Of the many objectionable things said at this past weekend's Tea Party Convention, former Rep. Tom Tancredo's call for “civics literacy tests before people can vote” was perhaps the most flagrantly offensive and, arguably, anti-American. The idea of a “civics literacy test” as a prerequisite for voting rights is not only illegal, it conjures up the still raw memories of Jim Crow segregation in the post-bellum South.
Over at Andrew Breitbart's BigJournalism.com, though, Tancredo's comments were no big deal. They were so innocuous, in fact, that they attacked MSNBC's Rachel Maddow for denouncing Tancredo, calling her a “race-baiting demagogue.”
BigJournalism.com contributor Izzy Lyman tried to explain why Tancredo's comments were OK:
Tancredo didn't say “literacy,” and he wasn't talking about race. He said “civics literacy,” which implies a basic understanding of U.S. government and history. Thanks to multiculturalism and unsecured borders, there are far too many people in this country who don't speak a word of English and will never bother to do so. Here is one reason why state campaigns to make English the official language of government business are so successful.
This is a distinction without a difference. Any sort of “literacy test” as an impediment to voting rights -- be it actual literacy or governmental literacy or historical literacy -- is illegal. In fact, literacy tests administered prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did test knowledge of civics and history. If, as Big Journalism suggests, that's the type of “literacy test” Tancredo was advocating, then it's still illegal and discriminatory. And to argue that the Tancredo wasn't “talking about race” when slamming people “people who could not even spell the word 'vote,' or say it in English” is willfully obtuse, given Tancredo's past racially inflammatory rhetoric.
Earlier this week, Breitbart made a big deal about how he doesn't support Birtherism, even though his websites had wallowed the Birther swamp on numerous occasions. Will someone ask him now why his websites apparently condone Tancredo's call for the resurrection of Jim Crow in the United States?