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Jewish World Review July 17, 2000 / 14 Tamuz, 5760

Roger Simon

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Dubyah's dumb move -- A LITTLE KNOWLEDGE is a dangerous thing, and the George W. Bush campaign decided to live dangerously last week.

Last week, Al Gore began a series of attacks on what he called the current "Do-Nothing-For-People" 106th Congress.

Harry Truman, who was way behind his Republican opponent in every poll taken in 1948, won a huge upset victory that year by running against what he called the "Do Nothing" 80th Congress.

So somebody in the Bush campaign got the bright idea of calling up Strom Thurmond, Republican senator from South Carolina, and asking him to take a swipe at Gore.

Thurmond, who was a Democrat going into 1948, is one of the few politicians still alive and active from that era, and he did know Harry Truman.

So the Bush campaign sent out a press release that said:

"AUSTIN -- In response to Al Gore's attempt this week to blame Congress and portray himself as Harry Truman, Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) issued the following statement:

"'In Al Gore's latest reincarnation, he claims to be Truman-like, blaming Congress while ignoring the Clinton-Gore administration's failure to provide leadership. Mr. Gore, I knew Harry Truman. I ran against Harry Truman. And Mr. Gore, you are no Harry Truman.'"

"Paid for by Bush for President, Inc."

On the face of it, that is sort of a cute reply. But not if you know the whole story.

Strom Thurmond had a big falling out with Harry Truman in 1948, and Thurmond did, as he says, run against him that year for president.

But they had a falling out over racial segregation. And Thurmond ran as a supporter of white supremacy on the States' Rights ticket that year.

Harry Truman had sent a civil rights proposal to Congress in 1948 that was very mild by today's standards.

Truman asked that all groups be able to "enjoy the full rights of citizenship" in this country and that the Congress ought to guarantee "individual liberties" and "equal protection under the law."

Truman called for a federal law against "the crime of lynching, against which I cannot speak too strongly."

He wanted an end to the poll tax that kept blacks from voting, and he wanted a Fair Employment Practices Commission to "stop discrimination by employers and labor unions" and he asked the secretary of defense to examine discrimination in the military and see that it was stopped as soon as possible.

Truman knew that if this package was included in the Democratic platform of 1948, a number of Southern Democrats might walk out, so he favored skipping it for milder language.

But a young Hubert H. Humphrey made an impassioned speech on the floor of the Democratic Convention and it adopted Truman's program over the protests and walk-out of some Southerners.

Thurmond could not abide the new Democratic platform, bolted the party and ran against Truman.

And this is what Thurmond said in a nationwide radio address on the eve of the election:

"Don't forget the so-called civil rights program would bring about the end of segregation in the South, forcing mixing of the races in our hotels, in our restaurants, in our schools, in our swimming pools and in all public places. This change in our customs is not desired by either the white or the colored race."

Before that, Thurmond had denounced the Democratic platform because it would break down "the laws which knowledge and experience of many years have proven to be essential to the protection of the racial integrity and purity of the White and Negro races alike."

Even though years later Thurmond would say he cared only about "states' rights" and not race, the authors of a 1998 book on Thurmond called "Ol' Strom" write that: "As Thurmond made clear, the heart of the matter involved race -- his defense of white supremacy. He used the term 'States' Rights' in no other context."

The authors also describe a speech made by Thurmond during his campaign: "'On the question of social intermingling of the races our people draw the line,' he declared, his voice rising and his right hand chopping in a gesture of defiance. 'And all the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches, and our places of recreation and amusement.'"

Strom Thurmond lost his race for president. And most Americans today would be horrified at his defense of white supremacy.

So why did George W. Bush summon up 1948 and Thurmond as an ally last week?

This is the same George W. Bush, don't forget, who apologized for going to Bob Jones University in South Carolina and who, on the day the Thurmond press release was issued, spoke before the NAACP, telling the delegates how he and other Republicans deserved their votes.

There are plenty of smart people on the George W. Bush campaign. But I guess all of them were off fishing last week.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate