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Jewish World Review Jan. 2, 2001 / 7 Teves, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg
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Whole lotta exploitin' goin' on -- ISN'T IT ODD that amid an era of self-evidently unprecedented peace, prosperity and racial advancement, the racial rhetoric in this country has become totally unhinged from reality?

During the Florida folderol, for example, Jesse Jackson said things that should have had him cashiered from the ranks of respectable public service. For example, he accused Bush of using "Nazi tactics," equated the Supreme Court's anti-recount position with the Dred Scott case, which upheld slavery, and swore he'd lead the fight to "delegitimize Bush, discredit him, do whatever it takes, but never accept him."

Of course, the volume button on Jackson's megaphone broke off at full long ago. But he's not alone. In recent years, the Democratic Party and allied civil rights groups have adopted a cynical strategy of exploiting racial fears.

The motive is obvious: The Democratic Party needs unprecedented levels of black turnout in order to win or even stay competitive (Bush won Florida's white vote by roughly 55 percent to 41 percent). Meanwhile civil rights groups - too liberal to go elsewhere - see that the Democratic Party can't afford to say no to them.

For a generation, Republicans were accused of "playing the race card." Now the burden of proof has shifted. Where once the concern was that conservatives unfairly used race as a subtle wedge issue, it's now the Democrats under Bill Clinton who use the charge of racism as an outright cudgel.

This will only become more apparent in the looming confirmation battle of Missouri Senator John Ashcroft to be George W. Bush's attorney general. Within days of Ashcroft's nomination, the usual liberal crowd nearly tore their legs out of their sockets with knee-jerk reactions.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said Ashcroft's nomination was "outrageous." Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, said Ashcroft is "truly an astonishingly bad nomination." And on and on.

This all stems from the fact that Ashcroft led the effort to block the appointment of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White to a federal district court seat. White, who is black, was the first judicial nominee since Robert Bork in 1987 to be rejected by a Senate floor vote.

Under Senate rules, senators are given wide latitude to block the nominations of judges from their home state. Ashcroft, who was preparing for a brutal election against the late Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan, chose to block White's nomination.

Ashcroft argued that White was too liberal, especially on the death penalty. White was more likely to vote to overturn death sentences than any of his fellow sitting justices. He notoriously - and solely - opposed the death penalty for James R. Johnson, who killed a sheriff, two deputies and an officer's wife (who died while her family watched in the living room).

The immediate response from the Democrats was that Ashcroft's only motivation was racism. Senator Patrick Leahy fretted, "I hope that the United States Senate has now not reverted to a color test on nominations."

But it was President Clinton who really stirred the pot. By rejecting White, said Clinton, "The Republican-controlled Senate is adding credence to the perception that they treat minority nominees unfairly and unequally."

Members of the Black Congressional Caucus and their allies were less circumspect, flatly arguing that Ashcroft was a racist. That argument has been revived now that Bush has nominated Ashcroft to be attorney general.

Ashcroft's decision to block White surely had to do with state politics in what promised - and turned out to be - a tough race. But why should noncompliance with a Democratic agenda be equated with racism?

Wouldn't the fact that White was the first judge of any color to be rejected since 1987 suggest that most minorities weren't rejected by a supposedly racist Senate?

Indeed, Ashcroft voted for 90 percent of black judicial nominees. As Missouri governor, he signed the law making Martin Luther King Day a holiday, appointed the first African-American for the state Court of Appeals in Kansas City and selected numerous other blacks for judgeships.

Of course, none of this really matters. The Democratic Party needs to keep tensions high. If that requires damaging race relations and ruining reputations, it's a small price for them to pay.

To comment on JWR contributor Jonah Goldberg's column click here.


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