Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2002 / 14 Teves, 5763
Robert W. Tracinski
The Dems' sorry lot
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | The Republicans always find a way to do this: just when they have scored a sweeping victory, they find a way to turn it into defeat. And so it was that Trent Lott celebrated his party's mid-term election win with a bizarre endorsement of Strom Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign.
However much this hurts the Republicans, though, that's nothing compared to how it will hurt the Democrats.
The Democrats? -- I hear you ask. Yes, this will hurt the Democrats, in the long run. It will hurt them because it gives them the illusion of having an important political issue to use to their advantage. And thus it will excuse them, for at least another two years, from examining the failed policies that lost them the election.
For the month prior to Lott's remarks, Democrats engaged in half-hearted soul-searching. It was not a terribly productive discussion; polls showed the public had voted to support a vigorous prosecution of the war, yet Democrats reacted by promoting a staunchly anti-war congresswoman as their House leader. But at least Democrats were discussing what had happened to their party. Now, they aren't discussing anything but Lott's ouster.
Digging up Lott's vaguely pro-segregationist past and trumpeting it to the world puts the Democrats in seemingly safe and cozy territory. For decades, they have used one of the better moments from their past -- the battle against segregation -- to great political advantage. It established in the public's mind the image of the left as courageous fighters against the regressive forces of bigotry.
There is only one problem with this tactic: racism and segregation are no longer real political issues, as demonstrated when Lott scurried to Black Entertainment Television to make his apologies. Indeed, Lott is now so desperate to prove he is not a racist that he has pledged to work with Democrats to promote their "civil rights" agenda.
But basking in the glow of their civil-rights halo poses a danger to Democrats far greater than even the recent election loss. Their self-image as crusaders for the oppressed blinds them to their real record -- a record of turning from advocates of a "color-blind" society to advocates of racial preferences -- and, in the process, hurting the very people they promised to help.
Democrats followed their victory over segregation by herding poor blacks into welfare programs and inner-city public housing projects. In doing so, they doomed millions to another generation of poverty. There is a kind of ironic justice to the names given to big public housing projects. They were named after crusading liberals who were supposed to stand for progress and the uplift of the poor -- Robert Taylor, Mother Cabrini, etc. -- people whose names are now synonymous with environments so hellish, squalid and crime-ridden that cities across America are now literally blowing them up and razing them to the ground.
But even worse damage was done by the left's system of racial favors. Facing discrimination, blacks were forced to be smarter, better educated and harder-working if they wanted to get ahead. Under preferences, they were told that they could be less smart, less educated, and that they did not have to achieve as much as others. The more radical leftists assailed all education and achievement, promoting ignorance, rudeness and poor grammar as indelible aspects of "black culture."
The disastrous consequences are captured in two eloquent and widely known phrases. The welfare state has been described as a "liberal plantation," in which blacks remained dependents of government rather than independent individuals. And affirmative action has been described as "the soft bigotry of low expectations" -- the condescending notion that blacks cannot be asked to live up to the same standards as other people.
In reaction to these spectacular failures, the ideological momentum has shifted to the right, to new black intellectuals who are dissenters from the liberal orthodoxy -- people like Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, John McWhorter, and so on.
Republicans see this, and they have begun to pursue black voters. They have a strong incentive to do so: if Republicans had secured even 30 percent of the black vote in the last presidential election, the result would not even have been close. That's why Republicans will take care of the Lott affair, even if it means sacking their Senate leader at their moment of triumph.
Democrats, by contrast, show no signs of re-evaluating their policies on race, or on any other issue. Lott says he has learned from his mistakes; the Democrats have committed themselves to refusing to learn from theirs.
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