JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS

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Thursday, December 19, 2002
 
"...until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream"

President Clinton is right on the money about the Trent Lott affair: "How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway? I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy." Read John Marshall's excellent take on Clinton's statement here. This is exactly why Lott's comment has gotten so much attention.

The Democratic party has not seriously countered this strategy before. Whenever engagement has been attempted, Democrats would be accused of Robert Shapiro's infamous phrase "playing the race card." They'd be told, why are you talking about race? Don't you want a color-blind society? Isn't America about equality, after all? They'd be told, point blank, "you're playing the race card." They'd be (quite incredibly) told that discrimination is part of history so what are you talking about? They'd be accused of playing "identity politics." They'd be inundated with quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. (well, actually, just one quote. You know, the "content of their character" one. As if King's extraordinarily detailed and complex thoughts and dreams could be summarized by only one sentence.) As a whole, and quite sadly, Democrats would go quiet in the face of this barrage, and the Republican Southern Strategy continued unchecked.

But now, Lott has made it possible to have an active engagement concerning this strategy. A Republican started the discussion, so the accusations go towards him; it wasn't started by Democrats, so the accusations aren't going towards them. Of course, the Republican party has to deny that what they've been doing is what they've been doing. This is one reason so many on the right have been so vocal in their criticizing Lott. If the Democrats have the courage, they should pursue this opening long after Lott is gone.

And, before I'm accused of "playing the race card," (whatever that's supposed to mean) let's remember Marshall's words: "One needn't think that the Republican party itself is racist. I don't. (In any case, that's too big a word, too general a question.) What the Republican party does have is a history -- not by accident, but by design -- of playing to and benefiting from the votes of racist and crypto-racist constituencies in certain parts of the country -- particularly, though not exclusively, in the South. They built the Republican party in the South on the foundation of racial resentment and civil rights rejectionism. Since then they've built a whole house on top of it. But the foundation's still there." That's exactly right, and let's talk about it.

Bonus: Where is the quote in the subject line from?

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