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After Lott, GOP can show the way on race

By W. James Antle III
web posted December 23, 2002

The replacement of Trent Lott as Senate majority leader is a welcome sign that the Republican Party is serious about color-blindness and its support for individual rights as opposed to group identity politics. Now Republican leaders must take the more difficult next step of translating these principles into public policy.

Over the course of the next year, the Supreme Court will rule on the use of racial preferences in college admissions, welfare reform will be subject to congressional reauthorization, controversial judicial nominees will require Senate confirmation and immigration policy will likely be discussed to some extent. In addition, it is likely that there will be debates among the general public over issues ranging from hate crimes legislation to reparations for slavery. How will the Republican White House, Senate and House of Representatives govern in these areas, with their unavoidable racial components?

Some will counsel the course of action Lott resorted to in his BET interview as he fought unsuccessfully to keep his leadership position. This strategy would have Republicans take proactive steps to prove they are not racist – by endorsing the NAACP's liberal agenda of race-conscious affirmative action programs, increased redistributive government spending and federal diversity micromanagement. Rep. Bernie Thompson (D-Miss.) had urged atonement by "pushing for a minimum wage increase, expanded affordable housing and a prescription drug benefit."

Yet to take these positions would repudiate the very principles that Lott's comments failed to uphold and that Republicans who clamored for new leadership should seek to affirm. The moral basis of racial equality is predicated on our common humanity and the belief, found in our Declaration of Independence, that each human being is an individual with innate rights and intrinsic value. Support for goals, quotas, set-asides and other preferential polices divides Americans by race while assigning penalties and benefits on that basis. Discrimination is unjust whether it is done for good or evil purposes. As Andrew Sullivan recently observed on his website, an individual subjected to racial discrimination "couldn't care less if the perpetrator is an old bigot or a well-meaning liberal."

Moreover, the liberal approach of empowering minorities through big government has failed. Minimum wage increases actually reduce entry-level job opportunities for young minority workers; its adverse impact on employment rates for black teenagers led economist Milton Friedman to describe the minimum wage as "one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the books." David Horowitz has pointed out that the most liberal Democrats "control 100 percent of the city councils and school boards that shape the destinies of the poor and minorities in New York, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, St. Louis, and every other blighted urban big city in America." If their policies were to succeed, why haven't they by now? What reason do we have to believe that policies that have failed repeatedly at the local level will succeed bearing the imprimatur of the full federal government?

A better option would be to continue successful welfare reforms that have coincided with a reduction in black child poverty at the same time former recipients of public assistance have moved from welfare to work. Taxes should be lowered to unleash the free market to create new job opportunities. Public school monopolies should be replaced by choice in education. Policies that have undermined marriage and the family, as well as the community, must be repealed and dismantled.

Congressional Republicans should take the lead in promoting policies that take the government out of the racial bean-counting game entirely, with a federal version of Ward Connerly's Racial Privacy Initiative to underscore the party's commitment to what syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock has described as the "separation of race and state." They should simultaneously eschew the vestigial racialism on the right and pandering to the ubiquitous ethnic pressure groups on the left who try to shape – and distort – U.S. policy on everything from quotas to unwise proposals to amnesty illegal immigrants.

This doesn't require Republicans to run left, it simply requires a level of consistency that will enhance the credibility of principled conservative stands. In an op-ed piece for the FOX News website, Radley Balko listed a litany of issues, ranging from quotas to welfare to even tax cuts, where Republicans were encumbered from convincingly making the "bigotry-free case" for their positions until they clearly disavowed the segregationist sentiment many imputed to Lott's remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party. Consistent color-blindness will increasingly free conservative Republicans to argue for their positions with the focus being on their policy views rather than their motives.

Republicans cannot only move beyond the controversy of the past several weeks but prosper if they take steps to insure their Senate leadership change was based on principle rather than political expediency. The key is to embrace a vision that leaves the racial obsessions of the past behind in favor of a bright future of individualism.

W. James Antle III is a senior editor for Enter Stage Right.

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