Ken Mehlman goes to the NAACP, apologizes for the GOP’s past sins, and Bob Herbert unloads on him:
One of President Bush’s surrogates went before the N.A.A.C.P. last week and apologized for the Republican Party’s reprehensible, decades-long Southern strategy.
The surrogate, Ken Mehlman, is chairman of the Republican National Committee. Perhaps he meant well. But his words were worse than meaningless. They were insulting. The G.O.P.’s Southern strategy, racist at its core, still lives.
My goodness. What could Mehlman have said that was so offensive? Did he pull a James Watt? Let’s look:
“Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization,” said Mr. Mehlman. “I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
Oh. Can’t imagine why President Bush may be reluctant to address the NAACP if this is what creates such vitriolic condemnations. At any rate, Herbert does repeat a few canards:
The Southern strategy meant much, much more than some members of the G.O.P. simply giving up on African-American votes. Put into play by Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon in the mid- to late 1960’s, it fed like a starving beast on the resentment of whites who were scornful of blacks and furious about the demise of segregation and other civil rights advances. The idea was to snatch the white racist vote away from the Democratic Party, which had committed such unpardonable sins as enacting the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and enforcing desegregation statutes.
I’ll let you deal with that one on your lonesome in the comments. Herbert continues:
So what did Ronald Reagan do in his first run for the presidency, 16 years after the murder, in the summer of 1980? He chose the site of the murders, Philadelphia, Miss., as the perfect place to send an important symbolic message. Mr. Reagan kicked off his general election campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, an annual gathering that was famous for its diatribes by segregationist politicians. His message: “I believe in states’ rights.”
I’ll let Kevin Drum take care of this one:
Reagan obviously knew the racial baggage of a phrase like that at a place like Neshoba, and it’s a genuine blight on his record. However, it’s worth noting that (a) Reagan talked about states’ rights routinely in a non-racial context, (b) Mississippi at the time was seen as a swing state that Jimmy Carter had only barely won in 1976, and (c) the Neshoba event wasn’t originally planned to be the kickoff for his campaign. His original intent was to kick off the campaign with a speech to the Urban League, but his advisers were afraid of the symbolism of doing that first and following it with Neshoba.
Drum goes on to note that Dukakis and others all went to the Neshoba County Fair, and that the reason may have more to do with the fact that this is the ‘it’ event for this region, and a campaign stop for everyone.
I am not going to whitewash or defend the Republican party’s checkered past on matters regarding race, as there really is no excuse for many of the past behaviors. In fact, most of us in the party acknowledge it, and it is why we have such a hair trigger when people like Trent Lott attempt to glorify the segregationist past of people like Strom Thurmond. I have even written at length about some of our sins and how the biblical rhetoric employed against blacks now has been retooled and redeployed against homosexuals.
Despite all that, it is still profoundly unfair to even attempt to portray this White House as racist. Bush may be wrong on a lot of issues, but it is a stretch to claim that racism is one of those sins, and Herbert is simply trying to keep hate alive.