It's the principle

Mona Charen

12/4/2000 12:00:00 AM - Mona Charen
They told us, when Clarence Thomas was about to be confirmed as an associate justice of the Supreme Court without a real fight, that we had to take Anita Hill's allegations very seriously. It wasn't, they assured us, that they were opposed to Thomas on other grounds and were simply picking up any stick to pound him with. No, no, they insisted that the accusation itself was so very serious that it demanded a full hearing and plenty of moral indignation. (The presumption of innocence does not apply to conservatives.) But later, when Bill Clinton was credibly accused of far worse, we learned that they didn't really mean it at all. None of it. They did not mean it when they said that any sex talk (to say nothing of conduct) between a boss and an underling was automatic sexual harassment. Paula Jones was asking for it, wasn't she? They didn't mean it when they said that a woman who had been sexually harassed would naturally stay on good terms with the harasser because in this sexist world she has no other choice. When Kathleen Willey accused Bill Clinton of, well, you know what she accused him of; they were quick to point out that Willey had sent him a note of thanks and support after the purported grope. And they certainly did not mean it when they said women do not make up this sort of thing and are always to be believed. Just ask Juanita Brodderick. And how are we to know when liberals are serious about racism when they use the accusation so brazenly for political ends? The Rev. Jesse Jackson is certainly the jack-of-all-trades for the Democratic Party -- sometime presidential candidate, sometime comforter of first families, and always-available agent provocateur. Before Florida's first recount had even concluded, the Reverend jetted off to Florida at Al Gore's bidding and instantly set about looking for black folks to say that they'd been harassed on the way to the voting booth. Alas for Jackson and Gore, they couldn't find any. No matter, they are still attempting to transform an election loss into just another chapter in the civil-rights struggle. Gore let it be known that he suspected a racist plot. "The old and cheap outdated machinery is usually found in areas with populations that are of lower income, minorities, seniors on fixed incomes" the Vice President suggested. Jackson was more direct, claiming that "African-Americans were fundamentally targeted" by voting irregularities. Within hours of the first recount, Jackson and Rep. Robert Wexler, D.-Fla., began talking about "disenfranchisement" of voters in Palm Beach County. Frankly, it's a little surprising that Jackson gets away with this stuff without any protest from real leaders of the civil-rights movement. Why doesn't Rep. John Louis express outrage that Jackson can possibly compare what happened at Selma with what is going on now? Isn't it rather a sacrilege to imply that the real oppression suffered by black people in the Jim Crow South is like pushing the wrong circle on a ballot by accident? The word disenfranchisement is now bandied about so often that people claim to be "disenfranchised" when they don't like the choices offered by the two parties. The real history of disenfranchisement was no joke, but it can be diminished in our memory when we see Jesse Jackson linking arms with fellow Democrats in a Tallahassee synagogue and singing "We Shall Overcome." Earlier, he had told a Palm Beach crowd: "I marched in Selma 35 years ago for the right to vote to count. We've marched too much, bled too profusely and died too young. We must not surrender." Surrender to what? Is George Bush now Bull Connor for heaven's sake? Gore has assured us over and over again that his protracted and hydra-headed legal assault on our democracy is really about a principle -- not about his own self-interest. What is that principle? That every vote should count. The vice president expects us to take this "principle" seriously even though he wants to recount only the ballots in Democratic strongholds, and though he has made every effort to disqualify ballots from military voters. It's enough to make you stop taking Democrats seriously.