Even with Trent Lott (R, Miss.) relegated to the Senate’s backbenches, Democrats want the issue of Republicans and race front and center.
”How can they jump on [Lott] when they’re out there repressing, trying to run black voters away from the polls and running under the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina?” Bill Clinton wondered on CNN December 18. “I mean, look at their whole record. He just embarrassed them by saying in Washington what they do on the back roads every day.”
Senator Hillary Clinton (D., New York) said two days later, “If anyone thinks that one person stepping down from a leadership position cleanses the Republican party of their constant exploitation of race, then I think you’re naive.”
Incoming House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California added: “The Republican party still needs to do much more to remove the issue of race and any of its symbols from our political process.”
Before lecturing Republicans, Democrats should mop up their side of the political spectrum.
Bill Clinton, for starters, approaches this matter in mud-soaked boots. As NewsMax.com recalled on December 22, then-Governor Clinton was among three state officials the NAACP sued in 1989 under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. “Plaintiffs offered plenty of proof of monolithic voting along racial lines, intimidation of black voters and candidates and other official acts that made voting harder for blacks,” the Arkansas Gazette reported December 6, 1989. It added: “the evidence at the trial was indeed overwhelming that the Voting Rights Act had been violated.”
A three-judge federal panel ordered Clinton and Arkansas’s then-Attorney General Steve Clark and then-Secretary of State William J. McCuen to redraw electoral districts to maximize black voting strength.
During his 12-year tenure, Governor Clinton never approved a state civil-rights law. However, he did issue birthday proclamations honoring Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. He also signed Act 116 in 1987. That statute reconfirmed that the star directly above the word “Arkansas” in the state flag “is to commemorate the Confederate States of America.” Arkansas also observed Confederate Flag Day every year Clinton served. The governor’s silence was consent.
Arkansas’ former governor, the late Orval Eugene Faubus, attended Bill Clinton’s 1979 gubernatorial inauguration, where the two pols hugged, as Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page editor Paul Greenberg recalls. Faubus, of course, resisted the integration of Little Rock’s Central High School in 1957. He actually deployed National Guard soldiers to bar nine black students from entering. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower dispatched soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to break that logjam and give the black teens a fighting chance to learn. Clinton once lauded that same Faubus as a “man of significant ability.”
Just this fall, Clinton praised Arkansas’ late Democratic senator J. William Fulbright, a notorious segregationist who opposed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He also signed the Southern Manifesto, which denounced the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation decision in 1954. Clinton called Fulbright “My mentor, a visionary, a humanitarian.”
But even with that record, Bill Clinton is Rosa Parks compared to his party’s most senior senator. Until the 108th Congress convenes tomorrow, Robert Byrd (D, W.V.) remains the Senate’s president pro tempore, the third in the line of presidential succession behind Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R, Illinois). Byrd, who also chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942 at age 24. He resigned in 1943. But in 1946, he wrote this to the KKK’s Imperial Wizard: “The Klan is needed today as never before and I am anxious to see its rebirth here in West Virginia.”
Bryd was elected to West Virginia’s House of Delegates that year. In 1947, he criticized the military’s proposed integration. In a letter to segregationist senator Theodore Bilbo (D, Miss.), Byrd said he would “never submit to fight beneath the banner [the American flag] with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
Byrd filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act, joining Albert Gore Sr. and 19 other Democrats (and only four Republicans) in voting against that groundbreaking legislation. He fought Thurgood Marshall’s Supreme Court nomination before becoming Senate Democratic leader from 1977 to 1989.
Byrd says he regrets his Klan membership. As a December 23 Wall Street Journal editorial noted, Byrd urged young Americans in 1997 to pursue public life. However, “Be sure you avoid the Ku Klux Klan. Don’t get that albatross around your neck. Once you’ve made that mistake, you inhibit your operations in the political arena.”
Byrd was a buzzard on the March 4, 2001 edition of Fox News Sunday. Asked about race relations, Byrd told host Tony Snow: “There are white niggers. I’ve seen a lot of white niggers in my time. I’m going to use that word.” He apologized and said, “The phrase dates back to my boyhood and has no place in today’s society.”
Byrd will appear next February in the $51 million Warner Brothers Civil War epic, Gods and Generals. Although he is age 84, Byrd will portray Confederate general Paul J. Semmes, who owned at least a dozen slaves. He was badly wounded at Gettysburg and died July 10, 1863 at age 48.
Byrd’s Senate colleague, Ernest Hollings (D, S.C.), meanwhile, told reporters on December 14, 1993 that he attended international summits alongside “these potentates from down in Africa.” He continued, “rather than eating each other, they’d just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva.” There also would be no debate today about flying the Confederate flag over South Carolina’s statehouse had then-governor Hollings not defiantly hoisted it above the state capitol in 1962.
When Democratic tongues slip, they never pay for it as Republicans do. Recall how outgoing Majority Leader Dick Armey (R, Tex.) literally delivered a tear-filled mea culpa on the House floor in 1995 after he “misspoke” and called gay Rep. Barney Frank (D, Mass.) “Barney Fag.”
Shortly after torpedoing the campaign of Atlanta’s black ex-mayor, Maynard Jackson, to become Democratic National Chairman, Clinton pal Terry McAuliffe referred to “colored people” in a speech soon after becoming DNC chief in February 2001. He said he meant “people of color.”
At a February 9, 2001 speech to the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, California’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante said “nigger” when, he apologetically explained, he wanted to say “Negro” in the title of a black labor organization.
Verbal gaffes aside, Democrats deliberately employ racial rhetoric to frighten black voters all the way to the polls.
Maryland Democrats mocked Michael Steele, the eventually triumphant black GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, by passing out Oreo cookies at a debate last September 26. Message? Steele is black on the outside and white within.
While campaigning on September 8, 2001 for Gotham Democratic mayoral hopeful Fernando Ferrer, Rep. Charles Rangel (D, Harlem) alluded to Ferrer’s white primary opponents. Rangel asked activists, “How do you feel our hurt when you go to apply for a job and you see three whites there and you know before the interview that you’re not going to get it?”
Rangel’s naked racial appeal echoed almost perfectly Senator Jesse Helms’ (R, N.C.) 1990 ad that showed a pair of Caucasian hands crumpling an employment-rejection letter as an announcer grumbled: “You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority.”
Black Democrat Hazel Dukes — president of New York City’s Off-Track Betting agency in Democrat David Dinkins’s mayoralty — also chimed in on the Ferrer candidacy. In October 2001, she criticized a primary campaign ad by Democrat Mark Green. It asked if New Yorkers “Can afford to take a chance” on Ferrer. At a Women for Ferrer rally, Dukes called the innocuous spot “the height of racism” and a “lynching.” She added: “I woke up and thought I was in Mississippi.”
In an October 8, 2000 debate against then-Rep. Rick Lazio (R, N.Y.), none other than Hillary Clinton said she would reject any Supreme Court nominee “who would vote to overturn Brown v. Board of Education.” Presumably, Lazio would have supported such an appointee, even though no one wants to reverse that ruling.
The Saturday before the 2000 election, then-Vice President Al Gore addressed a Pittsburgh church audience. “When my opponent, Governor Bush, says he’ll appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court,” Gore said, “I often think of the strictly constructed meaning that was applied when the Constitution was written, how some people [slaves] were considered three-fifths of a human being.”
Perhaps Gore believed the Three-Fifths Compromise was hidden in the 2000 Republican Platform.
In November 1998, Missouri’s Democratic party ran radio ads on urban stations to boost black turnout. “When you don’t vote, you let another church explode,” the spot warned. “When you don’t vote, you allow another cross to burn. When you don’t vote, you let Republicans continue to cut school lunches and Head Start.”
As The Weekly Standard reported, Rep. Albert Wynn (D, Md.) mailed black voters campaign postcards in 1998. They showed policemen using batons and German shepherds to terrorize blacks in the Jim Crow South. “A Voteless People Are a Hopeless People,” the cards read.
In another touch of class, Nancy Pelosi’s fellow San Francisco Democrat, Mayor Willie Brown, used his appearance at the California Democratic-party convention in March 2001 to ridicule President Bush’s sometimes-twisted syntax. “They elected the symbol of Ebonics to the presidency of this nation,” Brown said. “There ain’t no brother in Oakland, or anywhere else, that would run the phrase or mix up the words that way this cat does. It raises serious questions about whether he’s really white.”
While he served as California’s assembly speaker, Brown crowed after beating Republicans in a 1995 leadership battle: “The white boys got taken fair and square.” Asked by ABC’s Judd Rose if he regretted that comment, Brown said: “No, I don’t regret saying that. It was an adequate and accurate description of a collection of people who had been defeated on this occasion.”
Sharpe James, Newark, New Jersey’s black Democratic mayor, also employed the “white boy” ethnic slur. In an interesting twist, however, he hurled it at a fellow black Democrat. Cory Booker — a young, reformist city councilman who supports school vouchers and has addressed the free-market Manhattan Institute — challenged James in Newark’s mayoral primary last May 14. James accused his Stanford-, Yale- and Oxford-educated opponent of being “aligned with the Jews” and not being “black enough.” As if speaking to Booker, James said at one rally: “You have to learn to be an African American, and we don’t have time to train you.” He reportedly also dismissed the light-skinned Booker as “the faggot white boy.” James defeated Booker 53 percent to 46.
In another example of municipal bigotry, consider New York City Councilman Charles Barron. The black Democrat told a crowd at the Millions for Reparations March in Washington, D.C. last August 17 that he wished his goal of seeing blacks compensated for the enslavement of their ancestors were closer to fruition. Or, as Barron actually put it: “I want to go up to the closest white person and say: ‘You can’t understand this, it’s a black thing’ and then slap him, just for my mental health.”
Vote-rich Gotham always lures candidates, and for Democrats such as Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and Bill Bradley, Manhattan campaign swings are incomplete without seeing the Rev. Al Sharpton. All three visited him during their 2000 bids. As Jay Nordlinger recalled in the March 20, 2000 National Review, Sharpton ran for the U.S. Senate in 1992. He described his Democratic primary opponents as “recycled white trash.”
Sharpton also has called Jews “diamond merchants.” He said during the August 1991 Crown Heights pogrom, “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”
At a September 9, 1995 boycott rally outside Freddy’s Fashion Mart on Harlem’s 125th Street, Sharpton denounced its Jewish owner as “some white interloper.” For two weeks that fall, as the Washington Post’s Malcolm Gladwell reported, picketers loudly chanted their disapproval when the clothing store tried to expand into the Record Shack, an adjacent black-owned business. “This block for niggers only, no whites and Jews allowed!” they screamed. “Kill the Jew bastards and burn down the Jew store!”
That December 8, a protester named Roland Smith stormed Freddy’s with a gun, injuring four individuals. Then he set the store ablaze, killing seven people before he shot himself dead.
Yes, Republicans should search their souls on race. South Carolina’s Bob Jones University, which banned interracial dating until recently, no longer should be a station of the cross en route to the GOP nomination. More Republicans should understand that the Confederate flag telegraphs slavery and sedition to blacks, among others. Republicans always should sell their message of freedom in black neighborhoods; they never will win black support without asking for it. Republicans should do these things because they are right, whether or not Democrats overcome their addiction to race baiting.
— Mr. Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service.