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During Black History Month, Remember the GOP
February 4, 2003
By Andrew Sarchus

February is Black History Month, and Trent Lott is forgotten, but not gone. Senator Lott was forced from the office of Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate because he spoke the truth about his innate racism. He waxed nostalgic about Strom Thurmond's 1948 Dixiecrat presidential bid. He said if Strom had been elected, we could have avoided "all these problems." First he attempted to pass off his remarks as idle flattery of a once vicious race-baiter who is now a desiccated old man. Then Lott tried to backpedal when interviewed on Black Entertainment Television, endorsing affirmative action and a host of other civil rights measures that he previously opposed. Mr. Lott's pandering and posturing jolted even veteran press cynics. After dithering for several days while Lott piled blunder upon blunder, George W. Bush fired broadside at him, saying racism has no place in the Republican Party. Lott turned turtle and sank, but has since been refloated by his Republican Senate Colleagues and now holds a prime Committee Chair.

Following Lott's demotion from the ranks of GOP leadership, the Bush administration turned back to their pet issue: All Iraq, all the time. Oh, except for when our unelected Warmonger-in-Chief paused a couple of minutes to renominate racist fellow-traveler Charles Pickering for a federal judgeship and file "friend of the court" papers against the University of Michigan's affirmative action program--on Martin Luther King's birthday. The crassness of these actions, in view of what happened to Trent Lott scant weeks before, is mind-numbing. These moves by GW Bush highlight a sickness within the Republican Party that profoundly affects all Americans. The GOP caught the disease from Southern Democrats--Dixiecrats--who emigrated en masse to the Republicans after the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts became law in the 1960's. This influx of Southerners brought electoral victories to the GOP, but at a price--the Grand Old Party slowly shifted its positions on Civil Rights to conform with those once supported by men like Strom Thurmond.

The GOP did apply some verbal dress codes to racist behaviors. No longer could spittle-flecked hate-mongers openly rail at integration and intermarriage in Southern states. Republicans use bland little code words and phrases ("states' rights") to convey racist ideas. Like their Dixiecrat ancestors, Southern Republicans try to suppress black voter turnout, but do this by crying "vote fraud" in majority black districts and issuing would-be black voters "helpful" reminders to vote the day after the general elections. Fewer photo ops here than when Sheriff Bull Conner turned the dogs loose against blacks in Birmingham a generation ago. The results are the same--fewer black votes to tip elections towards progressive candidates.

When GOP operatives are caught in such practices, the Republican leadership's standard defense is to proclaim that they are the "Party of Lincoln." Yet among southern Conservatives, an increasingly popular pastime involves trashing The Great Emancipator as a man who cared little about slavery and who sought only to increase the power of the Federal government. Some neo-confederates use this argument to condone and even praise Jefferson Davis for rebelling against the "tyrannical" Lincoln administration. A scurrilous recent book by a Southern apologist, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, received nods of approval among many GOP leaders in the South who hold Lincoln in low regard.

With the enigmatic retirement of Congressman J.C. Watts earlier this year, not one elected official in the national government is a black Republican. Not one black conservative is acknowledged as a political leader of consequence in black communities. Since Lott fell on his repartee, Black conservative pundits and the two strategically-placed Bush appointees, Colin Powell and Condi Rice, have acknowledged that the racist sins of the past are not yet atoned for. But the key issue, support for affirmative action, is muted among black conservatives. Why? Because, to paraphrase liberal black activist Harry Belafonte, black conservatives are only in the GOP "big tent" so long as they uphold the agenda put forth by the white men who control the Republican Party. And many of those white men are Southerners and/or apologists for the "ideals" of the Confederacy. Witness Trent Lott and John Ashcroft flattering Secessionists in Southern Partisan magazine, or Bush's calculated appearance before paleo-conservative race-baiters at Bob Jones University in the 2000 South Carolina Primary.

Republicans stack their conventions with black faces on the podium where the cameras can catch them, while the delegates are overwhelmingly white. George Bush appears before black church congregations and offers their ministers prime cuts from his unproven "faith-based initiatives" program while starving Head Start and the Children's Health Initiatives Program of desperately needed funds. Declining to speak to the leaders of the Black Congressional Conference and the NAACP is now annual ritual for Republican presidents. Instead, ad hoc groups of black conservative church- and business people are thrown together and nod in agreement as Bushites shill for the standard GOP want list--a list always long on "opportunity" and short of meaningful action.

The Republicans, without a trace of irony, accuse Democrats of "keeping black people on the (Liberal) Plantation", and complain that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the real racists when these black leaders point out examples of white racist behavior. GOP politicos appropriate the words of Martin Luther King about judging people by "content of character" over color of skin and use King's phrase to justify the ending of affirmative action. They talk about a "color-blind" nation and push policies that will result in resegregation of universities, public schools, and government agencies--all this to avoid riling the white Southerners that now provide electoral muscle for their Party.

For Southerners awash in nostalgia for the post-Confederate, pre-integration period, I offer two books: At the Hands of Persons Unknown by Philip Dray and Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (James Allen, editor) are numbing accounts of lynching, and show how for generations mobs of otherwise decent, church-going white Americans murdered perhaps 10,000 black Americans without mercy, trial, or fear of the authorities. The victim's genitals, ears, and fingers were sometimes amputated while he or she was still alive. The victim's torn body was often burned. Bones and body parts were snatched up as mementos by members of the crowd. Photographers snapped pictures of the lynch mobs standing beneath their dangling, mangled victims: smiling white faces of men, women and children satisfied with their work.

The main purpose behind lynching was to instill fear--so that black Americans, fearing the mobs, stayed in places where white Americans assigned them--back of the bus, off the campus, out of the voting booth. Today's GOP, kowtowing to racist sympathizers, is working on similar goals in a more refined fashion, all the while touting itself as the future of "color-blind" race relations.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn was asked what Russians would do regarding past horrors perpetrated on their nation by Communist ideology. Solzhenitsyn replied that if a person has a terrible sickness and is cured, he rejoices loudly. But if the sickness is still in him, he remains silent and avoids those who inquire about his health.

Many Republicans would prefer to remain silent and avoid discussion about the racist realities of 20th Century America. Instead, let Liberals and Conservatives loudly demand that GOP leaders renounce this sick legacy in all its forms, and in far more than words.

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