John Leo

The theme of many Democratic appeals this year to blacks in Florida was "Don't let them do it to you again" -- rhetoric explicitly used by Bill Clinton -- meaning that the racist Republicans stole the election from you in 2002. Armies of reporters from liberal Democratic media descended on Florida and found no basis for this charge. What they found was that large numbers of votes in predominantly black areas were invalid because they were incompetently marked. But Democrats have been massively unwilling to shed the useful myth of Republican racism in Florida. Crying "racism!" over and over is strategy to keep blacks angry and whites guilty. Which party is "constantly exploiting" race in this way?

If Hillary Clinton means that many Republicans have a history of tolerating and appealing to racists, well, that is obviously true. The GOP record from the 1960s through the 1980s is probably worse than the Democratic Party's similar long-term tolerance of racism that ran right up to the mid-1960s. Republicans voted more heavily in favor of the 1964 Civil Rights Act than Democrats, in both the House and the Senate.

Senator Clinton's rhetoric says, in effect, that Republicans are permanently racist, an ugly smear. Andrew Sullivan offered an excellent two-line summary of what we learned during the Lott uproar: We learned how many liberals simply believe all Republicans are racists under the skin, and we learned how many conservatives aren't racists under the skin.

Exactly so. Principled conservatives supplied most of the pressure that forced Lott's resignation. A lot of it came from younger mainstream columnists and a rising group of Internet commentators who have no more connection with Trent Lott and Strom Thurmond than Hillary Clinton does with George Wallace, Lester Maddox or Sen. Robert Byrd in his Klan days. The avalanche of conservative protest that buried Trent Lott was inspiring because so much of it was not merely strategic, but moral. It is simply immoral to dance around the race issue as Lott did, then try to get away with insincere, singsong serial apologies.

The current Democratic strategy, it seems, is to keep hammering away at what racists Republicans are, in hopes of scaring minorities away from the GOP and making it harder for President Bush to name conservative and moderate judges. It's a tawdry effort, and as William Kristol said, Democrats are in danger of "wildly overplaying their hand." But the American people aren't fools. They can figure out which party has just acted honorably and which one is busy "constantly exploiting" race.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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