A scholar whom President George W. Bush appointed as vice chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Abigail Thernstrom has a reputation as a tough conservative critic of affirmative action and politically correct positions on race.
But when it comes to the investigation that the Republican-dominated commission is now conducting into the Justice Department’s handling of an alleged incident of voter intimidation involving the New Black Panther Party — a controversy that has consumed conservative media in recent months — Thernstrom has made a dramatic break from her usual allies.
“This doesn’t have to do with the Black Panthers; this has to do with their fantasies about how they could use this issue to topple the [Obama] administration
,” said Thernstrom, who said members of the commission voiced their political aims “in the initial discussions” of the Panther case last year.
“My fellow conservatives on the commission had this wild notion they could bring Eric Holder down and really damage the president
,” Thernstrom said in an interview with POLITICO.
The criticism has focused attention not just on Thernstrom, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, but on the partisan nature of the Civil Rights Commission and on a story that, like the controversy over the anti-poverty group ACORN, has raged almost completely outside the mainstream media.
The facts of the case are relatively simple. Two men were captured on a video standing outside a polling place in a black Philadelphia neighborhood on Election Day in 2008. One of the men had a nightstick, if an unclear agenda — though a member of the black nationalist New Black Panther Party, he had earlier professed loathing for the Democratic "puppet" candidate, Barack Obama, who went on to overwhelmingly carry that precinct.
Three Republican poll monitors filed complaints of intimidation — itself a federal crime — but no voters attested to being turned away
. The Justice Department, while Bush was still president, investigated the incident and later, after Obama took office, decided that "the facts and the law did not support pursuing" the claims against the party and against a second, unarmed man,
Justice spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said.
Read more: A conservative dismisses right-wing Black Panther 'fantasies' - Ben Smith - POLITICO.com