December 17, 2002


ZERO-SUM LOTT: In case you hadn't heard, Trent Lott declared last night on BET that he "absolutely" supports affirmative action, thus exchanging one brand of racist poison for another. I'm reminded of Jonathan Rauch's observation from last month about Jesse Helms:

In his world, if homosexuals win, heterosexuals lose. If blacks win, whites lose. In his 1990 Senate race, against a black opponent, he aired a famous—now infamous—television ad in which two white hands crumpled a letter while a voice-over intoned, "You needed that job, and you were the best qualified. But they had to give it to a minority because of a racial quota. Is that really fair?" Democrats accused him of race-baiting. In fact, affirmative action is a problematic policy that in some cases does discriminate against whites and that its supporters should be called upon to defend. The trouble with the ad, rather, was that it strengthened rather than weakened racial preferences by presenting a false, zero-sum choice: Blacks (or whites) win, so whites (or blacks) must lose. It implied that you could vote for the interests of blacks or the interests of whites, but you had to choose.
Realizing from the backlash to his birthday party comments that the civilized world no longer tolerates what racists see as "the interests of whites," Lott has concluded that to save himself he must embrace what racists see as "the interests of blacks." This is of course a false choice; no one is hurt more by affirmative action than successful blacks who-- because they have been institutionally treated as incapable of playing by the same rules as whites-- must live under the suspicion that they haven't earned their station in life. To make that arguement though, apparently requires either more intellectual compacity or more moral courage than Lott has.

Rauch's piece contrasts the principled conservatism of Ronald Reagan-- a dynamic visionary who insisted that everyone could win, that something better than a perpetual Cold War and economic malaise was within reach-- with the "bundle of prejudices" of Jesse Helms. "The difference between Reagan and Helms is the difference between a conservatism of hope and a conservatism of resentment," Rauch notes. Many have said that Lott's comments have no place in the "party of Lincoln," but they needn't go back that far; with his zero-sum racial worldview, Lott has no place in the party of Reagan, either.

Posted by John Tabin at December 17, 2002 12:36 PM