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Jewish World Review Dec. 23, 2002 / 18 Teves, 5763

Jim Wooten

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How to swell the GOP's minority numbers | ATLANTA Depressed, vacillating between moderation and a wild swing to the left, battered Democrats briefly found new life in the waning days of a disastrous election year.

The new life was Sen. Trent Lott, who chose the responsible course at week's end after he had so severely damaged himself, first with liberals and then with conservatives, that he became a major Republican liability. Had he remained, he would have been so vulnerable to blackmail by liberal Democrats poised to characterize him as a caught racist that his Hobson's choice was to support their agenda or endure further vilification.

All along, the outrage coming from liberal commentators and other Democrats has been a little about Lott and a lot about reclaiming the Senate and the White House. They were absolutely dispirited by the election, but Lott had given them the opening to reinforce the campaign message they constantly repackage to drive turnout --- that all Southern white Republicans are secret Klan sympathizers.

It's an absurdity and, as such, had lost its election punch. But for a while at least, Lott did give them an excuse to wave the bloody shirt.

The question now becomes how Republicans continue to build on President Bush's efforts to bring blacks and other minorities to the GOP. The problem with Lott last week was that he abandoned all conservative principle in an effort to quiet his liberal critics --- and in the process appeared to accept their proposition that conservative positions on racial preferences, for example, are rooted in a desire to advantage whites.

For Republicans, the secret to attracting minority voters is not to outpromise Democrats or to fall into the trap that ensnared Lott, which is to embrace liberal agendas. The secret is to stand for something principled and to explain the alternatives they offer to minority voters.

Blacks have no more interest than whites in seeing government spiral out of control, or in watching their children fail in public schools, or in building a wall so impenetrable that faith-based organizations are excluded from rehabilitation or after-school programs that involve public money.

Liberal Democrats have an agenda that's primarily useful for campaign commercials, and that is a federal "hate crimes" law. But rational people recognize that it's mostly symbolism and, besides, most liberals oppose capital punishment anyway.

Had Lott survived, the risk is that with a conservative in the White House, the U.S. Senate would have been talking about the agenda of the Congressional Black Caucus.

The controversy had given an opening to liberal politicians to take on other targets. An example is last week's charge by state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta) that Lott's a racist and Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue is, too.

"Isn't it hypocritical for Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue to denounce, through his spokesman, Sen. Trent Lott's bigoted comments, when he spent this summer and fall appealing to the intolerance of pro-flag whites?" asks Fort, a committee chairman who was deposed from power by the election.

Perdue did no such thing, of course. Lott, though, gave politicians such as Fort a platform for their GOP-is-the-Klan rant.

Lott's resignation as majority leader doesn't entirely take away their platform, but it does make their screeds less newsworthy. The rants will continue. It is, after all, considerably about Democrats acting out their election-year disappointments.

For the GOP after Lott, the lesson is to stand on principle --- and blacks, Latinos, Asians, whites and other minorities will find that appealing.

Comment on JWR contributor Jim Wooten's column by clicking here.

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04/13/01: High Court grants another building block in the case for faith-based involvement in addressing the nation's social ills
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© Jim Wooten