Thursday, December 19, 2002
Peter Beinart thinks the right-wingers who have called for Lott's resignation still don't get it. So how does he explain letters like this?
Beinart's interesting personal history (he was raised in Africa) makes him a particularly credible liberal writer on race. And he has legitimately high standards on the topic. And yeah, the National Review editorial was not the strongest of the many statements against Lott on their website. But hey: they've been running a half-dozen anti-Lott stories a day since a couple of days after the scandal broke. They've published forceful principled attacks from the likes of David Frum and Robert George and less principled, more pragmatic attacks from the likes of Jonah Goldberg and their editorial. I have a hard time seeing how they've been soft on Lott or how they've avoided the principled stance that segregation was an unmitigated and unconscionable evil.
At the end of his piece, Beinart accuses conservatives of believing that all right-wingers are basically nice folks and all liberals are basically perfidious. I do know people who think this way - though I know plenty more who think the opposite. (Of course, most of my friends and family are basically liberals, not conservatives, so I'm not working from an unbiased sample.) But his evidence is that National Review mocks the NAACP and the NAACP despised Lott. Why does Beinart think that the NAACP is the arbiter of who is a racist and who isn't? Does he think that National Review is the arbiter of who has liberal bias and who doesn't? Does he think that CAIR is the arbiter of who is anti-Arab or anti-Muslim and who isn't? I don't think so.
Even if you thought that NAACP was the official "voice" of black America, you would be wrong to think that they were the arbiters of right and wrong with regard to the Lott affair. Lott said that the country would have been better off had the Presidency been won by a one-issue segregationist candidate. That can only mean that he thinks the effort to end segregation was wrong. That is a morally wrong viewpoint. It is unacceptable not because it offends some people but because it is an affirmation of evil.
It is not an easy thing to come from a conquered people, but it can have positive consequences on character. General MacArthur famously empathized with the Japanese under his rule because he was a Southerner, and knew what it meant to be a proud culture utterly defeated. Those in the South who have most fully reckoned with the evil legacy of white supremacy - and there are both Democrats and Republicans, including plenty of conservative Republicans, in their ranks - are the most credible white spokesmen on the subject of race in America. Lott is not one of them. He is so much not one of them that he has, still, no idea of the serious wrong in what he said - I agree with the first half of Beinart's editorial without reservation. But the record should show that some of the angriest responses to Lott's statement came from the political right - from people like Bill Kristol and David Frum who believe in Republican Party principles, believe that Dixiecrat principles are their diametric opposite in every way, and will not stand for having the two confused by having a Dixiecrat nostalgist as the leader of the Republican Senate.