have pushed an already conservative party to the extreme right.
The voting records of Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress illustrate the gap in support of African Americans in the two parties. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, earned an A on the NAACP Report Card (93 percent) as did Assistant Majority Leader Richard Durbin (100 percent). Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, got an F (zero percent support of the NAACP). So did Assistant Minority Leader John Kyl of Arizona (zero percent).
All Democratic leaders in the House earned As: Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (100 percent), Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (100 percent), Assistant Democratic Whip James Clyburn (100 percent) and Democratic Caucus Chair John Lucas (95 percent). Each Republican leader in the house, on the other hand, got Fs: Majority Leader Eric Cantor (5 percent), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (10 percent), Republican Conference Chair Jeb Hensarling (5 percent) and Republican Policy Committee Chair Tom Price (5 percent).
In 2004, the Republican Party announced a goal of quadrupling its share of the Black vote to 25 percent. It has obviously abandoned that goal.
The Republican Party’s hostility to civil rights reminds me of a comment made by the father of former GOP Congressman J.C. Watts, an African American from Oklahoma. His father said a Black voting Republican is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.