Jewish World Review Dec. 20, 2002 / 15 Teves, 5763

Mona Charen

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Republicans and the "Race Card" |
"Republicans have been playing with fire on this issue for years and now it has turned on them." So intoned Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. On Meet the Press, Senator Carl Levin chimed in that Republicans were caught in the act as recently as last month. "It even happened again in Michigan's race for governor." There they go again, those nasty Republicans, playing the "race card" to win white votes. To judge by the commentators, Trent Lott has let the mask slip and revealed the true heart and soul of Republicanism.

Sorry, but this is getting sickening. Levin's reference is typical. He accused the Republican candidate, Dick Posthumus, of a racist appeal because he referred to his Democratic opponent's support for reparations. That's the Democratic calculus: any view on racial issues, including reparations for slavery (does Levin support them?), that varies in any degree from the liberal position is racist. Period.

This is the theme liberals flack so successfully. And bumbling Trent Lott is falling smack into the trap. On Black Entertainment Television, attempting to dig himself out of the hole he created, he endorsed affirmative action "across the board" and vowed to reconsider his support for his friend Judge Charles Pickering. Thus, Lott seems to confirm the slander that Pickering may have been questionable on matters of racial equity. (Note to wavering Republican senators: Lott is willing to throw over an old friend and drag the Republican Party through purgatory for no greater cause than to salvage his position. Does he deserve your loyalty?) It never seems to have occurred to Lott that he could prove his bona fides on racial matters by pointing to school choice, faith-based charities, and welfare reform. But in any case, Lott is the wrong man to make these arguments. As Bob Dole put it, "You can't put the genie back in the bottle."

Has anyone given any concrete examples of this supposed race card playing by the Republicans? When pressed, they usually bring up only two examples from the past two decades: the Willie Horton ad and the Jesse Helms "white hands" ad. The Horton ad was about a black criminal released by liberal governor Mike Dukakis who raped and murdered a couple in Maryland. When the issue was first raised against Dukakis there were no cries of racism, because the candidate who brought it to national attention was none other than Al Gore, a competitor for the Democratic nomination in 1988. It was called "playing the race card" only when supporters of George H. W. Bush used it against Dukakis. The point of the ad, anyway, was that Dukakis was such a starry-eyed liberal that he permitted violent felons to leave prison on work-release programs.

The Helms ad showed white hands tearing up a rejection letter. The voice over said, "You needed that job, but it had to go to a minority." It was hard-hitting, to be sure. And it certainly drew upon white resentment of affirmative action policies, but that is not racism. You cannot institute policies calling for reverse discrimination and then denounce any complaints as racism. As Thomas Sowell has demonstrated in his wide scholarship on the subject, preferential policies create strife and conflict all over the globe, from Southeast Asia, to Sri Lanka, to Africa, to Australia, to the U.S.

This is not to say that race is no longer used as a bloody shirt in American politics. The Democrats use it incessantly. Remember the radio ads during the 1998 elections that basically urged black voters to believe that a vote for a Republican was a vote for burning black churches? The NAACP ads "linking" George W. Bush to a lynching in Texas were even worse. Or just consider that when the post-election of 2000 came down to the wire, the Gore forces attempted (quite successfully) to gin up racial fears and animosities by arguing that blacks had been kept from the polling places by police-imposed roadblocks, and that Governor Jeb Bush had orchestrated a campaign to ensure that black votes would not be counted. This was all totally false and libelous, but it's SOP for Democratic operatives.

Conservatives have been urging that Trent Lott must step down as majority leader. But let's be clear about who plays the race card in 2002: it's nearly always the Democrats.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate