A study in appeasement

Posted: Jul 27, 2003 12:00 AM

Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister who agreed to the transfer of the Sudetenland to Germany, is known to history as an appeaser. Munich, where his infamous conference with Hitler was held, has become an international synonym for craven appeasement.

Chamberlain's defenders argue that he had no real choice. The British were unprepared for war and could not stop Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland in any event. Moreover, the Sudetenlanders were a Germanic people who had never lived under Prague rule until 1919, should never have been ceded to the Czechs at Versailles and would vote 90 to 10 to join the Reich anyway.

Chamberlain simply did not think Prague's rule of a dissident Sudetenland was worth fighting a European war like the 1914-1918 struggle, in which 750,000 of Britain's bravest had perished.

Thus did appeasement come to be the mortal sin of politics. Which brings us to the NAACP. At its Miami convention, Chairman Julian Bond said of the Republicans that they appeal to "the dark underside of American culture, to that minority of Americans who reject democracy and equality." They "practice racial division."

"Their idea of equal rights," Bond sneered, "is the American flag and the Confederate swastika flying side by side." And when 2004 comes around, "the no-show National Guardsman and his draft-dodging vice president will lose by 3 million votes."

Rough stuff from the chairman of what is supposed to be the most respected civil rights organization in America. Did the GOP respond with Churchillian blasts from the White House, Congress and party headquarters? If so, I missed them.

Nor is this the first time Bond used such insults. When Bush formed his Cabinet, Bond said he had drawn on "the Taliban wing of American politics, appeased the wretched appetite of the extreme right wing and chose ... officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."

GOP Majority Leader Dick Armey wrote to Kweisi Mfume, his former House colleague and NAACP president, that Bond's screed was "racial McCarthyism" that will "divide our nation." Bond dismissed Armey's letter as a "typical complaint of those who oppose justice and fairness." And that was that. Game, set, match, to Mr. Bond.

Why do the Republicans take it? Why do they not retaliate and punish organizations and individuals who insult their president and mock their party as racist, evil, retrograde and sick? Why do they seem to have so little self-respect as to tolerate this? What are they afraid of?

My view: Republicans are intimidated by people like Bond, for they are terrified of being branded "racist," and fear Bond and the NAACP have the power to burn that brand into their hides. They fear the NAACP can raise the decibel level on the race issue and marshal a vast black turnout, which will go 90-to-10 to the Democrats.

So, they meekly accept the abuse. On issues of racial equality for whites and blacks, Bush Republicans are born appeasers.

What might the GOP do? Exactly what Democrats would do, were they in power and a Christian Coalition leader unleashed such partisan bile on their president and party. Demand an IRS audit of its tax exemption. Red-line out from the budget all discretionary funding for its programs. Have the House speaker write to corporate contributors of the organization to tell them this is an unfriendly act.

Conservative groups should ferret out the big donors to the NAACP and publish their names, so stockholders can respond to Bond's slanders. Congress could act to break up big foundations like Ford, longtime financier of the NAACP, and require foundations to expend 7 percent of their assets yearly until they go out of business.

Play hardball with people who play hardball with you.

But if Republicans behave like battered wives, consider the conduct of the Democratic presidential candidates who turned down the NAACP's invitation to appear on the stage in Miami.

When Joe Lieberman, Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich were no-shows, Mfume roared, "You have no legitimacy over the next nine months in our community. ... You have become persona non grata. Your political capital is the equivalent of Confederate dollars."

Within 48 hours, all three were crawling across the stage in Miami, begging forgiveness. Wailed Gephardt: "I'm sorry I was not here. ... I apologize to all of you for not being here, and I thank you for letting me be here."

Said Lieberman: "By not coming, Monday, I was wrong. I regret it, and I apologize." Said Kucinich: "I'm very sorry I wasn't able to be here. Amazing grace, how sweet it is, once was lost, now I'm found."

Wonder what old George Corley Wallace would have told Mr. Bond.