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With Jesse Helms and

With Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond signing off the Senate airwaves in a few weeks, Democrats will look in vain for many more Senate Republicans who have the same good-ole-down-home racial philosophies as Trent Lott. But there's at least one out there who fits the bill pretty nicely. And I've been wondering when someone would turn their attention to him. Now someone has. Don't miss Sarah Wildman's new article on the gentleman from Alabama: Jeff Sessions.

In recent days Ive

In recent days I've gotten a slew of emails asking, or accusing me of saying that the Republican party's a racist party. Or accusing me of saying that the only reason Republicans control the South is because of racial politics. And there have been a bunch of other similarly structured charges or questions, all of which muddy or confuse the question by framing it in ... well -- what else can you call it? -- black and white terms.

Like the Democratic party, the Republican party is far from a monolith. There are neo-conservatives, social-issue conservatives spread around the country, money-Republicans, libertarians. Some of these groups have views on racial matters which liberals or Democrat don't like. But they're all different in kind from the latter-day Dixiecrat wing of the party which is so potent in much of the South.

The closest analogue I can think of is to the Democratic party in the early and middle 20th century and their dominance of many of the corrupt party machines in the big cities of the North and Midwest.

A few readers have told me that my thinking on this is all wet because racism or racialist thinking just isn't part of conservative 'thought'. But whether this is true or not is irrelevant. This is about getting votes, not 'thought'. Ballot-box-stuffing wasn't part of Democratic 'thought' either in, say, the thirties. Many Dems found it abhorent. And most didn't practice it. But the party as whole benefited from it when it happened in Chicago because it kept Democratic congressmen or senators in Washington. (Needless to say, Republicans controlled corrupt machines too; just not as many. And election fraud never had anywhere the impact of the Republican absorption of Southern Dixiecrats.)

So just as we might say with the Democrats of 70 or 80 years ago, the issue isn't one of 'thought' or whether the whole party is 'corrupt' or 'racist'. These are false questions, either imprecisely posed or meant to obfuscate.

The question is whether the party as a whole benefits from the use of racism or race-tinged wedge issues in certain parts of the country and whether the party as a whole makes any efforts to say such behavior won't stand. In the case of Republicans and race the answer to the first question is clearly 'yes' and the answer to the second question is 'not nearly enough'.

The Democrats of course used to have this problem. For several decades of the last century they were the party of both the most liberal Northerners and the most reactionary Southerners -- liberal and reactionary on the issue of race in particular. Eventually, the strain just became too great. And Democrats outside the South began pushing for the national party to take a stronger stand on civil rights. That led -- among other things -- to the 1948 Dixiecrat break-away led by Strom Thurmond -- something you have heard of recently.

In any case, the latter-day Dixiecrats are an important part of the Republican party. Though many Republicans are repelled by its frequent appeals to race-politics, the party as a whole nonetheless benefits from it. So they have to take responsibility for it, even though Trent Lott-types have little to do with Wall Street Republicans or neo-conservative intellectuals. Republicans can't be the party of black opportunity and anti-black resentment no matter how big the tent. The Democrats tried it; it didn't work.

Now another point.

Earlier today I posted a line from Bill Frist's 1994 stump speech in which he said. "[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry ... While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry."

Now I gave a lot of thought to whether I should post that or not. Marion Barry, as I said in the post, was a rotten mayor. Corrupt, drug-using, the list goes on and on. And one can't get into a situation where one can never criticize a black politician for fear of being tarred as using a racial code word. But look at the line and tell me what on earth this had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee. I think the answer is obvious: nothing.

Now, I don't think Bill Frist is a racist. Nor do I hope or expect he'll end up like Trent Lott. One reader -- flopping around like a fish-out-of-water making the case for Frist -- sent me this link about how Frist goes to Sudan to operate on African children. So how could he hate black people? How could he be a racist?

This misses the point. I doubt Frist is a racist. But this almost makes the point more clearly. Even some of best Southern Republicans seem incapable of resisting the temptation to dabble in racial code words and appeals on the stump. (In Frist's case, perhaps it was a rather notorious campaign consultant who worked for him that year and has a rep for such ugly tactics.)

I think the Bush family is a very similar case. I don't think this President Bush or the last one were racist in any way. Nor do I think either of them liked dabbling in racial politics. But in a pinch, when the chips were really down, both have been willing to do so. For this President Bush you need look no further than the South Carolina primary fight in February 2000.

The issue here isn't what's in your heart or what your party's 'thought' is. It's what you're willing to profit from, where you're willing to draw the line, what you do and don't look at and say 'I'm not going to put up with that in my party.'

On that count, the GOP falls really short.

Neo-conservative Republicans are very different from Dixiecrat Republicans. So why won't they stand up to them more often? Maybe they should try ...

Is it okay with

Is it okay with you if I needle Byron York a bit more about the South Dakota story? Thanks. I appreciate it.

As you know we've been talking about the South Dakota voter fraud hoax for months now. And the National Review's Byron York has been pushing the story heavily in the aftermath of Tim Johnson's reelection victory.

For a moment, let's set aside whether or not there's any truth to the charges. One of the biggest obstacles for Republicans who are pushing this story is South Dakota's Republican Attorney General, Mark Barnett, who insists, rather inconveniently, that the charges are pretty much all bogus.

So, predictably, the guns have now turned on Barnett.

In recent days the National Review has published a number of pieces claiming Barnett is stifling the investigation into voter fraud. The claim of late has been that Barnett is ignoring the voter fraud issue in hopes of future political gain. (Barnett and National Review have actually now gotten into a public spat.) As this editorial note from yesterday put it, Barnett is "a Republican with designs on the governor's office."

Can we unpack this for a moment?

If Barnett's angle is riding this to the governor's mansion, the guy is really thinking outside the box, isn't he?

Normally, if one wants to get nominated by one's party and then get elected, the angle is to curry favor with members of your party, not infuriate them by discrediting them, right? Now, the thinking at National Review seems to be that Barnett simply wants to avoid controversy and thus doesn't want to get involved in a messy voter fraud investigation that will make him too controversial to get elected. "Starting an aggressive and controversial investigation into voting irregularities," says York, "would be a sure way to anger at least half the electorate in his state."

But does even that make sense? If this were a race in California or New York or even Ohio, it might. In states with lots of Democrats, a Republican has to rely on large numbers of crossover Democrats, who might not react well to someone who pushed voter fraud charges -- rightly or wrongly -- against other Democrats. A stretch still, but not unreasonable.

Yet, as Republicans were very fond of noting -- until John Thune lost -- voter registration in South Dakota leans heavily Republican. Republican candidates don't need many crossover Dems. They don't need any. So what on earth would Barnett would be thinking? And if his angle were avoiding controversy wouldn't he just be taking some uncontroversial middle road? As National Review is rightly noting, he's got himself in quite a controversy by so aggressively seeking to refute National Review's claims.

Just because Barnett's a Republican and doesn't believe in the voter fraud charges doesn't mean the charges aren't true. But National Review seems to be straining to find any ulterior motive -- even the most ridiculous -- to explain Barnett's inconvenient apostasy.

Does National Review think Barnett is going to switch parties and become a Democrat?

Now that would be a story!

Jim Sasser is sending

"[Jim Sasser is] sending Tennessee money to Washington, to Marion Barry ... While I've been transplanting lungs and hearts to heal Tennesseans, Jim Sasser has been transplanting Tennesseans' wallets to Washington, home of Marion Barry." ... Bill Frist, 1994 campaign stump speech. Marion Barry was one of the worst things that ever happened to Washington, DC. No doubt about it. What he had to do with a Senate race in Tennessee isn't so clear.

P.S. Also see this article on North Carolina Congressman Cass Ballenger (R) and why he said yesterday that he found out-going Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney so annoying that it gave him "segregationist feelings."

Its sad really sad

It's sad, really sad, to watch some conservatives try to wriggle out of, or turn the tide against Democrats, in this evolving national conversation about race. Patrick Ruffini runs a very nice blog from the rightward side of the political spectrum and he's just posted an entry attacking one of mine of last night. He argues that the Democrats have just as bad a history of race-bating in the urban centers of the North.

It's certainly true that, as Southerners of all political stripes have long said, racism isn't limited to the South. It's just more visible there.

That said, Ruffini's list of particulars is pretty revealing in its weakness. He says it's a list he came up with off the top of his head of instances since 1968. Oddly, most seem to be from 1968 and 1969. They're examples of the original Mayor Daley or George Wallace when he ran as a Democrat in 1972. Isn't this sort of pitiful?

Another example of his is former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. That, of course, is a poor and telling example since Rizzo eventually became a Republican in large measure because of his admittedly rather unrefined views of racial matters. As in the South, there were tons of racist and anti-civil rights Democrats. Most became Republicans.

My point here is not to pile on. Democrats certainly aren't pure on race. Far from it. But I think most conservatives will realize that the argument Ruffini is trying to make is a losing one. Not to mention a pathetic one.

Many Republicans want to rid their party of this ugly baggage. Many more refuse to play this sort of politics for advantage. But over the last forty-odd years, many Republicans, in many small and large decisions, decided to organize much of our national and even more of our regional politics around race. They shouldn't whine. They shouldn't cry. They shouldn't make up excuses. They made their bed. Now they should sleep in it.

P.S. Ruffini says I have 'statist economic views'. What on earth he's talking about I have not a clue.

Heres the transcript of

Here's the transcript of Bill Clinton's brief exchange with a CNN reporter about the Trent Lott business ...

CNN: Do you have a comment on Senator Lott?

Clinton: No, other than....I think that -- obviously -- I don't agree with him.

But I think there is something a bit hypocritical about the way Republicans are jumping all over him. I think what they really are upset about is he made public their strategy.

The whole Republican apparatus supported campaigns in Georgia and South Carolina on the Confederate flag. There is no action coming out of the Justice Department against all those people, Republicans, who suppressed black voters in the South, in Arkansas and Louisiana, and lots of other places. Telephone operations telling people in Florida they didn't have to vote on Election Day, that they could vote on Saturday but not if they had parking tickets. I mean, this is their policy.

So I think the way that the Republicans treated Senator Lott is a pretty hypocritical since right now, their policy is in my view inimical to everything this country stands for. They tried to suppress black voting, they ran on the Conferederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina and from top to bottom Republicans supported them. So I don't see what they're jumping on Trent Lott about.

I think the Democrats can say we disagree with what he said and we don't think its right but that's the Republican policy. How do you think they got a majority in the South anyway?

CNN: So he should step down as majority leader?

Clinton: I think that's up to them. But I think that they can't say it with a straight face. How can they jump all over him when they're out there repressing and trying to run black voters away from polls and to run on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina. Look at their whole record. The others, how can they attack him? He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Bill Clinton says that

Bill Clinton says that it's "pretty hypocritical" for Republicans to ditch Trent Lott for stating publicly what they say "on the back roads every day."

Here's the full quote he gave CNN yesterday ...

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

He added: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."

No one compares to Bill Clinton when it comes to cutting to the chase and telling truths in a way sure to make Republicans howl. And howl they will. Because this statement is undeniably true. An RNC flack named Jim Dyke gets off a feeble reply in the CNN piece (see this piece for more on Jim Dyke and his ... well, just read the article). But this really gets us into the bigger story, the bigger picture.

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.

To deny this is to deny the obvious. There's just been a prohibition on saying it. And a good deal of the Republican displeasure with Lott -- though mixed with a lot of genuine outrage at his retrograde views -- is tied to his having brought this all into the open.

More later on bogus Republican outreach to African-Americans, voter suppression, and comic relief from the ridiculous Conrad Burns.

Compare and contrast ...There

Compare and contrast ...

"There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus," DiIulio tells Esquire. "What you've got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis"
-- Esquire,
January 2003
The [decision over which side to take on the Michigan affirmative action case] is ultimately likely to be resolved by Bush's chief political strategist, Karl Rove, who is the architect of Bush's effort to broaden the GOP appeal to minorities.
-- Washington Post,
December 18th, 2002
Looks like DiIulio had no idea what he was talking about ...

Oh man Theres a

Oh man! There's a quote from Frank Luntz tonight on Hardball that's so choice it's almost beyond belief. We're going to be waiting with bated breath for the transcript to pop up on Nexis.

Basically, Luntz said that the "problems" Lott was talking about, which voting for Strom Thurmond would have avoided, were Bill Clinton's moral and sexual lapses. If ever there was a statement so ridiculous that the speaker deserved to be laughed out of three dimensional space, buddy, this is it.

Meanwhile, Chris Matthews is actually pretty good on the Trent Lott stuff, talking about the Dixiecrats and their exodus into the Republican party. The guy was up there speaking truth to power. Or at least to Bill Bennett. Same difference, basically.

You can pretty much

You can pretty much tell Trent Lott is toast when he tells Black Entertainment Television that he "absolutely" supports affirmative action.

One of the subtexts of the intra-Republican fight going on right now is that congressional Republicans are already looking to push an agenda that is, let's say, racially edgy. They don't want to hit that fight with Lott's baggage in tow.

Ed Kilgore is the Policy Director of the Democratic Leadership Council -- in other words, not exactly like a proxy for Al Sharpton or anything. And today he told me this ...

The angle some people may be missing about conservatives and Lott is that they are eager to pursue a number of things--a scaleback of affirmative action policies, private school vouchers, appointment of conservative judges with backgrounds more questionable than Lott's--that will create some concerns that the GOP is not exactly the reborn Party of Lincoln that appeared on TV screens at the 2000 convention. Given this agenda, conservatives don't want the task complicated by a Senate Leader (whom they don't like anyway) whose very name will conjure up racial dissension for the foreseeable future. For one thing, they're afraid the Bush White House will put the kibosh on controversial conservative initiatives if Lott has carry the water. So don't be fooled into thinking that GOP conservatives will drop an anvil on Lott strictly because they are horrified by his words.
I think that's exactly right. If Lott now tries to remake himself as a born-again civil rights man, that just makes him doubly useless to the fire-eaters in his caucus. Certainly not all Republican Senators see it in this light. I doubt Linc Chafee or McCain or Olympia Snowe look at it this way. But then that's why it's the conservatives in the caucus who are pushing hardest to dump him.

Also be sure to read this New Dem Daily (I'm sure written by Ed) on what the Lott scandal really means.

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