Gerard Alexander, an associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, who has written extensively about politics and race in America, thinks it’s possible that we may be reaching a tipping point. “I think we may be reaching a point where conservatives can make excellent points about race and civil rights, and be heard. Obviously, for decades everything they said on the subject was considered irrelevant posturing at best and nefarious at worst. But the same was true about debates over poverty and welfare, and we know that conditions in that area became so bad, and policies so discredited, that conservative reformers were able to break through in the conversation in the 1980s and 1990s. Something like the same happened in debates over public-school education, just in the past decade. In both cases . . . well-meaning liberals were willing to have a real conversation and integrate conservative assumptions and proposals into their thinking and agendas.”
In Congress, Santorum was a leader in the bipartisan move to reform welfare in the 1990s, as it happens.
Alexander continues: “I think we may be at the beginning of something similar about debates over race. . . . Formulaic liberal nostrums about race make a lot of people’s eyes roll.”
The Boehner-Lieberman press conference the morning after the State of the Union, along with that little debate segment Sean Hannity hosted, may be signs of the times.
“Civil rights secure individual liberty and equal opportunity, protecting all of us against government encroachment upon our lives and our beliefs,” former Ohio secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell points out. “If Republicans rally Americans around issues like the protection of the unborn, school choice, and religious liberty, as principled conservatives, then they will carry the civil-rights banner into the future.”
None of this is foreign to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., who said, in that famous speech: “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.”
Santorum, Alveda King, and Boehner are working to make those noble goals lived reality. And if the president wants to take the lead in restoring school choice to D.C. and having an honest national conversation about the consequences of abortion for the black community, there is more than one conservative who would be overjoyed by his leadership. They may not be holding their breath waiting for it, but they’d welcome it, encourage it, and get to work.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online. She can be reached at [email protected] This column is available exclusively through United Media.