Will Joe Biden's Jim Crow Big Lie Boomerang?

By Michael Barone

April 9, 2021 6 min read

The big lie works — until it doesn't.

The big lie in this case is Joe Biden's charge that the changes in Georgia election law passed by the majority-Republican legislature and signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp on April 1 being are "Jim Crow on steroids." This was doubling down on his March 25 press conference statement that the law "makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle."

This isn't the first time Biden has charged Republicans with racism. During the 2012 campaign, he told a predominantly black audience that Mitt Romney "wants to put y'all back in chains."

That of course was wrong, and so was Biden's claim that the Georgia law closed off voting after 5:00 p.m. Even Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler awarded Biden the maximum four Pinocchios.

That didn't stop Atlanta-based CEOs from gratuitously adding their voices to the chorus, including Delta Airlines's Ed Bastian (total 2019 pay $17 million) and Coca-Cola's Britain-born James Quincey (total 2019 pay $18 million).

Piling on was Major League Baseball CEO Rob Manfred (total 2019 pay $11 million), prompted perhaps by Biden's statement that he would "strongly encourage" moving this summer's All-Star Game out of Atlanta, who did just that.

Never mind that the Georgia law authorizes 17 days of no-excuse-required early voting, which is exactly 17 more days than provided in Joe Biden's Delaware or Major League Baseball's home state of New York.

Never mind also that, as Georgia Public Radio's Stephen Fowler pointed out, some provisions of the Georgia law increase voter ballot access. And ignore the mixed-verdict analysis of Slate's Will Saletan, and the obvious reasons for some provisions he calls "bad stuff," like later mailing of absentee ballots (previously starting in May) and shorter runoffs (the last ones pushed the campaign past the Christmas holidays).

And put aside the New York Times's Upshot writer Nate Cohn, who concludes that the changes in the Georgia law are "unlikely to significantly alter turnout or Democratic chances" and adds they might increase turnout.

Pause instead and ponder just what you're talking about when you're talking about "Jim Crow." Carl Cannon, a reporter's reporter, provides a useful guide in realclearpolitics.com.

"'Jim Crow,' originally a minstrel act before the Civil War, came to mean a series of laws and customs that took root in the Deep South during Reconstruction," Cannon explains. "The civil rights movement was about dismantling them." Jim Crow was enforced by state and local laws and by force — "at the point of a gun or the end of a rope by armed white mobs." And by lynching after lynching, as Cannon describes in horrifying detail.

To say that anyone in public life wishes to bring back Jim Crow is a despicable lie. It's a libel against the American people.

One of the great achievements of this country was dismantling and repudiating the system of legally and violently enforced racial segregation and subjugation. It was the achievement first of black Americans, famous and obscure, who risked, and in some cases gave, their lives to peacefully protest, and it was a cause that came to be embraced by a supermajority of Americans of all backgrounds and characteristics.

To declare that provisions like requiring voters to show picture identification and limiting no-excuse early voting to 17 days amount to a return to Jim Crow is disgraceful, whether you're the president of the United States of $46 million worth of CEOs.

It's also not clear it's politically helpful. A Morning Consult poll shows 42 to 36% approval of the Georgia law. A CNN poll shows approval on Joe Biden's "handling racial injustice" is just 47%, below his overall job rating.

Democrat Stacey Abrams started the attacks on Georgia election law as "voter suppression" by charging that she actually won the 2018 governor election (she lost by 54,723 votes). Hillary Clinton and other Democrats collaborated in her charade. Actually, 2018 turnout was up 54% from the previous governor election, and up 93% — nearly doubling — from 2002. Now ,Abrams is on the defensive about Atlanta losing the All-Star Game.

Similarly, Donald Trump complained that outright fraud and election law changes to accommodate increased absentee deprived him of Georgia's 16 electoral votes last November (he lost by 11,779 votes). The Jan. 6 rioters collaborate in this charade. Actually, 2020 Georgia turnout was up 21% from 2016 and 93% from 2000. Trump's protests hurt his ratings and denied him deserved credit for Operation Warp Speed's vaccines.

Now, Joe Biden is charging Americans want to return to Jim Crow and giving ammunition to adversaries like the Chinese who berated America's race problems before his secretary of state and national security adviser in Anchorage last month.

Big lies sometimes boomerang.

Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.

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