Yes, Democrats have tolerated racists but Republicans must be better

At the moment, it appears House Majority Whip Steve Scalise will avoid Trent Lott’s fate: being tossed out of the Republican congressional leadership in a racially charged controversy.

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But will the Republican Party escape its fate as a political party black Americans and most other nonwhites are convinced hates them?

The question enrages conservatives, who raise some pointed queries of their own. If Scalise shared David Duke’s racist views, why has it taken more than a decade—and some liberal trolling around hate websites—to reveal it?

Many liberals don’t even try to be fair in reading the hearts and motives of their political opponents. Some of them claim to believe conservatism is inherently racist; others simply employ the charge as a political weapon. They cannot be appeased, so why keep handing them Republican scalps?

Finally, isn’t there double standard at work here? Al Sharpton has a long, documented history of racial demagoguery, yet he is welcome at the White House. Jesse Jackson called New York City “Hymietown,” an anti-Semitic slur.

President Obama himself attended a church led by a pastor who delivered racially incendiary sermons. Scalise’s claim to be unfamiliar with the racist ideology of an obscure group is more plausible than Obama’s assertion that he was unfamiliar with Jeremiah Wright’s anti-white rants.

Democrats tolerated a former Ku Klux Klan member in their Senate leadership team as recently as the Obama administration. Avowed segregationists were part of the New Deal coalition, appearing on presidential tickets with Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson. Progressives like Woodrow Wilson held Duke-like racial views.

All good points. I’ve made many of them myself and will continue to do so, as liberal Democrats should be held accountable. But conservatives shouldn’t stop there. As the Bible says, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

I was among the conservatives who thought Trent Lott needed to go back in 2002 (coincidentally, back when the Scalise talk allegedly happened). Not because I thought his complimenting Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign was anything other than flattery, blowing smoke up an old man’s posterior on his 100th birthday.

But I did think once a controversy arose, the Republican leader of the Senate—a successor to Everett Dirksen, who helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Bob Dole, who voted for it—should be able to manage a more convincing denunciation of segregation than Lott proved able to muster.

Democrats may never police their own in this fashion. As Michael Brendan Dougherty observes, however, “I can’t think of a more unattractive pose than arguing that the Democrats have awful standards and the GOP should sink to them.”

Why should conservatives and Republicans accept, within certain limits, this partisan double standard? First, the GOP has a much bigger burden in trying to win over minority voters than the opposition. The Democrats recovered from their legacy of supporting slavery and segregation; Republicans have yet to recover from Barry Goldwater’s vote against the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Second, Republicans have a harder case to make to minorities and many white voters that their opposition to social welfare spending, unchecked immigration, racial preferences, leniency toward lawbreakers, overly expansive anti-discrimination laws and hate crimes legislation are all motivated by something other than animus.

Making that case becomes impossible if conservatives associate with people who advocate white supremacy, speak disdainfully about African-American intellectual abilities and appear to believe the worst thing about slavery is that it brought black people into the Western world in the first place.

Or maybe conservatives don’t associate with such white racists, but merely conclude they are no worse than the National Council of La Raza. David Duke is about as bad as it gets. We should downplay this fact because of Sharpton and Wright?

That’s not to say conservatives should always retreat in the face of racism charges. There should be no abandonment of conservative principles or individuals who are falsely accused. But conservatives should be smarter.

Think how much easier life would be for at least one Louisiana congressman if racists had never felt welcome at conservative gatherings and white nationalists could never hide effectively at anti-tax meetings.

What do you think?

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