Truth and Opportunism

Clearing the air

By Dave Kopel

National Review Online, December 19, 2002 9:40 a.m.

Like many NRO writers, I've argued that anybody who thinks Strom Thurmond would have made a great president is out-of-touch with American values, including traditional values of small government. Such a person should not be Majority Leader. Nevertheless, many of the items in the official media/leftist litany against Lott are nonsense. Namely:

1. Lott praised Jefferson Davis.

Well, Davis's birthday, May 2, is still an official state holiday in Mississippi. One should not condemn an elected official for praising people who are formally recognized as heroes by the state.

The same goes for Hawaiian politicians who praise Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole (March 26), even though Kalanianaole, like Davis, led a 19th-century rebellion against the United States (in 1895). Unlike Davis, Kalanianole was actually convicted of treason (technically, "misprision of treason"). Later Kalanianaole founded the Civic Club of Honolulu, a politically powerful association which excluded blacks and others on the basis of race.

Similarly, we should not condemn Texas politicians who praise Lyndon Baines Johnson (August 27), even though Johnson wiretapped Martin Luther King, massively enriched himself through corruption, and lied constantly to the American people.

2. Lott voted against the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The first federal holiday created to placate an ethnic interest group was Columbus Day, created in response to lobbying from Italian immigrants. A vote against that holiday wasn't an anti-Italian vote.

At the state level, supporters of a King holiday often worked quite hard to have the holiday created by the legislature, and to avoid a popular vote — recognizing that in many states, a majority of the people would oppose a new government day off.

While the legislature of California recently created a Cesar Chavez holiday, the voters of New Mexico and Colorado overwhelmingly rejected 2002 ballot issues to create a government no work day on Chavez's birthday. The voters of New Mexico and Colorado were not denigrating Hispanics — just saying that there were already enough government holidays.

3. Lott has spoken in favor of states' rights (although as Senate Majority Leader, he has pushed innumerable bills which violate states' rights).

Well, Rep. Barney Frank (D., Mass.) speaks in favor of states' rights. Frank is the main sponsor of the States' Rights to Medical Marijuana Act, which would stop illegitimate federal interference with medical-marijuana laws enacted by some states. It is unfortunate that Lott, like many other self-proclaimed advocates of states' rights, failed to support such legislation.

4. Lott voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1982.

Abigail Thernstrom, a commissioner of the United States Commission on Civil Rights, called for Lott's resignation in a New York Times op-ed this week. In her book Whose Votes Count: Affirmative Action and Minority Voting Rights, Thernstrom explains why the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was urgently needed to stop Southern states from disenfranching blacks in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment. She also explains how subsequent amendments, including the 1982 Act, have perverted the original law into a tool for race-based gerrymandering.

By forcing the artificial creation of "majority minority" districts — with grotesque, twisting boundary lines — the amended law minimizes the extent to which people of different races vote in the same election. In effect, it promotes "separate but equal" voting districts. As enforced by the Bush 41 and Clinton Departments of Justice, the 1982 Act would be more properly titled the "Voting Segregation Act." It is antithetical to the integrationist spirit of the original civil rights movement.

Of course there can be legitimate doubt about whether any of the above items in Lott's record were based on principle, rather than pandering to white racists in Mississippi. Lott's recent endorsement of government-mandated racial discrimination against Asians and whites (misleadingly called "affirmative action") on BET raise serious doubts about whether any part of his record on racial issues was ever based on principle, rather than political opportunism. Still, those votes and statements, standing alone, are no evidence of racism.

Dave Kopel is a contributing editor of NRO.

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