For one brief shining moment, it was beginning to look like Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was taking hormone shots. First he endorsed sending troops to the border to resist invasion by illegal aliens. Then, last week, at a birthday party for 100-year-old Sen.Strom Thurmond, he virtually endorsed the South Carolina senator’s presidential campaign 54 years ago—as a segregationist.
Mr. Lott has now apologized at least twice and cringed and groveled appropriately for saying something that deviates from egalitarian dogmas, but whether Mr. Thurmond’s distinguished colleague from Mississippi was trying to utter some serious thoughts or had just swallowed too much eggnog at the birthday bash seems an open question.
No sooner had his words escaped the senatorial lips than he was denounced by Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Washington Posteditorial page, and—the world’s greatest expert on What Should Have Been—Al Gore. Alerted by the baying of the leftist pack from which they take their cues, neo-conservatives like the Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol and the failed and forgotten Jack Kemp soon chimed in.
Mr. Jackson demanded that Mr. Lott resign as Majority Leader, while Mr. Sharpton denounced his remarks as “blatant racism” and vowed to wage a national campaign against him. Mr. Gore, in his ponderous way, held that what Mr. Lott said was “fundamentally racist,” “divisive,” and “divisive along racial lines.”
But of course, Mr. Lott said nothing whatever about race, and never even mentioned race at all. What exactly he did say was:
“I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
What exactly Mr. Lott meant by his remarks remains unclear, but several different interpretations of them are possible, and Mr. Lott and his defenders have invoked all of them. Nevertheless, what Mr. Thurmond’s States Rights Party mainly stood for was racial segregation, and Mr. Lott knows that. The party was set up in protest of the Truman administration’s endorsement of legislation against segregation, and those who supported the Thurmond candidacy—nearly 1.2 million voters—almost certainly did so because they supported segregation.
So, was Mr. Lott right? If the rest of the country had voted for Strom Thurmond in 1948, would we “have had all these problems over all these years”? Well, you never know, of course, but probably not.
In the first place, had Strom Thurmond been elected president in 1948, such paragons of legal reasoning as Earl Warren and William Brennan would never have seen the inside of the Supreme Court. Not only Brown v. Board but also the Miranda, Escobedo, and several other major decisions that revolutionized American government and tossed much of the Constitution in the office shredder would never have soiled the law books. Judicial precedents that consolidated the Court’s immense power today would never have been established.
Mr. Lott should ask his critics if it would be OK to say he wishes Barry Goldwater had been elected president in 1964. Mr. Goldwater, though not a segregationist, voted against civil rights legislation for precisely the same reasons Mr. Thurmond gave—it violated states rights.
Would racial segregation have survived? De jure segregation was eroding in the southern states anyway. De facto, most sociologists will tell you the nation’s schools today are at least as segregated as they were in the 1950s. So are housing patterns. So what? People of the same race tend to prefer each other’s company.
But what we almost certainly would not have enjoyed had Mr. Thurmond become president are the fruits of forced racial integration as it was imposed in later decades: the tidal wave of black crime against whites that is now commonplace; black race riots from Detroit and Watts to Los Angeles in 1992; the virtual destruction of American cities as a black underclass, protected by the federal government,pushed out whites terrified for their own lives and those of their families; the destruction of American education and the transformation of the schools into day-time prison camps for hoodlums. No forced busing; no affirmative action; no “hate crime” hypocrisy; no “Afrocentric” or “multiculturalist” garbage poured into our children’s heads. Probably no mass immigration. No self-hate for whites. No guilt. No fear.
In fact, had the conservatism of a younger Strom Thurmond prevailed, there’s little reason to doubt the United States and much of the rest of the world would be better off than they are today under the reign of terror and chaos that prevails as the chief legacy of liberalism.
Instead of denouncing Mr. Lott, Americans—liberal and conservative, black and white—ought to think hard about the important and unsettling truth he accidentally uttered.