Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002/ 12 Teves, 5763
The soggy remains
of a 'landslide'
Dumping Trent Lott has become the great morality
crusade of certain Republicans.
Maybe we shouldn't be too
hard on them. Maybe their mamas
were frightened by bunny rabbits,
or Bambi said boo.
The Democrats didn't even
have to try very hard to get the
Republicans to bite on this one,
and the dump-Lott campaign, of
which certain Republicans are
inordinately proud, is driven not by
Democratic expedience nor even
Congressional Black Caucus
outrage, but by Republican
outrage, much of it no doubt
sincere, and Republican fear and
opportunism as well.
Don Nickles, for one, cannot believe his good fortune.
The Oklahoma senator, who broke with his Senate
colleagues Sunday to suggest that it was time to get a new
leader, has been trying for years to get Mr. Lott's job.
Maybe Mr. Lott will be banished from the company of
those who imagine themselves to be the Good People, but
the Republicans crying to dump him, however pure their
motives may be, are not likely to be seen as trying to do the
right thing, but the political thing. They're dumping him not
because they think he's a racist - most of them take pains to
say they don't believe that. They're dumping him because they
imagine it's the political thing to do. The Democrats get the
last laugh of Nov 5. All the enthusiasm of "the great
Republican landslide" of '02 is gone with the wind. If Mr. Lott
survives, he will be a wounded and ineffective leader; if he
goes, the bitter legacy of a sorry episode survives.
In addition to Mr. Lott, who said the dumb, insensitive,
thoughtless and hurtful thing, the president can thank whoever
has been giving him advice on how to deal with it. He sent Ari
Fleischer out to rebuke, mildly, the infamous birthday eulogy
to 100-year-old Strom Thurmond for two days running, but
said nothing himself until The Washington Post and the New
York Times demanded that the Republicans fire Mr. Lott as
the leader in the Senate. Only then did the prez speak for
himself. Who could have thought that George W. Bush would
be seen as waiting for cues from the editorial pages of The
Post and the New York Times? Why else did it take a week
for the president (or Karl Rove) to conclude that Mr. Lott's
sin was beyond pardon, that he was the sinner beyond
Mr. Rove, this president's Dick Morris, is obsessed with
the idea that he can peel away from the Democrats enough
black, Hispanic and Muslim voters to create a permanent
Republican majority. George W. won only 9 percent of the
black vote in 2000, down significantly from Ronald Reagan's
12 percent in 1980 and down spectacularly from Richard
Nixon's 32 percent in 1960. And 30 percent of the black
vote, for whatever it may say about what black voters who
know him think of him, is just about what Trent Lott usually
gets in his races in Mississippi. (George W. never got
anything like that in Texas.)
Pandering, as tempting as it may be, won't get it. If the
Republicans at the White House want to actually improve the
lives of black voters, and even the lives of black Americans
who don't vote, they'll have to work harder at it. Slogans are
nice, but sometimes slogans ("leave no child behind") don't
get it, either.
Sometimes a president has to stand to deliver, to offend
Democrats, displease certain editorialists and enrage the race
hustlers (even Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton). George W.,
to cite one specific example of opportunity lost, dropped his
school-voucher program, modest program it was, when
Teddy Kennedy and the teachers' unions said nothing doing.
As irrelevant as a school voucher may be to those who
put their kids in the elite private (and mostly white) schools
where money is rarely the object, they're not irrelevant to the
parents, many of them black, whose kids are doomed to the
kinds of public schools we have in, for example, the District
of Columbia. Nothing would do more than vouchers to break
the stranglehold of the teachers unions on public-school
education. The unions, with eager Democratic help, have
together created a quasi-segregated system of lousy public
schools in most of the places where state-mandated
segregation was the rule in Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat
The Republicans have conspired with the Democrats to
add billions of dollars to federal education spending, but flinch
from trying to make sure that it will be used to actually teach
kids black and white to add and subtract, to understand a
little science, to learn the history of their country, to speak or
write a coherent sentence, or even to spell their names.
Perhaps it's even "racist" to think any of these things are
important, but many parents, black as well as white, do. It
was the black parents who overcame the obstacles that
created the successful school-choice movement in Milwaukee
and Cleveland. The heroine of the movement was a black
woman, Polly Williams, and a Democrat to boot.
As difficult and no doubt unpleasant as organizing the
dump-Trent campaign may be for the White House, it's a lot
easier than standing up to Teddy Kennedy and his allies on
issues actually crucial to the future of black children,
particularly when you may get thanks but can't expect to get
many votes for it. But along with dumping Trent Lott you do
get to invoke Abraham Lincoln, who never renounced his
long-held white-supremacy sentiments. (Strom Thurmond
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