First, let’s get this out of the way: Trent Lott was absolutely correct in resigning as Senate Majority Leader, not because he is a racist, but because he has failed the tests of leadership, of which the Thurman birthday party flap was the latest.
Now, can we quit apologizing and have a serious conversation about race in this country? And about the Civil War, its legacy, and the motives of its protagonists on both sides? And about true empowerment policies for blacks without the knee-jerk reactions of the race-baiters and hustlers? And about the disastrous representation of blacks provided by the Democratic Party in the period since the civil rights revolution of the 1960s?
For all the damage Lott did in depleting the Republican’s moral capital on racial issues and setting himself up as what Thomas Sowell calls a “living red herring”, this episode should be used as a teaching moment as well as an opportunity to advance the policies of empowerment over those of entitlement across a broad front. We should be instructive, for example, in explaining how an agenda of school choice, welfare reform, and faith-based initiatives serves black America better than the tired and failed Great Society agenda. We should explain that race-based preferences in employment, public contracts, and college admissions are discriminatory in a way that violates the Fourteenth Amendment as well as the spirit of Dr. King’s legacy, not to mention harmful to the very people they are designed to help.
I admit that the liberal Democrats captured at least the appearance of the moral high ground on race almost forty years ago during the civil rights battles. For example, many conservatives, for libertarian reasons, opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because of the “public accommodations clause”. As a 22-year old, I shared these views at the time and would like to think my reasons were noble. And it is clear that conservatives were too slow to react to the hijacking by Southern racists of the worthy and honorable principle of states’ rights federalism embedded in the Tenth Amendment. But that moral high ground has been consistently undermined over the ensuing period by the liberals’ paternalistic policies of entitlement guided by what President Bush has called the “soft bigotry of low expectations”.
Some Republicans are so intimidated by the Lott fiasco that they are ready to concede and appease on a number of critical policy issues involving race and ethnicity in the name of harmony and to show “good faith”. To the contrary, the time is now to reach for the true moral high ground of a color-blind agenda. President Bush has the personal moral capital to lead on this. He should do so forcefully.