Ta-Nehisi Coates heard the dog whistle loud in clear in Newt Gingrich’s proclamation last night that Barack Obama is “the most successful food stamp president in modern American history.” But the speech also featured a straightforward call for the revival of the kind of techniques that were used to prevent African-Americans (and many poor whites as well) from voting in the Jim Crow South:
“You know, folks often talk about immigration. I always say that to become an American citizen, immigrants ought to have to learn American history. [applause] But maybe we should also have a voting standard that says to vote, as a native born American, you should have to learn American history. [applause] You realize how many of our high school graduates because of the decay of the educational system, couldn’t pass a citizenship test.”
For one thing, Gingrich really shouldn’t be running for president on a platform of adding an American history component to the citizenship test without trying some sample questions first. He might realize that history questions already feature prominently on the test. Meanwhile, if Gingrich himself wants to avoid flunking history he might take note of the fact that making US citizens take a poll test would be illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s for the very good reason that the historical purpose of such proposals has been to prevent black people form voting. This is certainly more subtle than Ron Paul’s direct criticism of the Civil Rights Act but either way the spirit is hard to miss.