President Bush got a jumpstart on Black History Month by meeting with the congressional black caucus last week to discuss matters that may concern the members and their respective constituencies.
Those in Congress who may have been hoping for an olive branch or even signs of peaceful cooperation from the president probably walked away disappointed. Many are also no doubt relieved that the rights guaranteed by the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments are not up for the same renewal process that the 1965 Voting Rights Act must face in 2007.
According to firsthand accounts of the meeting between the all-Democratic caucus and the president, Bush was noncommittal when pressed for his support of renewing and strengthening the act, which guarantees minorities voting rights. According to the president, he did not know enough about the act in question to comment about it, and he would review it when it came up in legislation.
Now, I am no Yale graduate, but off the top of my head I would guess that the Voting Rights Act in question was probably the final nail in the coffin for such deplorable acts as poll taxes, gerrymandering and the intimidation of blacks that was so common in the South at the time. Being that the president was supposedly protecting the skies over Alabama at the time from Vietnamese invasion, one would expect him to have a firsthand understanding to the importance of the act on the psyche of these previously marginalized -voters.
Alas, the president probably never got in touch with blacks in Alabama unless one was handing him a golf club. And he was likely noncommittal about the subject because his handlers and donors had not instructed him on which side to take yet.
Perhaps the president needs a history lesson about black people in our country and how important they have been to his Republican party. It all started back about the mid-19th century. Members of the former Whig party and northern Democrats were feeling increasingly ostracized and decided to form a new political party: the Republican Party!
Within a few years they had elected one of their own as president (Abe Lincoln), and had won over the Congress of a fractured nation.
Lincoln had the good sense to free the black population while in office, and for this good act the Republican Party was awarded with years of loyal black voting. This black support would help ensure the victory of future Republican candidates, including Ulysses S. Grant, whom, before President Bush was reelected, could probably be considered the worst two-term president in our nation's history. The black-Republican honeymoon would last a generation, but by the turn of the century things were starting to get a little sour between the two.
The Republicans were securing their place in the hearts and pockets of big business and the wealthy elite. Since few blacks could qualify as either, more and more they were siding with the rural farmers and industrial workers of the time behind the Democratic Party.
These strange bedfellows of former slaves, former slave owners and racist Irish immigrants would make due under one party for another 60 years. Then came the social explosion in our country that would shape the base for the modern Republican Party: the civil rights movements.
This is where politically correct readers need to sign off. Before the 1960s, the Republican Party was known by whites in the South as the "party of Abe Lincoln"(and I don't mean that in a good way). When old Jack Kennedy started taking orders from the pope (as many feared a Catholic president would do) and decided to stop segregation in the south, the Southern Democratic Alliance, which had been in place since the time of Andrew Jackson, was permanently broken. Since then the old South has become a hot bed of Republican conservatism that resists any form of change, be it gays' and immigrants' rights or crazy teachers preaching about evolution.
So you see Mr. President, both you and your party owe the black citizens of this country a great deal. And although you and Trent Lott may yearn for the days when Strom Thurman could speak his mind, the reality is that that time has passed. If the 1965 Voting Rights Act is too complex for you to grasp, try to remember this: Jim Crow laws – bad, citizens free to vote – good. That should be simple enough even for a Yale graduate.
JPEichmiller is a senior technical journalism major. His column runs every Wednesday in the Collegian.