President Biden recently gave one of his unifying “we’re all in this together” speeches about voting rights. Like the ones he’s given in the past, he managed to divide us even further with his extreme rhetoric. Referencing the opposition to changing the Senate filibuster and the GOP’s refusal to support the federalization of voting rights, he compared his political opponents to “Bull Connor” and “Jim Crow 2.0.”
My first thought was that “Jim Crow 2.0” seems to be an outdated version of the usual Democrat slur, since they’ve been calling out conservatives as racists for a couple of decades now. Aren’t we already at “Jim Crow 5.0” by now, or to put it in terms of an Apple iPhone, haven’t we gotten to the 10G version already?
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That aside, I have to smile at Joe’s consistency. He continually makes the situation worse for himself, sticking that aging foot further down his throat with each passing controversy. It’s understandable that the president would want to shift attention away from his numerous failures, including the failure to get Build Back Better passed; the failure to convince the Supreme Court that his OSHA vaccine mandates are constitutional; the failure to get the Supremes, again, to slap Texas on the wrist and allow abortions to continue apace in the Lone Star State or extend his moratorium on evictions; the failure to make enough Covid test kits available to the public after forcing them to take tests or sit at home twiddling their thumbs; the failure to get his nominees confirmed to key cabinet positions; and so forth.
Who could blame him, then, for trying to do a “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” ploy and make a big deal about a voting rights crisis that doesn’t actually exist.
When Biden started stammering about how we were slinking back into the bad old days of KKK roadblocks, segregated diner counters, and water hoses bearing down on innocent voters, I chuckled.
And then I got angry. Really, really angry. In fact, I got so angry I had to turn off the TV and google “Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman” to remind myself that I wasn’t crazy. The words that were coming out of this president’s mouth sounded as if they were being spoken against a backdrop of flaming crosses, hours after the bodies of the three young civil rights workers were unearthed in a Philadelphia, Mississippi, ditch. They sounded as if he himself had been a part of the team that prosecuted the case against their killer, Edgar Ray Killen, 41 years after the fact. He sounded as if he’d marched hand in hand with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life we commemorate this month. He sounded, in fact, like someone who’d been arrested while protesting civil rights abuses.
The words that were coming out of this president’s mouth sounded as if they were being spoken against a backdrop of flaming crosses…
He sounded as if all of these things are happening in 2022. They aren’t.
I wanted to throw up, because that’s the feeling that comes over me when I see anyone exploiting the sacrifices and burdens, the histories and struggles, the blood and tears of those who actually lived through Jim Crow and the civil rights era, to gain political or social purchase.
Joe Biden and those who yap their lips on cable news stations haven’t earned the right to mention the name of Medgar Evers, who was gunned down in his own driveway in 1963. They don’t get to reference Viola Liuzzo, who was assassinated after giving a lift to some freedom riders in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. And they can’t invoke the ghosts of those three young men who were murdered in Philadelphia in 1964. If they were truly honoring their memory, that would be one thing. But Biden and his dishonest acolytes are doing this to gain political advantage and deflect attention from their gross failures as leaders.
I often speak of my father, Ted Flowers, who played his own, admittedly small part in the civil rights struggle. He faced one KKK roadblock and spent one late spring and early summer in the hellish humidity of Mississippi representing a few men who wanted to vote and others accused of crimes they may not have committed. He didn’t win one of those cases, by the way, but my father had earned the right to invoke those names, even though he rarely did. That was sacred territory, not to be used to burnish a reputation or gain “oohs” and “ahs” on the cocktail circuit.
It is particularly repellent to use the tragic history of this country, and the very real blood that was shed in the name of equality, to gain partisan brownie points simply because you’ve been a failure in your first year in office. You can fight the other side with words, with policies, and even with lawsuits, but you don’t get to play around with history.
Perhaps that’s why I was so incensed at Biden’s attempt to posture about this phantom racism that Stacey Abrams raises to fuel her own gubernatorial campaign. It has nothing to do with refusing to accede to the Democrats’ temper tantrum over the filibuster. It has nothing to do with legitimate attempts to figure out what happened in the last election and ensure that future ones are secure and not subject to any sort of manipulation. It has nothing to do with 2022.
As the daughter of a man who never exploited this country’s sometimes troubled history, even though he could have, I call out this president for his incredible lack of dignity and class. And I ask him, as the daughter of that same man, to be silent.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61