Jewish World Review Nov. 6, 2000/ 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5761
in the final hours
Not so long ago it was the segregationist Democrats who knew just when, with exquisite timing, it was time to inject racial politics into a swiftly closing campaign.
Thursday night before the Tuesday primary was the usual H-hour. A good smear, racial or not, needs 48 hours to ripen, but you don't want to give the target time to exploit the inevitable backlash once the voters identify the source of the stink.
That's why the Gore campaign waited until last night to spring the evidence of a 24-year-old drunk-driving arrest against "the old" George W., before the power of grace, repentance and redemption made a new man of him.
But a good racial smear has nuclear killing power. The racial smear worked best if someone could dig up an old photograph of the targeted candidate in a friendly pose with a black woman. Jimmie Davis, the singing cowboy ("You Are My Sunshine") who went off to make movies in Hollywood after he was governor of Louisiana the first time and then went home two decades later to run again, had to explain why he had been photographed in California (gasp) dancing with a (gasp) black woman. He won, anyway.
Jim Folsom, the playboy governor of Alabama, almost lost it all after he invited Adam Clayton Powell to spend the night at the governor's mansion in Montgomery. "Kissin' Jim" recovered when he explained that yes, he did ask the Harlem congressman to stay overnight with him, because that was the only way he could prevent the integration of the downtown hotels.
It's regarded as ugly stuff now, but some Southern Democrats remember how it was done. Al Gore, for example, has practiced more than mere kissin' techniques from Kissin' Jim. That television commercial blaming George W. for the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas is as vile a piece of campaign literature as we've ever seen, designed solely to inflame racial passions with the depiction of as horrific a crime as we've ever seen. The NAACP made the commercial, and is paying for putting it on the air in carefully selected markets, and of course (wink) Al Gore and his campaign (nudge) had nothing to do with it.
James Byrd's daughter, who narrates the commercial, accuses George W. of having killed her father "all over again" by declining to sign a revised hate-crime law in Texas. The daughter's pain is unbearable and she can be excused, but Kweisi Mfume and Julian Bond ought to be ashamed for exploiting the young woman's pain — and be grateful that the Texas hate-crime law does not cover producers of hate-TV.
Desperation can drive good men to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do. Chuck Robb knows better, for another example of final-hour race baiting, than to try to make George Allen out to be a latter-day Ku Klux Klansman for having had a Confederate flag on his desk. The Confederate flag, in the first place, is a banner washed in the blood sacrifice of Virginia's sons, and due the honor of honorable men, and only the abuse of the flag has made it a target of rabble-rousers and disreputable politicians.
But if Chuck wants explanations for the display of totems of Confederate history he might start with explaining why he kept portraits of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in honored places in his office when he was the governor of Virginia, just as governors before and after him have done.
One of those other governors was Douglas Wilder, the grandson of a slave and who, on assuming office as Virginia's first black governor, explained that he would not banish Lee and Jackson because he was not offended and neither should anyone else be. They were — and are —honored sons in Virginia's history.
Bill Clinton, whose legacy at home will be the way he brought shame on his native state, goes home as president one last time this weekend to do a little race baiting of his own. The president once lied about how as a boy he was outraged by the burning of black churches in Arkansas. He had to take it back when angry home folks, including his friends, told him to produce the evidence that anyone had ever burned a black church in Arkansas. The president has booked himself into several black churches this weekend, to transform the Sunday worship of the Lord into a political rally, so desperate is he to blunt the approaching repudiation of the Clinton-Gore years in his own state.
The passing of the years has improved a lot of things, and
one of them is that racial politics has largely passed from the
Southern scene. Race baiting doesn't work any more in the
South because hearts have changed. Just not the hearts of
some of our desperate
11/01/00: Creator gets a hard time on the hustings