Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
December 19, 2002
POLITICS: Yeah, More On Lott
Conservatives and Republicans are right to be indignant at Lott, and we're now seeing examples of precisely why.
EXHIBIT A: You knew if the race cards were being played somewhere, Bill Clinton would pull up a chair and say, "deal me in and I'll raise you."
Asked if Lott should be removed, Clinton said, "That's up to them, but I think they can't do it with a straight face."
This from the expert in saying things with a straight face.
"I think the way the Republicans have treated Senator Lott is pretty hypocritical since right now their policy is, in my view, inimical to everything that this country stands for," Clinton said.
Now, if President Bush said that Democrats were pursuing policies that were "inimical to everything that this country stands for," he'd be pilloried for McCarthyism and questioning people's patriotism. (Note that Bush, last week, accused Lott of being un-American - "recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country" - but that's different). What policy? Clinton doesn't say, of course. All of them, presumably, especially the ones Clinton himself signed into law.
"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending Wednesday. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."
By supporting segregation? Or is the centerpiece of Republican strategy the giving of pointless speeches at birthday parties?
As the Weekly Standard points out, Clinton's mentor, William Fulbright, voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964; so did Al Gore's dad, and so did Robert Byrd, still a key vote for Senate Democrats today. Most Republicans voted in favor. I'll get to this more later, but northern liberal Democrats seem to think that race is the only thing people down South care about. Clinton can't be that dumb - he was governor of Arkansas for 12 years - but he is that dishonest. Let's ask two easy questions. Do you think it's possible that the two major parties have different views about national defense, and that people in southern states may prefer the Republican position? Also, do you think it's possible that the two major parties have different views about social/cultural/religious issues having little to do with race, such as the public role of religion or abortion, and that people in southern states may prefer the Republican position?
Bill Clinton doesn't.
The former president then said, "He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day."
You mean, stump for 100-year-old segregationists. Not just segregationists, but segregationist Democrats. This is a growth segment in the electorate, y'know?
He accused Republicans of "trying to run black voters away from the polls" in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana and Florida. Clinton also cited recent gubernatorial elections in Georgia and South Carolina, won by Republicans.
Never let the facts get in the way of a good theme, huh? Of course, Republicans lost the big races in Arkansas and Louisiana, in part (at least in the latter case) because of heavy black turnout. Besides, the Democrats scream "vote suppression" and "racism" whenever Republicans lift a finger to examine very real possible cases of voter fraud, or to prevent such frauds.
"They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."
The "Confederate flag" story is the emerging Democratic myth about the GOP sweep in Georgia, and it may well have had some marginal effect on the elections there, but again this ignores, among other things, the sharp contrasts between Saxby Chambliss and Max Cleland on national defense issues and the impressive vote-turnout machine assembled by former Christian Coalition political director Ralph Reed. But was it really a factor in the South Carolina race?
EXHIBIT B: TIME magazine's ironically named race-baiting columnist Jack E. White wants Republicans to denounce Ronald Reagan, too. The idea here, as with Clinton's attacks, is to blur what makes Lott's comments offensive, and then try to fit other Republicans into the same blur:
The sad truth is that many Republican leaders remain in a massive state of denial about the party's four-decade-long addiction to race-baiting. They won't make any headway with blacks by bashing Lott if they persist in giving Ronald Reagan a pass for his racial policies.
The same could be said, of course, about such Republican heroes as, Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon or George Bush the elder, all of whom used coded racial messages to lure disaffected blue collar and Southern white voters away from the Democrats. Yet it's with Reagan, who set a standard for exploiting white anger and resentment rarely seen since George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, that the Republican's selective memory about its race-baiting habit really stands out.
See, here the idea is to claim that any Republican policies that appeal to white voters must be "coded racial messages." Put criminals in jail? Code words! Equal justice under law? Code words! Oppose massive expansions of federal power? Code words! Cut tax burdens on individuals and businesses? Code words! Restrain runaway federal spending on entitlement programs, and fight fraud and abuse in federal programs and federal spending? Code words! Once you get in the habit, you can stop damn near any Republican or conservative argument in its tracks.
As a young congressman, Lott was among those who urged Reagan to deliver his first major campaign speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three civil rights workers were murdered in one of the 1960s' ugliest cases of racist violence. It was a ringing declaration of his support for "states' rights" — a code word for resistance to black advances clearly understood by white Southern voters.
Now, I suppose the specific choice of Philadelphia, Mississippi can be quibbled with. Then again, Reagan had early supporters in Mississippi, and he was rallying the troops. Would White have preferred that Reagan burn the town to the ground and sow salt on its ashes, so no speech could ever again be given there? But on the merits, White makes no attempt to argue here that Reagan was in any way insincere about his commitment to federalism, or that he had a hidden agenda. No, it's enough to say that he used arguments that bad people used in the past, and some of them voted for him.
White's other point is that Reagan - in a decision that touched off a huge firestorm of criticism at the time - authorized his Justice Department to file an amicus brief on behalf of Bob Jones University, arguing that the IRS couldn't revoke the university's tax exemption on "public policy" grounds because it didn't like the university's racial policies. I hold no brief for Bob Jones, who also thinks that Catholics like me are satan worshippers or something, but it's obvious from a simple perusal of the case that bigger principles were at stake; imagine what the critics of the administration would have said if it had instead been defending the Reagan IRS in revoking a tax exemption on "public policy" grounds because a university's faculty, known for attending 'Ban the Bomb' rallies and supporting the Sandanistas, broke U.S. law by visiting with Fidel Castro.
There's no question that Nixon, in 1968, had a "Southern Strategy" to win disaffected white southern voters who were never going to vote Democrat again because of LBJ's civil rights position. OK. But first of all, the constant harping on this theme assumes that the world has not changed since 1968, which is actually a common misimpression on the left. John Kerry's running for president as the candidate who will stop the war in Vietnam, after all. Second, Nixon wasn't in any way arguing for segregation, just promising not to let the movements unleashed by the civil rights movement - most notably, unchecked growth of federal judicial power - get out of hand.
In any event, if you really want to argue that all subsequent Republican victories in the South are thus morally tainted, you have to also agree that every Democrat who stumps for Social Security or any of the rest of the New Deal's superstructure is a racist, because FDR was elected and pushed his agenda through Congress with an express decision to leave segregationists to their own devices. He put an Alabama Senator, formerly with the KKK, on the Supreme Court. He opposed anti-lynching laws; the Dixiecrats who bolted the party with Strom Thurmond in 1948 had supported FDR, and were rebelling against changes in Democratic party policies.
The real problem with Trent Lott's comments isn't the making of comments that could be read, through some super-secret Racist Decoder Ring, as similar to positions taken by segregationists. Given the wackos out there on the Left, the Democrats don't really want to get into this game of who has the worst fringe supporters; when Democrats engage in class warfare, after all, they are invoking the same type of rhetoric used to justify the deliberate murder of tens of millions of people in the twentieth century. The problem is that his comments gave open approval to the worst types of racism seen in this country in his own lifetime, in his own backyard. That can't be defended or explained away. It's not a capital crime - Robert Byrd's just as bad, and he hasn't been expelled from the Senate - but it does make him unfit to be the Majority Leader precisely because discrimination on the basis of race is not what the Republican party stands for, has ever stood for, or ever can stand for. And keeping him on will just give more credence to the Bill Clintons and Jack E. Whites of the world, who want to keep all conservative ideas out of the public square by branding them, every last one, as a Trojan Horse to bring back Jim Crow.