There should be a political “glass house alert” because partisan stone-throwing on race has become a shattering game of catch. Democrats are dancing euphorically as they watch Republican Virginia Sen. George Allen’s downward spiral since referring to one of his rival’s campaign supporters as “macaca,” — an apparent European racial slur likening to monkeys those from South Africa. The focus on this has been staggering with Allen’s once robust lead now reduced to five points in front of Democratic challenger and former Reagan Navy Secretary James Webb.
It’s unfortunate that a few years ago equal fanfare wasn’t made of West Virginia Senator Democrat Robert Byrd’s repeated use of the term “white n*****.” Less egregious, but still unpardonable, is the relative pass given to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, in January 2004 when she stereotyped Indian-Americans by saying that Mahatma Gandhi ran a gas station in St. Louis. Also attributing monolithic assumptions to this demographic was Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. In July of this year, he was barely grazed by the press after asserting that, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent — I’m not joking.” And of course in 2003, Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA, blamed the Jews for our going into Iraq and later had to apologize. Press scrutiny on this was so ephemeral as to border on the nonexistent.
Alas, the selective outrage is tiresomely predictable. During the 2004 presidential election, a Pew Foundation Poll found that the Fourth Estate’s national news outlets boasted a 5-to-1 ratio of liberal to conservative reporters. Accordingly, it’s not surprising that there is greater emphasis on Republican bigots versus those who are Democratic.
Sadly, however, this has given some conservatives the impression that verifiable media bias is their escape hatch for accountability. “The papers are slanted against us, so you can’t believe what they say,” is a tactic that has only so much credibility. Just because the coverage of your party’s bigotry is repeated more often doesn’t mean that it’s less frequent. The GOP’s low resonance with minorities emanates from both its remembered bad acts as well as its forgotten good deeds.
In the ’70s, Republicans put into motion their now infamous “Southern Strategy” that allowed them to retake long-lost Southern states by way of frightening white voters into thinking that affirmative action would let black workers steal their jobs. When then 2000 presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush squared off with Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, in the South Carolina primary, both gentlemen shamelessly hid behind “states’ rights” as a shield for not defining any objection to that state’s controversial flying of the Confederate flag over its capitol building. They each claimed that it was up to the citizens of South Carolina to decide for themselves. Supporting “states’ rights” and saying what your position would be if you were a citizen of that state are not mutually exclusive. McCain acknowledged his screw-up shortly afterward, but the maneuver was less courageous than pragmatic — he had already lost the primary and there was no longer the risk that would have otherwise demonstrated a more principled stance.
And who could forget the mindlessness of Sen. Trent Lott, R-MS, who lost his majority leadership position by saying in December of 2002 that if Sen. Strom Thurmond’s segregationist party of 1948 had won the election, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
As long as we’re dipping into the past, we should recall something else. In both the House and Senate, far more Republicans voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than did Democrats. If liberals rightfully get to claim the legacy of the Social Security Act of 1935, then its equally incumbent upon them to take ownership of their pathetic showing on the more recent ground breaking civil rights legislation occurring three decades later.
Clearly, political self-appraisal on race has never been in grand supply. For this reason, flawed as it is, the free press remains our best hope for exposing wrong and celebrating right. Unfortunately, contemporary journalists are inadvertently backing racism by not reporting it with universal zeal when perpetrated by Democrats. The problem with this specific bias isn’t so much about the unfairness to one political side as it is about the racially demeaned receiving less than what their owed.
We’ve often heard the phrase, “Integrity is what you practice when no one is looking.” For the press, it should always be the opposite.