Republicans and Race Revisited

Posted: Jul 09, 2004 12:00 AM

I couldn't help but notice (and lament) the subtle digs the partisan media took at President Bush when he observed the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act on July 1. It's as if Bush, a Republican, is presumptively disqualified from celebrating civil rights.

The Washington Post couldn't be content with reporting on Bush's comments. It had to challenge, however subtly, the genuineness of his commitment to the cause.

The Post seemed to be referring to the apparent hypocrisy in the president placing a wreath on Martin Luther King's tomb, then nominating Judge Charles Pickering to the U.S. Court of Appeals, "even though Pickering had reduced the sentence of a man convicted in a cross-burning case."

I'm not going to revisit the merits of the false charges of racism against Pickering that I addressed in a column some time ago, except to say that Pickering had legitimate (non-racial) reasons for his sentencing. He also proved his timber by risking his own life and that of his family by testifying against a Ku Klux Klan leader. He didn't just talk some phony talk. He walked the walk of racial equality.

Yet here we have the second most prominent voice of the partisan print media repeating these same ugly charges against Pickering in an effort to taint President Bush on the race issue by association.

But some things just never change. On a connecting flight from Fresno to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting by a very friendly lady from the Northeast -- a professor, an author and a self-described liberal. In the course of our conversation she basically admitted that she believes political conservatives, categorically, are racists.

It's sad, really. I've been battling this stereotype since I became interested in politics. It's the first cousin of the canard that conservatives lack compassion.

Most Democratic politicians won't come right out and make the accusation directly, but they might as well, given the thinly disguised innuendoes they often use to perpetuate the myth.

You will surely remember the radio ads by the Missouri Democratic Party saying, "When you don't vote, you let another church explode. When you don't vote, you allow another cross to burn. When you don't vote, you let another assault wound a brother or sister." Or the NAACP ads suggesting that George Bush, in refusing to support hate crimes legislation, was killing black dragging victim James Byrd "all over again."

These aren't merely isolated assaults from fringe kooks. Recently, Bill Clinton said in a speech that Republicans had succeeded in depicting Democrats as "weak elitists who couldn't be trusted to defend their country, couldn't be trusted with tax money, didn't believe in work, wanted to give all the money to poor people and people of color."

Don't miss Clinton's gratuitous racial reference there. Why did he add, "people of color," if not to fan the flames of suspicion among some in the black community that Republicans are prejudiced toward them?

But a more disturbing utterance along these lines came from Senator Kerry. He told a largely minority audience recently that many voters "were harassed and intimidated in going to the polls, something we thought was resolved in the 1960s," an unmistakable reference to earlier claims that Republicans systematically tried to prevent blacks from voting in Florida (and elsewhere).

Of course, if such a thing had actually occurred, it would be undeniably evil and would deserve the strongest condemnation. But I've never believed for a second that Republicans were behind such dirty tricks. And I don't believe for a second that Al Gore's henchman believed it either.

It was all part of an orchestrated plan to pull anything out of their hat to undo the Florida election results. As Peter Kirsanow wrote in National Review Online, "Even before the last vote had been cast in the 2000 presidential election, activists had descended upon Florida, claiming a widespread conspiracy to disenfranchise black voters ... There's absolutely no evidence that a single person was intimidated, harassed, or prevented from voting by Florida law enforcement."

It is the worst kind of demagogic lie to charge that conservatives are racists. Those who make the claim -- not necessarily those who are innocently duped by it -- are themselves responsible for untold damage to race relations and our societal health in general.

My hope is that one day the fog from this shameless racial exploitation will clear and more people will understand that conservatism demands that all people be treated equally regardless of race and views blacks through a colorblind lens rather than as a block of voters to manipulate.