Politics & Policy

Selective Moral Outrage

Looking beyond Trent Lott's gaffe.

In Tuesday, October 22, 2002, Bill Clinton traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas to honor the life of the late Arkansas senator, J. William Fulbright by dedicating a seven-foot-tall bronze statue of the man.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “The $100,000 sculpture is the final [expenditure] of an $850,000 fundraising campaign for a project to honor Fulbright. The $750,000 fountain was dedicated October 24, 1998.”

Among other things, Clinton said, “If [Fulbright] were here today, I’m sure he would caution us not to be too utopian in our expectations, but rather utopian in our values and vision.”

And back on May 5, 1993, in what the Washington Post characterized as a “… moving 88th birthday ceremony for former senator William Fulbright, President Clinton last night bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom on the man he described as a visionary humanitarian, a steadfast supporter of the values of education, and ‘my mentor.’” Clinton added, “It doesn’t take long to live a life. He made the best of his, and helped us to have a better chance to make the best of ours.…The American political system produced this remarkable man, and my state did, and I’m real proud of it.”

Of course, the man Clinton was praising, who he called his “mentor,” who supposedly embraced utopian values and made the world a better place for everyone, was also a rabid segregationist.

In 1956, Fulbright was one of 19 senators who issued a statement entitled the “Southern Manifesto.” This document condemned the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Its signers stated, among other things, that “We commend the motives of those States which have declared the intention to resist forced integration by any lawful means.” They stated further, “We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”

Of course, in 1957, the first serious challenge to Brown occurred in Fulbright’s backyard. Fulbright’s Democrat colleague, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus (another early Clinton backer) ordered the National Guard to surround Central High School in Little Rock to prevent nine black students from attending the school. President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airborne Division to protect these teenagers and enforce the Supreme Court’s decision.

Fulbright later voted against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. And he did so because he believed in separating the races — in schools and other public places. He was a segregationist, heart and soul.

Now, given the turmoil surrounding Trent Lott’s foolish statement last week about Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign, you’d think there would have been at least some outcry when Bill Clinton lionized Fulbright a mere six weeks ago, or when he awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993. But there was nothing in the Washington Post admonishing Clinton, which today published a scathing editorial against Lott. There was no criticism in the New York Times, which today is running a vicious column by Paul Krugman implying that Lott is an overt racist.

And while I’m on the subject, I don’t remember some of the conservatives now voicing outrage at Lott holding Clinton to the same standard either in 1993 or October of this year.

But I’m not making excuses for Trent Lott. He should have apologized for his insensitive comments, and he did. Nor am I making excuses for Strom Thurmond’s past. I’m questioning the hypocrisy of selective moral outrage by the Left.


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