Not bamboozled in Maryland

A new radio ad in Maryland, apparently intended to boost the Senate candidacy of Michael Steele, urges African Americans to stop voting for Democrats, because, among other things, “Democrats passed those black codes and Jim Crow laws” and “Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan.”

The ad claims that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Republican and says that “Democrats fought all civil rights legislation from the 1860s to the 1960s” and that “Democrats have bamboozled blacks.” But after listening to the ad, it’s hard not to wonder exactly who’s trying to bamboozle who. The ad, being aired by the National Black Republican Association, fails to note Democrats’ role in the modern civil rights movement, and it neglects to mention Democrats’ positions on currently contested issues including affirmative action, public education, and voting rights.

Unfortunately for Republicans, as political scientist Ronald Walters told the Washington Post, “You’re not likely to find African Americans having historical amnesia on this one. … This is clearly a sales pitch, and not a very good one.”

To his credit, Steele has called the ad “insulting” and asked that it be pulled down, but it’s important to note that the misleading narrative promulgated by the ad is not anomalous. This line of rhetoric is outrageous, but it isn’t new. The Republican National Committee has hired Religious Right faux historian David Barton to travel the country and provide African American audiences with a similarly false version of civil rights history. Barton has also released a one-sided DVD that spreads the same untruths (see a video clip from the DVD here).

People For the American Way Foundation just released an online report on David Barton that includes an in-depth look at his attempts to rewrite civil rights history. That report can be accessed at