Sunday, December 15, 2002

Race Matters

Funny how touchy racial issues are just about the only thing that gets the Democratic Party to its feet. Looking at the last couple of years of voting results it’s easy to see why.

The lesson of the 2000 national election is that even with 93% of the African-American vote, the Democratic Party can barely scrape together a win. The Republicans on the other hand have proven they can win nationally without significant the support of the African American community.

What this means in practical terms is that Republicans need only increase their support among blacks by a few percentage points to become virtually invincible. The Dems have to not only hold on their near monopoly of the black electorate but extend it just to remain competitive.

Adam Clymer, for whom President Bush coined the playful nickname “major league asshole,” described the Republican Party strategy on race in a column published on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times as:

“not to seek black votes . . . but to soothe whites who generally support Republican policies but do not think of themselves as supporting racism.”

This, of course, assumes that the Republican Party does indeed support racism and that segregation is more important to the GOP than the votes of black people, which would otherwise propel the party to an unassailable national majority.

As you can see Clymer's nickname is richly deserved.

The Times would rather believe that the GOP values racism over votes than to envision the alternative: that the Democrats have a vested interest in enflaming racial discord.

To get 95% percent of a diverse population to vote for your party requires an emotional driver. As the recent Saddam campaign proved, appealing to reason may get you a plurality of voters on your side, but to get ALL of them you need to convince them that the alternative is death or worse.

That’s why it is essential for the Democrats to portray the Republicans as racists. No matter how bad the Democrats are, no African American is going to risk voting for a racist.

Into this poisonous atmosphere strolls Trent Lott.

That he doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation is proof of a political tin ear that has always annoyed a certain segment of GOP. For instance, why does the government build warships in Mississippi? Certainly not because of the state’s maritime tradition. Lott’s brazen support of pork barrel waste makes it difficult to argue with befuddled old legislation pimps like Sen. Robert Byrd.

That Lott may actually be a racist is deeply troubling. That he is willing to damage the Republican Party and an Administration that is actually doing something to enable progress for African Americans (rather than talking about it as Clinton did, or worse, polarizing the nation as Gore did) is irresponsible and unpatriotic.

The nation is more important than Trent Lott’s political career. Rather than fuel the noxious myth than allows the Democrats to exploit African-American fears and translate them into votes, Lott should take a hit – whether it is deserved or not – and walk away from the Majority Leader post with his dignity.

Lott had an opportunity last night. He had the nation’s full attention for about 30 minutes. He could have used that time not only to save his own future but also to advance the debate on race in this country.

But one must never underestimate the vanity of a career politician.

Lott believes this is all about him.

He spoke of his impoverished background as if growing up poor and white in Mississippi is somehow reassuring to the rest of us who suspect he might just be an ignorant cracker.

He grinned in that peculiarly Southern way that practically broadcasts insincerity to a Northeasterner.

He held his most important new conference in a crowd of hooting supporters in some utterly unpronounceable backwater fever swamp of a town rather than in DC under the hot glare of a hostile media.

He totally missed the significance of the moment. A smarter person would have made this a fight for something important. Lott gave no one any reason to support him

As a result, the Democrats get to perpetuate their illusion of morality and African-Americans are again left to wonder about the credibility of the Republican Party.

Thanks a Lott.

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