by Mackubin T. Owens
Under pressure from fellow Republicans, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott
recently stepped down from his post as Senate Majority Leader because of
racially offensive comments he made earlier in the month. He was persuaded
to take this step by Republicans who believed that his comments were at odds
with the principles of their party.
Of course, Democrats have used the Lott affair to pillory the Republicans as
racists. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, who had first dismissed the
idea that Sen. Lott was a racist, later claimed that his stepping down did
not really address the Republican Party’s inherent racism. "Republicans
have to prove, not only to us, of course, but to the American people that
they are as sensitive to this question of racism, this question of civil
rights, this question of equal opportunity, as they say they are," Senator
Daschle told CNN. Among high-profile Democrats, Senators Hillary Clinton and
Charles Schumer offered similar comments.
It’s about time that Republicans quit pussy-footing around on the issue of
race. They need to point out that in both principle and practice, the
Republican Party has a far better record than the Democrats on race. Even
more importantly, they need to stress that on the issues that most affect
African-Americans today, the Democratic position represents racism of the
most offensive sort—a patronizing racism that denigrates Blacks every bit
as badly as the old racism of Jim Crow and segregation.
Republicans can begin by observing that their Party was founded on the basis
of principles invoked by Abraham Lincoln. He himself recurred to the
principles of the American Founding, specifically the Declaration of
Independence, so we can say that the principles of the Republican Party are
the principles of the nation. In essence these principles hold that the only
purpose of government is to protect the equal natural rights of individual
citizens. These rights inhere in individuals, not groups, and are antecedent
to the creation of government. They are the rights invoked by the
Declaration of Independence—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—
not happiness, but the pursuit of happiness.
We should remember that the Republican Party was created in response to a
crisis arising from the fact that American public opinion on the issue of
slavery had drifted away from the principles of the Founding. While the
Founders had tolerated slavery out of necessity, many Americans, especially
within the Democratic Party, had come to accept the idea that slavery was a
"positive good." While Thomas Jefferson, the founder of what evolved into
the Democratic Party, had argued that slavery was bad not only for the slave
but also for the slave owner, John C. Calhoun, had turned this principle on
its head: slavery was good not only for the slave holder, but also for the
Calhoun’s fundamental enterprise was to defend the institution of slavery.
To do so, he first had to overturn the principles of the American Founding.
He started with the Declaration of Independence, arguing that "[the
proposition ’all men are created equal’] as now understood, has become the
most false and dangerous of all political errors….We now begin to
experience the danger of admitting so great an error to have a place in the
declaration of independence." Thus Calhoun transformed the Democratic Party
of Jefferson into the Party of Slavery.
The most liberal position among ante-bellum Democrats regarding slavery was
that slavery was an issue that should be decided by popular vote. For
example, Stephen Douglas, Lincoln’s opponent in the 1858 Illinois senate
race and the 1860 presidential campaign, advocated "popular sovereignty." He
defended the right of the people in the territories to outlaw slavery, but
also defended the right of Southerners to own slaves and transport them to
the new territories.
The Democratic Party’s war against African-Americans continued after the
Civil War (which many Democrats in fact opposed, often working actively to
undercut the Union war effort). Democrats, both north and south fought the
attempt to implement the equality for African-Americans gained at such a
high cost. This opposition was often violent. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan
operated as the de facto terrorist arm of the national Democratic Party
Democrats defeated Reconstruction in the end and on its ruins created Jim
Crow. Democratic liberalism did not extend to issue of race. Woodrow Wilson
was the quintessential "liberal racist," a species of Democrat that later
included the likes of William Fulbright of Arkansas, Sam Ervin of North
Carolina, and Albert Gore, father of Al, of Tennessee.
In the 1920s, the Republican Party platform routinely called for anti-
lynching legislation. The Democrats rejected such calls in their own
platforms. When FDR forged the New Deal, he was able to pry Blacks away from
their traditional attachment to the Party of Lincoln. But they remained in
their dependent status, Democrats by virtue of political expediency, not
As the incomparable Ann Coulter has observed, when Strom Thurmond, the
praise of whom landed Sen. Lott in hot water, ran a segregationist campaign
in 1948, he ran as a Dixie-CRAT, not a Dixie-CAN. When he lost, he went back
to being a Democrat. He only repudiated his segregationist views when he
later became a Republican
Even the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which supposedly established the
Democrats’ bona fides on race, was passed in spite of the Democrats rather
than because of them. Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen
pushed the bill through the Senate, despite the no-votes of 21 Democrats,
including Gore Sr. and Robert Byrd, who remains a powerful force in the
Senate today. In contrast, only four Republicans opposed the bill, mostly
like Barry Goldwater on libertarian principles, not segregationist ones.
Indeed, the case of Sen. Byrd is instructive when it comes to the double
standard applied to the two parties when it comes to race. Even those
Democrats who have exploited the Lott affair acknowledge that he is no
racist. Can the same be said about Sen. Byrd, who was a member of the KKK
and who recently used the "n" word on national TV?
"Ah, but this is all in the past," say the Democrats. "Now we push a pro-
African-American agenda." But the reality differs significantly from the
Take the issue of education. The single biggest obstacle to the achievement
of true equality in the United States is not poverty, but education. If
Democrats sincerely wished to help the minority children on whose behalf
they claim to labor, they would embrace school choice to help such children
escape the trap of sub-standard schools. But that would offend the teachers
’ unions upon which the Democrats depend for financial and "in-kind"
support. So as has often been the case with the group politics of the
Democratic party, African-American interests are sacrificed to other groups
who have more pull.
"Affirmative action" has become the touchstone of Democratic racial politics
. Democrats portray anyone who opposes affirmative action as racist. But
affirmative action, as currently practiced, is racist to the core. It is
based on the assumption that African-Americans are incapable of competing
with whites. It represents the kind of paternalistic racism that would have
done honor to Calhoun. For the modern liberal Democratic racist as for the
old-fashioned one, blacks are simply incapable of freedom. They will always
need Ol’ Massa’s help. And woe be to any African-American who wanders off
of the Democratic plantation. Ask Clarence Thomas, Thomas Sowell, Shelby
Steele, or Ward Connerly. Although they echo the call for a "color-blind
society" that once characterized the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., they
are pilloried as "Uncle Toms" of "Oreos" by such enforcers of the Democratic
plantation system as Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton.
If we need the perfect symbol for the true character of the Democratic Party
when it comes to race, we need look no farther than Rhode Island
Congressman Patrick Kennedy. Rep. Kennedy portrays himself as a friend of
African-Americans. But his touching solicitude for African-Americans as a
group is gross hypocrisy. When inconvenienced by a real African-American
woman trying to do her job, Rep. Kennedy shoved her out of his way, giving
her arm a yank for good measure. In practice, the Democratic Party as a
whole cares as much about real African-Americans as Rep. Kennedy does.
Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of strategy and force planning at the
Naval War College in Newport, RI, and an adjunct fellow of the Ashbrook
Center. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position
of the War College, Navy Department, or Department of Defense.