Jewish World Review Dec. 17, 2002/ 12 Teves, 5763

Wesley Pruden

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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 redemption?

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 heyday.

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 did.)

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

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