Washington Post columnist William Raspberry is manifestly a nice, amiable man. He writes soft-spoken columns full of feeling, and never takes anyone to task too dearly. He once (I am told) even apologized in print for having misconstrued Rush Limbaugh.
In his December 23 column, “Sins of the Stone Throwers,” about the Trent Lott imbroglio, Raspberry strikes his usual patient, kindly tone. It is “fairly clear,” he says, that Trent Lott had to go. But why — really — was Lott “cast into the outer darkness?”
After long, kindly, and labored argument, Raspberry concludes, “Lott…not only regrets the racial insensitivity of his birthday party remarks but also has come to suspect that some important aspects of his present political views — the dominant views of his party — may be racially insensitive as well.”
Got that? Stripped of rhetorical niceties, Raspberry’s column says that the dominant views of the Republican Party are “racially insensitive.”
The substance of his argument? That Lott’s voting record has been “arguably anti-black.” And that the people “who gave Lott the bum’s rush” (the leaders of the GOP) are “part of (the) control” of the government. And they vote the same “anti-black” way Lott has voted.
It was, Raspberry says, “anti-black” for Lott to vote against the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988. Never mind that that Act helped create “majority- minority” voting districts that “arguably” (if I may) ghettoized the black vote, which was in turn a key element in the creation of the new solid South for the Republican party (which is supposed to be bad, according to Raspberry’s line of reasoning). Never mind that such districts insulate black candidates from having to make a case to the voting public at large, which leads to an ever-more-shrill radicalism in the rotten boroughs. No. Never mind. If you vote against something that black politicians designate “civil rights,” you’re a bad guy.
It was, as well, Raspberry says, “anti-black” for Lott to vote against the creation of a Martin Luther King holiday. Never mind that there might have been enough holidays already, and that, merely for efficiency’s sake, it might be deemed better not to have another three-day weekend lobbed into the middle of winter. You’re a bad guy if you voted against it.
Raspberry here invokes what Jason L. Riley, writing January 16 in the Wall Street Journal, calls, “the anti-black litmus test,” a test that includes approved positions on affirmative action (for), hate crimes legislation (for), school vouchers (against), smaller government and lower taxes (against).
And Riley sums up why the litmus test carries the power it does among blacks:
“Blacks will tell me that the inner-city public school model may be bust, but vouchers will siphon scarce resources, and black kids mostly attend these institutions, which is why anti-black Republicans favor choice. Or I’m told that smaller government may mean less bureaucracy and lower taxes, but it also means fewer jobs for blacks, which is really why anti-black Republicans are for it. Or I’m told that racial preferences may be fundamentally wrong and carry the repugnant assumption of innate black inferiority, but repealing them means fewer blacks will get into Harvard, which is why anti-black Republicans are against them. And so on.”
All this, while Riley acknowledges that “conservatism has won (the) arguments” on vouchers, preferences, and smaller government. All this, and Riley — and Raspberry — can still indulge in this circularity. How do you prove that there are “anti-black Republicans”? They vote wrong on the litmus test. Therefore, no principled opposition may be allowed on the litmus test issues. Otherwise you have to admit that there might not be any anti-black Republicans. Never mind that a Republican can win an argument on a litmus test issue. A Republican cannot be allowed to win.
If it doesn’t do any good to win the argument, if you are not allowed even to make an argument that goes against the litmus test, then there is no hope for political reconciliation across the black-white divide. Most especially because the litmus test keeps expanding in a self-serving way; the NAACP recently roped in a baker’s dozen other issues that have little or nothing to do with race.
The first, and most difficult part of the outreach to conventional black opinion has to start with the toughest challenge of all: Telling black people they’re wrong. That changes every rule of the public game, which has for years been rigged to make sure that blacks are never challenged.
And who has rigged the public game of race? Not white politicians, who step carefully among the eggshells, trying to figure out the rules. Black leaders and opinion makers like William Raspberry have rigged the game, by invoking this trump assertion:
“Racism plays a greater role in our lives than white people can understand.”
Well — so what? That still doesn’t allow you to shut me out of the debate.
You’re wrong, Mr. Raspberry. No matter how nicely you say it, if you insist on setting the rules and the content of the debate on race so nobody else’s opinions count, you’re wrong.
Now let’s talk. You’ve kept me out long enough.
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