by Alexander Cockburn
one of the staple and indeed few remaining pleasures of American political life. A Republican taken with drink, speaking unguardedly near a live microphone, or in Trent Lott's case, coasting through a ritual farewell speech on automatic pilot, dropping a racist gibe or fond salute to America's dark past. The rituals of outrage, apology, self-abasement, renewed outrage, deeper self-abasement, forgiveness or rejection duly follow.
Sometimes, the sinner is ceremoniously booted into oblivion, as happened with Richard Nixon's secretary of agriculture, Earl Butz, or Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. Sometimes, as is now happening in Lott's case, the Democrats give him a thumping while hoping that in the end Lott will hold on to his post as Senate Majority whip, the better to remind black voters that this is the true face of the Republican Party, featuring the Klansman's robe, the burning cross and the lynching tree.
The rhetorical undertow of the Lott uproar has been rosy-cheeked affirmation that because Strom Thurmond didn't become president in 1948 and didn't even draw enough votes from Truman to put in the Republican Thomas E. Dewey, America thereafter made decisive strides toward racial equality, with justice and prosperity for all, achieved at some undefined point in the middle past.
Perhaps I missed somewhere in the press a useful update of the Kerner Commission, which was convened after the urban uprisings of the late 1960s to investigate the causes of that violence and which concluded that despite formal renunciation in the early 1960s of the old, abused doctrine of Separate but Equal, at the practical level, Separate and Unequal remained the overall condition of black Americans. How much better are things for black people today?
True, a few overt statements of racism by politicians get chastised from time to time. True, as George Bush likes to point out, his administration is adorned by Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, which is like saying that all Nubians were doing well under the Roman Emperor Augustus because a Nubian eunuch stood at his elbow. But who are, either absolutely or in terms of proportion, the poorest; the most harassed by cops; the most imprisoned; the most executed, the most underserved in terms of schools, doctors, housing, lawyers; the most often at the receiving end of the economic boot; the most vulnerable to any adverse stroke of fortune and the least protected by those institutions that can offer credit or emergency assistance in a time of need?
Banished these days from public venues and discussion is the designedly vicious racism of the sort that prompted Strom Thurmond to declare in 1948 that "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the nigger into our homes, our schools, our churches." (Recent press accounts of this speech have been sanitized, replacing the word "nigger" with "Negro.")
The politicians, the think tanks and the academics these days don't use the n-word but embrace concepts with which Thurmond or the young Trent Lott, or one of the leaders of segregationist forces at the University of Mississippi would have felt entirely comfortable. Remember "The Bell Curve," which amid much earnest praise in the press, mustered statistical trumpery to argue that blacks are stupider? The basic intent of The Democratic Leadership Council that greased Clinton's career (and of which Senator Joe Lieberman was once the chair, was to wean the Democratic Party away from any sense of obligation to "the special interests," meaning mostly black people.
In other words, Strom Thurmond won in 1948, to the extent that the Democratic Party took his point entirely to heart. When the Mississippi Freedom Delegation tried to seat itself in the Democratic Convention of 1964, the party regulars, including Northern liberals like Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale, fought savagely and successfully to drive them out. It was in practical recognition of Thurmond's victory that Michael Dukakis began his presidential campaign in 1988, catering to Dixie prejudices in the Deep South, that Bill Clinton played to the same gallery in his campaign, railing at Sister Souljah and OK-ing the execution of a black man with some of his brain missing.
Imagine Strom Thurmond, the night before he launches his Dixiecrat campaign in 1948. An angel (heavenly host, Democratic side of the aisle) appears before him in a vision and says, "Strom! Don't do it. The party you have just quit will one day have as its majority leader just one of those northern liberals you say is trying to destroy everything you and the South hold dear. This man will be called Tip O'Neill, and according to God's blueprint, he will, in the year 1986, if I am not mistaken, cooperate with the man you now know as a film actor but who will in 1986 be in his second term as president of the United States. Listen to me now, Strom! These men O'Neill and Reagan will join together in framing drug laws that will ensure that by the year 2002 (when it is scheduled that you will reach 100 years), many young black people will live in the certainty of spending long periods of their lives locked in prison.
Of course Strom tells the angel he doesn't believe him and pushes ahead with his Dixiecrat bid, but as the angel said, the fix went ahead on schedule.
December 19 2002 (http://albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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