March 3, 2010


As Eric Boehlert notes, Andrew Breitbart has a real credibility problem, and it extends well beyond his journalistic malfeasance in the ACORN video hoax.

His website, Big Government, is similarly developing a reputation for running blatantly dishonest commentary, often in the cause of defending the videos and their makers or likewise attacking ACORN. The latest example was pointed out by Matt Tatum at AmSpec and Dave Weigel, who both called out this atrocity from "historian" Michael Zak at Andrew Breitbart's "Big Government" blog:

Democrats used the Klan to suppress their political opposition, with vote fraud and intimidation and violence. Klansmen aimed at African-Americans, nearly all Republicans in those days, and at white Republicans who tried to help them. Once threatened by the KKK, Republicans could in many cases save their lives only by publicly swearing allegiance to the Democratic Party. According to a southern governor, "Few Republicans dare sleep in their houses at night."

"The suppression of enough GOP votes could ensure a Democratic victory," wrote one historian. "There's no question that Klansmen closely watched the polls" - easy to do before the secret ballot was introduced in the United States in the 1880s. All too often, Republican ballots were not even counted.

Like ACORN, the Ku Klux Klan operated with impunity until Republican politicians and journalists sounded an alarm. In 1869, Nathan Bedford Forrest, the KKK's Grand Dragon, ordered the Klan disbanded. Why? The national organization was getting too much attention, so Klansmen would have to soldier on in state-level organizations, such as the Red Shirts in South Carolina and the Men of Justice in Alabama. Nonetheless, most members of these spin-off groups considered themselves to be Klansmen.

Good God. It's hard to know where to begin. Let's try with Weigel's observation:

The fact that the KKK suppressed and terrorized black voters while ACORN, well, doesn’t — sort of left out here.

More to the point, the entire raison d'etre of the Klan was to disenfranchise black voters, to terrorize them into submission and to ensure that they could not participate as full citizens. According to historians, they killed an estimated 20,000 people in the years 1866-1870 alone (see Philip Dray, At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America, p. 49). Indeed, the Klansmen of the postwar period essentially negated the war's outcome by destroying Reconstruction through a campaign of terrorist violence that encompassed massacres, white citizen militias destroying black townships, and the complete destruction of the voting franchise for black people, thereby ensuring white rule for the next century and beyond. (For more on this, be sure to read Stephen Budiansky's riveting account, The Bloody Shirt: Terror After the Civil War, which was excerpted in the New York Times.)

ACORN's very raison d'etre, in blazing contradistinction from the KKK, is to enfranchise minority voters and bring them into the American democratic system. That is to say, its very existence is about repairing the damage created by the Klan and its legacy of Jim Crow and segregation -- damage that remains with us to this day. Moreover, its established means of doing so are peaceful and democratic: voter-enrollment drives and education work, empowering minority communities to achieve economic and politic equity. That was what the Klan was devoted to preventing.

Let's also be clear about the "voter fraud" ACORN is accused of and its utter difference from the Klan's disenfranchisement of blacks. What has happened is that a handful of ACORN registrars have defrauded ACORN by turning in fake names on their voter-registration rolls; this is known as voter-registration fraud, which is completely different than vote fraud, which involves ballot stuffing, manipulation of votes or ballot boxes, and similar acts. That is, none of the fake voters on the registration forms were ever going to vote in the election (the fraud was detected by ACORN), which meant no one else's votes could be "negated" by fraudulent ballots, and so no voters were ever disenfranchised by ACORN's activities.

Compare that to the KKK method of vote fraud: outright stuffing of ballot boxes, a refusal to count Republican votes, and threatening the life and limb of any person, black or white, who showed up to vote Republican.

Oh, and one other thing: Zak makes a big show of pointing out that these were Democratic white supremacists engaged in "voter fraud" then, just as (supposedly) now, and it was Republican voters who were under attack and Republicans who stood up to the fraud.

Well, yes, that's true. But it's also true that these were progressive Republicans who were upholding democracy, and conservative Democrats who were attacking it. Zak, like so many conservative Republicans today, wants to pretend that whole "Southern Strategy" thing never happened.

As a commenter named NTS points out at Big Government:

Can we at least try to keep our criticisms within the realm of believability? Conservatives just come off as desperate and dishonest by constantly trying to compare far-left groups like ACORN and Planned Parenthood to far-right groups like the Klan and the Nazis. And can we also stop with this nonsense about pointing out how the Democratic Party used to be associated with segregationists and the Klan? For those of you with no understanding of history -- the parties pretty much flipped during the 1960s. This is why the "solid South" used to be solidly Democratic and is now solidly Republican.

Let's put it this way: Just as Michael Zak has pretty much demolished his claims to being a "historian" in any serious sense, so has Breitbart's Big Government demolished its claim to offering any kind of serious contribution to the discourse from the conservative side.

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