pic: thenewjimcrow.com

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by Subhash Kateel

After the amount of flak I caught from my last post on Ron Paul, I almost decided to never write about the guy again, lest I have to check under my car every morning.  I seem to have pissed a few people off, not because of what I wrote, but what I didn’t write. Apparently, defending the parts of Ron Paul that I don’t think are crazy isn’t enough.  I have to be willing to vote for the guy AND believe he has a real chance of becoming President. In the alternative, I have to pretend that he has never been right about anything and is only a dangerous racist demagogue.  Writing anything that says, “it’s complicated” is unacceptable to some people (thanks for reading anyway).
But after seeing him in action during the New Hampshire debates, I decided to go in one last time . In the process of defending himself from his own infamous 1990’s newsletters (if you missed the fun, you can get caught up here) he brought up stuff I wouldn’t expect to hear in a Republican debate. 

“I’m the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country. It’s in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites, and yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re prosecuted, imprisoned, way disproportionately. They get the death penalty way disproportionately.

How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get execution? But poor minorities have an injustice. And they have an injustice in war as well.  Because minorities suffer more. Even with the draft, they suffered definitely more. Without a draft, they’re suffering disproportionately. If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws which are being so unfairly enforced.”
If a politician ever needs to divert a discussion away from the dumb things in their past in a principled way, this is probably how they should do it.  To find an example of how not to respond to a racially charged situation, look no further than Florida Governor, and only politician less popular than ghosts, Rick Scott.  On a few occasions the unloved gov responded to criticism from some members of the African American community by insisting that he understands Black folks because he grew up in the projects.  In New Hampshire,  jackass-in-chief Newt Gingrich (who I not really defend here) was handling fallout from his statements linking the entire Black community to food stamp use by simply saying more jacked up stuff.  
In a climate where so many politicians do such a bad job of removing the feet they put in their mouths, it is pretty refreshing to see a politician do a foot-in-mouth extraction while simultaneously highlighting a real societal injustice that disproportionately affects working people of color .
How bad are the disparities in the criminal justice system that Ron Paul refers to?  So bad that many, including author Michelle Alexander, have called the criminal justice system the  “New Jim Crow.”   So  bad, that Desmond Meade of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition estimates that a million Floridians are stripped of their right to vote because of it.  So bad that Gov. Rick Scott and his Attorney General Pam “I enforce the law unless it’s foreclosure fraud” Bondi seem to be using the disparities to prevent tens of thousands of people from voting, potentially setting the stage for a rigged 2012 election.  

For a Republican politician to essentially insert a discussion of the new Jim Crow into a election year debate is not lost on those that have fought for even a fraction of that attention during any Democratic debate.  Now Ron Paul isn’t right when he says that he is the “only” politician that understands the new Jim Crow. And before you start trying to book him for an MLK day speaking engagement, I should point out that, racist or not, his opposition to the Civil Rights Act is freaking bizarre.  But this whole racist newsletter fiasco brings up of a much bigger point -the difference between being personally racist and promoting policies with racist results.  You can have supposedly not-racist politicians like President Bill Clinton that enact policies via the War on Drugs and the death penalty that produce racist results.  You can also have really racist politicians, like President Harry Truman, who once said that one man is as good as another as long as he is not a “nigger or chinaman,” that  promote  anti-racist policies like de-segregating the military. As a whole,  the sooner we can have real conversations about the differences between the two,  the sooner we will be better at holding politicians accountable for the things they say and do.

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