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Is "2+2=4" racist if Trent Lott agrees with it?


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Jonah Goldberg

I just got back from appearing on C-SPAN, the answer to the question, “If PBS doesn’t do it, who will?” Unfortunately, but predictably, the vast majority of the callers wanted to talk about Trent Lott. I was actually looking forward to the C-SPAN callers who believe Saddam Hussein and George Bush were actually fraternity brothers who concocted this whole scheme years ago over a keg and some buffalo wings.

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But Lott’s still the issue of the day, so let me just get a few points out of the way in a mere two paragraphs (while holding 33 Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers in my mouth! — just to make it a bit more interesting).

I think he’s got to go. First, if he leaves we’ll be spared the whole Lott of Lott-puns — senator in a Lott of trouble, GOP casts its Lott, etc. It does make you wonder how hilarious this whole thing would be if former congressman Dick Swett had somehow gotten into similar trouble.

Sure, Lott’s resignation as Majority Leader might seem or actually be unfair — but that’s how politics works. The last straw is rarely the heaviest straw. And the thing that finally gets pols in trouble is rarely the worst thing they’ve done. Former speaker of the house Jim Wright surely thought it was unfair he resigned on account of the financial chicanery behind his book-like paperweights — even though he should have resigned over his meddling in South America or for his refusal to trim his eyebrows. Bill Clinton surely thought it was unfair he got in so much trouble for getting jiggy with an intern when he’d gotten away with so much worse. And yes, yes, I agree it’s particularly annoying when the Democrats have so much they’re not held accountable for. But just because someone else gets away with murder isn’t an argument for everybody to get away with it. If liberals are being hypocritical, they’re being hypocritical. What else is new?

Okay, I’m going to swallow the crackers now. Gasp. (I’ve also discarded the topic from the “On Deck” tease on the homepage. We’ll deal with that another day).

A point made over and over again, across the spectrum of liberal asininity, is that Trent Lott actually represents the “real agenda” of the Republican party. This “insight” was offered time and again on C-SPAN this morning: Lott, like his confreres, is a closet racist whose only real mistake was to admit it. Several callers (both before I got on and during my segment) harped on how dangerous it is that someone who believes in segregation is in a position to “make policy.” I have yet to hear of an example of Lott or any other current Republican actually proposing segregationist legislation. This is because that doesn’t happen and, quite frankly, couldn’t happen considering the legal, political, and media climate. But never mind. A literary or imaginary threat is as good as a real one for some people.

Indeed, liberals love this story so much precisely because a sizable number of liberals believe that anti-racism and political morality are synonymous. Somehow, Republicans are for tax cuts and missile defense because we secretly know this will help Keep the Black Man Down. Nothing makes a liberal more secure in his self-righteousness than any morsel of evidence that conservatives are bigots.

Consider Paul Krugman’s hysterical column Friday in the New York Times. Krugman is a reputable economist, but he’s at best a mediocre commentator on issues outside of economics (even on economics he can be sophomoric, as when he called Enron more significant than September 11). This might explain why he so often feels the need to crib his insights from the likes of Salon or Josh Marshall. Marshall’s a sharp guy, but any intelligent insights he might offer get lost in Krugman’s translation.

For example, look at the “Eureka!” moment from Krugman’s latest column. While discussing the alleged Republican tendency to talk tolerance but practice bigotry by appointing intolerant judges, Krugman writes: “A striking example has just emerged: We’ve learned that Mr. Lott supported the right of Bob Jones University to keep its tax-exempt status even while banning interracial dating; supporting his position was none other than Michael McConnell, a controversial figure recently confirmed as an appeals judge.”

Shudder. Cringe. Damn. Krugman has found us out.

Krugman of course leaves out the fact that McConnell was endorsed by the cream of the liberal legal establishment. Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago, Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School, Elena Kagan of Harvard Law School, and Sanford Levinson and Douglas Laycock of the University of Texas School of Law were among hundreds of leading liberal scholars to support McConnell — who, by the way, is by all accounts brilliant and un-bigoted. Krugman either doesn’t know this or, more likely, doesn’t care, because when you’re fighting against racism you can say anything and still be right and courageous. “What were you doing during the war against racism, daddy?” “I smeared people in the New York Times, son.” “Wow, Dad! You’re my hero.”

This sort of garbage forms the slimy nexus between sloppy liberal thinking and slimy liberal politics. Liberals love comparing conservatives to Nazis or calling them racists because it’s the fastest way to get the Right to shut up. Al Gore compares global warming to the Holocaust because he wants to delegitimize anyone who might argue against global warming — as if disputing carbon taxes is the same thing as ignoring the smoke from the chimneys at Auschwitz (see “Springtime for Slanderers“). The Democrats ran ads saying that a vote for a Republican was a vote to burn churches. Jesse Jackson has a rare form of Tourette’s syndrome which causes him to compare every Supreme Court decision he doesn’t like to Dred Scott.

Once again, northeastern liberal elites are working themselves into a bout of St. Vitus’s Dance over how the south is racist and, therefore, the GOP is too because southerners are prominent in it. Not only is this unfair and dumb, it will ultimately hurt the Democratic party, which is on the verge of writing-off the South for a generation.

Of course, I do not dispute that southern conservatives — once in the Democratic party, now mostly in the Republican party — have some serious baggage. But this doesn’t mean that everything even the most racist southern Republicans believe is automatically wrong, does it? Strom Thurmond was for a strong national defense in 1948. Does that mean it’s racist to be for a strong national defense? William Fulbright was against the Vietnam War and for segregation — surely being against that war wasn’t the sole province of segregationists? Woodrow Wilson was an arrogant and virulent anti-Semite and racist, but he also believed in a moralistic foreign policy. I guess that makes the editorial board of the New York Times racists. You get the point.

But I’m just not sure Krugman or the C-SPAN callers get it. Take the issue of “states’ rights.” Liberals think “states’ rights” is code for racism and segregation (see “Taking Conservatism Seriously“). And, to be sure, segregationists did use states’ rights to make their case. But that’s because it’s a good argument. Or, at least, it was the best argument the segregationists had available to them. Klansmen also invoke habeas corpus, due process, the First and Fifth Amendments, etc., to make their cases — does that mean all of those things are racist too?

I am in favor of states’ rights without quotation marks. Liberals, however, arrogantly assert that conservatives who favor states’ rights automatically do so to further a racist agenda. This is as idiotic as saying that Paul Krugman favors sending Jews to concentration camps because he, like Hitler, favors a nationalized highway system. Besides, liberals are the new champions of states’ rights these days, because states are defying the federal government on euthanasia, drug legalization, gay marriage, and the like.

Look: I’m sure that plenty of racists agree with me on affirmative action. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong about affirmative action. I know for a fact that a menagerie of jackasses find intellectual sustenance in Paul Krugman’s column, but that doesn’t mean Krugman has to agree with the jackasses.

Let’s get back to Krugman. He asserts that Lott is a racist and therefore suggests that Lott’s support of McConnell makes McConnell a racist too. And, hence, McConnell’s arguments in favor of Bob Jones University are merely the predictable consequence of so many racists getting together. Well, that’s fine so long as he has the courage of his convictions. Lots of liberals support McConnell more actively than Lott actually supported Strom Thurmond. So I guess that makes Larry Tribe and Walter Dellinger racists too. And since Tribe was Al Gore’s lawyer and Dellinger represented Bill Clinton, I guess he’d better call them racists as well. In fact, we can play this game backwards until the whole world is racist. Or, liberals can stop playing this absurd game altogether. Trent Lott was stupid. He may be insensitive. He may even be racist. But if liberals like Krugman expect to use this mess to draw back the curtain on a Republican establishment full of sheet-wearing Klansmen, they’ll be sorely disappointed because there’s nothing behind the curtain.



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