Lott Affair Means Greater Challenges for GOP

Many conservatives seem to think Republicans have turned the corner on their "race problem" by having forced Lott’s resignation. I fear they’re fooling themselves.

Let’s recognize that there are two distinct, yet related aspects to the Republicans’ problem with black voters. One is the perception that they deliberately court Southern voters by using "code words" appealing to their presumed bigotry.

Democrats are feverishly capitalizing on the Lott affair to foster this perception. And it’s not just fringe Democrats. Indeed the two most prominent Democrats in the nation, Bill and Hillary Clinton-though I’m sure they still don’t confer about politics at the breakfast table-"coincidentally" warned Republicans against letting their guard down post-Lott. Said Hillary, "if anyone thinks that one person stepping down from a leadership position cleanses the Republican Party of their constant exploitation of race, then I think they’re naive."

I’ve been in politics all my life, and I’ve never heard any Republican speak about a strategy to win the South by using symbolic language to appeal to closet Klansmen. Sure, I know of Republican electoral reliance on the South, but I haven’t thought of that in terms of race.

In order to believe that Republicans have consciously adopted such a repugnant strategy you must conclude that there would be some point in it. The only way it would make sense is if white racism were still thriving in the South and if Republicans had tried to implement a racist agenda in return for this racist vote. Such a strategy would have backfired in short order had Republicans failed to deliver on their coded promises.

Maybe I’m na??¯ve, but I think the South has largely graduated from that part of its past. But it will be a cold summer day in Georgia before you convince leftist elitists that Southerners aren’t just bigoted hayseeds. Regardless, there is no evidence that Republicans have tried to implement a racist agenda, unless you believe that political conservatism is inherently racist, which brings me to the second aspect of the Republicans "race problem."

Liberal propagandists have done a masterful job in creating the perception that conservatism is racist. Republican opposition to affirmative action and hate crime legislation is based on their respect for the equal dignity of minorities, not the reverse. And Republicans endorse welfare reform, school choice and constitutionalist judges precisely because they want the American dream to be accessible to all people.

Yet the charge persists. The Lott resignation, if anything, has emboldened our race-hustling opponents, as demonstrated by another biting column from The New York Times’ Bob Herbert. "The GOP," wrote Herbert, "has spent more than 30 years demonizing Democrats for trying to help racial and ethnic minorities. It has spent more than 30 years stomping on the voting rights of blacks. And it has gone out of its way to pack the federal courts with judges who are hostile to the interests and the rights of minorities."

While some of the race-baiters probably believe this rubbish, others are horrified at the prospect of Republicans making inroads into the black vote. Can you imagine what would happen to Democratic presidential politics if Republicans were able to garner just a few more percentage points of the black vote?

For these reasons, I think it’s going to take more than Republicans policing their members’ racially insensitive remarks or making warm and fuzzy overtures to convince blacks that their best interests lie with the Republican Party.

They won’t have that luxury, because in all likelihood Democrats are going to ratchet racial politics to a new level of stridency. We’re going to see it against Sen. Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) (it’s already begun), in every future election (Florida was just a teaser), and in major judicial appointments.

There is currently an unspoken litmus test against pro-life judicial nominees imposed by Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That will doubtlessly extend now to Southern judges (who will presumptively be deemed racists).

The long-term impact of the Lott affair will depend on whether Republicans have the courage to stand firm against the oppressive influence of political correctness and aggressively pursue a colorblind agenda.

President Bush has earned significant goodwill with minorities. He is in a unique position to sell a platform based on equal protection of the law and that refuses to patronize minorities. If instead he and congressional Republicans retreat into political correctness on race, the Lott affair will result in a giant leap backward for blacks, for racial relations, and for American freedom.