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January 09, 2005

Racism, Or Just Politics As Usual?

Jack Kelly outs Harry Reid's tacky (and, as it turns out, inaccurate) remarks about Justice Thomas. Kelly thinks Reid's remarks are motivated by racism, but the rest of his article suggests a more pragmatic rationale:

Democrats maintain their hammerlock on black votes by accusing Republicans of racism. Whenever a Republican president appoints obviously qualified blacks to high public office, this smear seems less credible. And Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and -- yes -- Clarence Thomas prove that a black can get ahead without chopping cotton on the liberal plantation.
Janice Rogers Brown is Condoleezza Rice with a law degree. She is a bright, articulate, black woman who accomplished much despite growing up in the segregated South. No one can call her unqualified on the basis of her resume.

Democrats successfully filibustered Bush nominees for appellate courts, including Brown, because the battle didn't register on the radar screens of most people. A Supreme Court fight would be too big to ignore.

It will be hard for Democrats to fight Thomas and Brown without appearing racist. That could remind blacks that every segregationist who ever served in Congress was a Democrat. But if they fail to block the nominations, then it will be a Republican president who appoints the first black chief justice, the first black woman justice.

As Kelly points out, this is a battle the Democrats cannot afford to lose:

Even with the support of nearly 90 percent of blacks, Democrats have lost the White House and both houses of Congress. If just one black in five were habitually to vote Republican, the Democratic party could go the way of the Federalists and the Whigs.

If there was ever a time to force this issue out into the open, it is now. Not only is it politically astute, it's the right thing to do.

Posted by Cassandra at January 9, 2005 09:51 AM

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I agree with the point, although I don't think it is as powerful as you think. Also, Kelly's rhetoric is a bit over the top. For example, it is a huge stretch to say that "every segregationist who ever served in Congress was a Democrat." A lot of them became Republicans or at least voted with the Republicans because the mainstream of the Democratic Party embraced desegregation. Strom Thurmond is the archtype.

The difficulty that Republicans have getting black votes is that blacks learned from Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson that the federal government is a good thing. Social Security, public works, the integration of the military, the integration of the public schools -- these are all federal projects. As a result, blacks are big believers in the positive power of the federal government, which is something Republicans deride (correctly, in my view).

From the perspective of blacks, there are good reasons to like the federal government. In the last 70 years or so, the federal government has protected blacks from the depredations of corrupt state governments and racists in business, and they will not forget that easily. Even affluent blacks like the federal government. Indeed, many middle-class blacks are federal employees. They do not share the typical view that people who work in government bureaucracies are somehow lazy or power crazy. I think it will be very difficult for the Republicans to take even 20% of black votes as long as Republicans prefer state governments over the federal, and employers over employees, and since I'm with the Republicans in that regard I do not think I will be voting on the same side as most blacks for a very long time to come. (A footnote: It was much easier to favor state governments over federal when I lived in Iowa -- New Jersey has caused me to reconsider that!)

Posted by: Jack at January 9, 2005 01:50 PM

Oh, I didn't say I completely agreed with Kelly :)

I think he's overstated the case (as has almost everyone else who's commented on this).

Reid is just tacky, the Democrats are reprehensible and hypocritical for not calling him on his remarks, but only because they make such a big deal when Republiscums say things that are mild by comparison.

I'm tired of people throwing the racism card at the drop of a hat. This has a racial component, but it's racial politics, not racism. I think perhaps you can make the case that the Democrats also don't trust blacks in positions of responsiblity because they never promote them to any :)

But that's not proven by Reid's remarks, specifically, so I don't see calling him a racist, absent more specific proof - that's a pretty serious charge. I'm sick of people throwing it around lightly.

Posted by: Cassandra at January 9, 2005 05:17 PM

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