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Commentary: Racism and the Republican Party

Yesterday, in an ancient ritual, members of the Electoral College gathered in state capitols all over the nation, including Lansing.

State Senator Steve Bieda, a big history buff, was there to witness the event, which is technically the real presidential election.

But he told me that when Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer’s office looked at the official certificate sent over by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office, something was wrong.

The Secretary of State had misspelled President Obama’s first name. The electors had to send it back and get another certificate before they could formally register their votes.

Well, you’d think after four years everybody would be able to spell the president’s name correctly, or at least would take pains to do so on an important official document. Yet anyone can make mistakes. But when I told this story to an African-American colleague, she didn’t think it was a mistake at all.

She thought it was one more deliberate slight aimed at an African-American from the Republican Secretary of State. Now, my guess is that this was just a sloppy clerical error. 

And I don’t much care for wild charges of racism. Five years or so ago, a full-page ad in a minor Detroit paper accused me of being part of an anti-black “lynch mob” for being critical of the behavior of then-mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. But it is hard for me to fault my colleague for suspecting the Republicans of racism here.

That’s because over the weekend, we learned that last August, former Michigan Republican State Chairman Ron Weiser made remarks at a tea party meeting that were clearly and openly racist.

Weiser, who is now the Republican National Committee’s finance chairman, told a meeting in Milford he thought Mitt Romney could win Michigan this year because there was no longer any effective political operation capable of getting shiftless Detroiters to the polls. To quote him exactly, “there’s no machine to go to the pool halls and the barbershops and put those people on buses and then bus them from precinct to precinct where they vote multiple times. And there’s no machine to get them to stop playing pool and drinking beer, and it does make a difference.” End quote. Well, that’s a monologue straight out of Amos and Andy, though Weiser is claiming he didn’t intend to be offensive.

In one sense, the joke is on Republicans. They had convinced themselves Black and Hispanic voters wouldn’t show up in great numbers this time. But they did. You could see the shock on the faces at Fox News on election night. And I hate to break it to Mr. Weiser, but you know what would have happened if every single black voter in Detroit had stayed in the pool hall on Election Day? Obama would still have won Michigan easily. 

Being a white male of WASP origins, I hear a lot of things, and I can tell you that what Ron Weiser said is what a lot of Republicans think.

That’s why, in a nation that’s becoming more diverse, they are losing national elections. They are doing fine in Idaho and Kentucky. But if they don’t fundamentally change their thinking and you are waiting to see another GOP president … don‘t hold your breath.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.