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Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2000/ 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Consumer Reports

A little race baiting
in the final hours -- NOBODY BAITS a race with race quite like a desperate liberal pol.

Not so long ago it was the segregationist Democrats who knew just when, with exquisite timing, it was time to inject racial politics into a swiftly closing campaign.

Thursday night before the Tuesday primary was the usual H-hour. A good smear, racial or not, needs 48 hours to ripen, but you don't want to give the target time to exploit the inevitable backlash once the voters identify the source of the stink.

That's why the Gore campaign waited until last night to spring the evidence of a 24-year-old drunk-driving arrest against "the old" George W., before the power of grace, repentance and redemption made a new man of him.

But a good racial smear has nuclear killing power. The racial smear worked best if someone could dig up an old photograph of the targeted candidate in a friendly pose with a black woman. Jimmie Davis, the singing cowboy ("You Are My Sunshine") who went off to make movies in Hollywood after he was governor of Louisiana the first time and then went home two decades later to run again, had to explain why he had been photographed in California (gasp) dancing with a (gasp) black woman. He won, anyway.

Jim Folsom, the playboy governor of Alabama, almost lost it all after he invited Adam Clayton Powell to spend the night at the governor's mansion in Montgomery. "Kissin' Jim" recovered when he explained that yes, he did ask the Harlem congressman to stay overnight with him, because that was the only way he could prevent the integration of the downtown hotels.

It's regarded as ugly stuff now, but some Southern Democrats remember how it was done. Al Gore, for example, has practiced more than mere kissin' techniques from Kissin' Jim. That television commercial blaming George W. for the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas is as vile a piece of campaign literature as we've ever seen, designed solely to inflame racial passions with the depiction of as horrific a crime as we've ever seen. The NAACP made the commercial, and is paying for putting it on the air in carefully selected markets, and of course (wink) Al Gore and his campaign (nudge) had nothing to do with it.

James Byrd's daughter, who narrates the commercial, accuses George W. of having killed her father "all over again" by declining to sign a revised hate-crime law in Texas. The daughter's pain is unbearable and she can be excused, but Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond ought to be ashamed for exploiting the young woman's pain — and be grateful that the Texas hate-crime law does not cover producers of hate-TV.

Desperation can drive good men to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. Chuck Robb knows better, for another example of final-hour race baiting, than to try to make George Allen out to be a latter-day Ku Klux Klansman for having had a Confederate flag on his desk. The Confederate flag, in the first place, is a banner washed in the blood sacrifice of Virginia's sons, and due the honor of honorable men, and only the abuse of the flag has made it a target of rabble-rousers and disreputable politicians.

But if Chuck wants explanations for the display of totems of Confederate history he might start with explaining why he kept portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in honored places in his office when he was the governor of Virginia, just as governors before and after him have done.

One of those other governors was Douglas Wilder, the grandson of a slave and who, on assuming office as Virginia's first black governor, explained that he would not banish Lee and Jackson because he was not offended and neither should anyone else be. They were — and are —honored sons in Virginia's history.

Bill Clinton, whose legacy at home will be the way he brought shame on his native state, goes home as president one last time this weekend to do a little race baiting of his own. The president once lied about how as a boy he was outraged by the burning of black churches in Arkansas. He had to take it back when angry home folks, including his friends, told him to produce the evidence that anyone had ever burned a black church in Arkansas. The president has booked himself into several black churches this weekend, to transform the Sunday worship of the Lord into a political rally, so desperate is he to blunt the approaching repudiation of the Clinton-Gore years in his own state.

The passing of the years has improved a lot of things, and one of them is that racial politics has largely passed from the Southern scene. Race baiting doesn't work any more in the South because hearts have changed. Just not the hearts of some of our desperate pols.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.


11/01/00: Creator gets a hard time on the hustings
10/27/00: The sorcerer rides to rescue his apprentice
10/25/00: The founding father with a story to tell
10/23/00: A lonely passion for religious rights
10/16/00: Spending blood on the folly of fools
10/11/00: A big night for the embellisher-in-chief
10/06/00: AlGore's black problem
10/04/00: In headlong pursuit of the bigot vote
10/02/00: A modest proposal for Rick Lazio
09/27/00: When folks at home give up on a scamp
09/25/00: Gore plot exposed! The secret minutes
09/18/00: Playing politics with the blood supply
09/14/00: Al sets out to find his 'tolerance level'
09/12/00: When it's time for a thumb in the eye
09/07/00: Making a daughter a campaign asset
09/04/00: A footnote to the lie: How he beats the rap
08/30/00: Unbearable lightness of a cyberjournal
08/21/00: Clinton chickens on AlGore's roost
08/16/00: The long goodbye to California's cash
08/09/00: Innocence by proxy is a risky scheme
08/07/00: After insulin shock, an authentic rouser
08/02/00: When it gets hard not to get a little giddy
07/31/00: George W.'s legions of summer soldiers
07/26/00: He's set a surprise --- or a trap for himself
07/24/00: How do you serve a turkey in August?
07/19/00: Would Hillary sling a lie about a slur?
07/17/00: Process, not peace, at a Velveeta summit
07/12/00: The Texas two-step, a nudge and a wink
07/10/00: The Great Mentioner and his busy season
07/05/00: No Mexican standoff in these results
07/03/00: Denting a few egos in the U.S. Senate
06/28/00: Bureaucracy amok! Punctuation in peril!
06/26/00: The water torture of American resolve
06/21/00: The happy hangman is a busy hangman
06/19/00: Dick Gephardt finds a Dixie dreamboat
06/14/00: Taking a byte out of innovation
06/12/00: 'Go away, little boy, you're bothering us'
06/07/00: When a little envy is painful to watch
06/05/00: Fire and thunder, bubble and squeak
05/31/00: South of the border, politics is pepper
05/26/00: Running out of luck with home folks
05/24/00: The heart says no, but the head says yes
05/22/00: A fine opportunity to set an example
05/17/00: The Sunday school for Republicans
05/15/00: Hillary's surrogate for telling tall tales
05/10/00: Listening to the voice of an authentic man
05/08/00: First a lot of bluster, then the retreat
05/02/00: Good news for Rudy, bad news for Hillary
04/28/00: The long goodbye to Elian's boyhood
04/25/00: Spooked by Castro, Bubba blinks
04/14/00: One flag down and two memorials to go
04/11/00: Consistency finds a jewel in Janet Reno
04/07/00: Here's the good word (and it's in English)
04/04/00: When bureaucrats mock the courts
03/28/00: How Hollywood sets the virtual table
03/24/00: Dissing a president can ruin a whole day
03/20/00: When shame begets the painful insult
03/14/00: The risky business of making an apology
03/10/00: The pouters bugging a weary John McCain
03/07/00: When all good things (sob) come to an end

© 2000 Wes Pruden