The specter of Jim Crow laws

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the newly-elected chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee used some provocative language over the weekend while pointing to an important problem

[Wasserman Schultz] accused Republicans of trying to resurrect Jim Crow laws in the form of stricter laws at the state level that could limit access to ballots by some voters.

“Now you have the Republicans, who want to literally drag us all the way back to Jim Crow laws and literally — and very transparently — block access to the polls to voters who are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates,” she told host Roland Martin on “Washington Watch” this weekend. “And it’s nothing short of that blatant.”

This, apparently, caused a bit of a stir, and this afternoon, the DNC chair walked the comments back. “Jim Crow was the wrong analogy to use,” Wasserman Schultz said. “But I don’t regret calling attention to the efforts in a number of states with Republican dominated legislatures, including Florida, to restrict access to the ballot box for all kinds of voters, but particularly young voters, African Americans and Hispanic Americans.”

I can understand why DWS backed off, but I’m not sure she was entirely wrong in the first place.

There is a concerted national effort on the part of many Republican state policymakers to make it harder for traditional Democratic voters to participate in the 2012 elections. Under the auspices of rooting out “voter fraud” — a problem that appears to exist largely in the over-active imaginations of GOP activists — Republicans are passing voter-ID measures and approving new laws restricting voter-registration drives. It’s not subtle, but it is disgraceful. The GOP fears losing in a fair fight, so the party is trying to rig the game.

Is this “literally dragging us all the way back to Jim Crow laws”? No, not really. But it’s not unreasonable to consider these efforts Jim Crow-style tactics for the 21st century. The point of both is identical — identifying those the right doesn’t want to vote and passing laws that put barriers between them and the ballot box.

More to the point, though, we’ve seen one Republican presidential candidate recently raise the specter of poll tests, and another Republican presidential candidate explain his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In other words, we do have prominent GOP voices who are talking about literally going back to Jim Crow-era laws.

Were Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s comments provocative? Sure. Were they wildly off-base? I really don’t think so.