Many conservatives seem to think Republicans have turned the corner on their
"race problem" by having forced Lott's resignation. I fear they're fooling
Let's recognize that there are two distinct, yet related aspects to the
Republicans' problem with black voters. One is the perception that they
deliberately court Southern voters by using "code words" appealing to their
Democrats are feverishly capitalizing on the Lott affair to foster this
perception. And it's not just fringe Democrats. Indeed the two most
prominent Democrats in the nation, Bill and Hillary Clinton -- though I'm
sure they still don't confer about politics at the breakfast table --
"coincidentally" warned Republicans against letting their guard down
post-Lott. Said Hillary, "if anyone thinks that one person stepping down
from a leadership position cleanses the Republican Party of their constant
exploitation of race, then I think they're naive."
I've been in politics all my life, and I've never heard any Republican speak
about a strategy to win the South by using symbolic language to appeal to
closet Klansmen. Sure, I know of Republican electoral reliance on the South,
but I haven't thought of that in terms of race. I don't think that way, nor
do any other Republicans I know.
Nor do I buy for a second that Ronald Reagan was talking code when he
championed states’ rights. He happened to believe in that relic, the 10th
Amendment, and the doctrine of federalism.
Political conservatism, in line with the framers’ worldview, is grounded in
the axiom that freedom depends on restraints on government and dividing and
diffusing governmental power. That certain antebellum Southern racists may
have proffered the states’ rights argument to justify their "right" to
preserve slavery is reprehensible. But we can’t allow even gross abuses of
freedom to cause us to surrender our freedom itself.
Besides, in order to believe that Republicans have consciously adopted such
a repugnant southern strategy you must conclude that there would be some
point in it. The only way it would make sense is if white racism were still
thriving in the South
and if Republicans had tried
to implement a racist agenda in return for this racist vote. Such a strategy
would have backfired in short order had Republicans failed to deliver on
their coded promises.
Maybe I'm naïve, but I think the South has largely graduated from that part
of its past. But it will be a cold summer day in Georgia before you convince
leftist elitists that Southerners aren't just bigoted hayseeds. Regardless,
there is no evidence that Republicans have tried to implement a racist
agenda, unless you believe that political conservatism is inherently racist,
which brings me to the second aspect of the Republicans "race problem."
Liberal propagandists have done a masterful job in creating the perception
that conservatism is racist. Republican opposition to affirmative action and
hate crime legislation is based on their respect for the equal dignity of
minorities, not the reverse. And Republicans endorse welfare reform, school
choice and constitutionalist judges precisely because they want the American
dream to be accessible to all people.
Yet the charge persists. The Lott resignation, if anything, has emboldened
our race-hustling opponents, as demonstrated by another biting column from
The New York Times' Bob Herbert. "The G.O.P.," wrote Herbert, "has spent
more than 30 years demonizing Democrats for trying to help racial and ethnic
minorities. It has spent more than 30 years stomping on the voting rights of
blacks. And it has gone out of its way to pack the federal courts with
judges who are hostile to the interests and the rights of minorities."
While some of the race-baiters probably believe this rubbish, others are
horrified at the prospect of Republicans making inroads into the black vote.
Can you imagine what would happen to Democratic presidential politics if
Republicans were able to garner just a few more percentage points of the
For these reasons, I think it's going to take more than Republicans policing
their members' racially insensitive remarks or making warm and fuzzy
overtures to convince blacks that their best interests lie with the
They won't have that luxury, because in all likelihood Democrats are going
to ratchet racial politics to a new level of stridency. We're going to see
it against Senator Frist (it's already begun), in every future election
(Florida was just a teaser), and in major judicial appointments. There is
currently an unspoken litmus test against pro-life judicial nominees imposed
by Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That will
doubtlessly extend now to Southern judges (who will presumptively be deemed
The long-term impact of the Lott affair will depend on whether Republicans
have the courage to stand firm against the oppressive influence of political
correctness and aggressively pursue a colorblind agenda.
President Bush has earned significant goodwill with minorities. He is in a
unique position to sell a platform based on equal protection of the law and
that refuses to patronize minorities. If instead he and congressional
Republicans retreat into political correctness on race the Lott affair will
result in a giant leap backward for blacks, for racial relations and for