- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

The issue could convulse and poison the polity unless addressed with knowledge, wisdom and statesmanship. On that score, the signs are inauspicious. What should be done is to pay homage to the suffering of the enslaved millions in the United States by constructing a slave museum; to pull down from statehouses flags that to a hefty percentage of our citizens, black and white alike, endorse white supremacy and the antebellum South; and to stand adamant against permitting historical evils, like original sin, to corrupt racial equality under the law through quotas or companion preferences that march under the euphemism "affirmative action."

At first blush, that race has turned politically explosive when discrimination against blacks has dramatically diminished and is overwhelmingly condemned seems puzzling. But human nature makes even the tiniest appearance of inequality or disparagement highly objectionable when equality is at hand. In any event, the fact of race on the national agenda is undeniable whatever the motivations of the sponsors.

During the campaign 2000, the NAACP scripted an anti-Bush broadcast insinuating that the Republican candidate was morally if not legally an accomplice to the dastardly slaying of James Byrd. The then Texas governor, however, had categorically denounced the crime and applauded the death penalty for two of the perpetrators. The NAACP has never apologized or repented its outrageous character assassination, and the minds of many blacks have been pre-conditioned to suspect racial prejudice in the White House if George W. Bush declines to salute their political demands. They include minority racial preferences in employment, education and the redistricting of congressional and state legislative seats and a moratorium on the death penalty.

President William Jefferson Clinton thrust race into the judicial pot with his 11th-hour irregular recess appointment of Roger Gregory to the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. In transparent code, he charged that those who opposed a permanent appointment for Judge Gregory would be guilty of racial bigotry, the same charge Mr. Clinton hurled when federal district judge nominee and Missouri Supreme Court Justice Ronnie White was defeated by the Senate.

But do the facts bear the weight Mr. Clinton assigns? He has boasted of a Cabinet subject to Senate confirmation that looks like America, and has featured blacks as deputy attorney general, commerce secretary, secretary of health and human services, and energy secretary. Several black judicial nominees have been confirmed by the Senate, but not all. Like white judicial candidates whose philosophy of judging the Senate has found obnoxious and thus nixed, some black nominees shipwrecked on philosophical shoals.

During the Reagan administration, similarly, Supreme Court aspirant Robert Bork and associate attorney general nominee Brad Reynolds were denied confirmation by a Democratic Senate not because they were white, but because they were thought insufficiently enthusiastic over its civil rights and sister political agendas. President-elect Bush, moreover, has selected Gen. Colin L. Powell as secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser, and Rod Paige as secretary of education without even a syllable of Republican grumbling that race should count against them.

The Congressional Black Caucus and their political allies are poised to push legislation to extract reparations from the current generation of Americans to atone for the wickedness of slavery and Jim Crow. But it is one thing to compensate the known victims of unconscionable oppression, as with Holocaust survivors and Japanese-Americans unjustifiably interned during World War II. It is quite another to shower benefits on members of a racial group who are not plausibly fettered by historical wrongs simply for the sake of vindictiveness. That invites an endless cycle of race, ethnic or religious recriminations reminiscent of Shakespeare's Montagues and Capulets.

The prominence of race as a prime and potentially polarizing national political issue is additionally corroborated by the 92 percent black voter opposition to Mr. Bush. Making matters more problematic has been the fatuous likening by some black leaders of the Supreme Court's presidential election decision in Bush vs. Gore to the infamous 1857 Dred Scott insistence that blacks held no rights that a white man was bound to respect.

Some black grievances, however, seem compelling. A nation lives by symbols, and the Confederate flag waving from statehouses symbolizes a celebration of antebellum slavery and the white supremacy of Jim Crow in many reasonable minds. State's rights during those ugly years was an unprincipled smokescreen for racism. A chief complaint of the Confederacy, for instance, was insufficient federal tigerishness in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Law in Free States. President Abraham Lincoln elaborated on the moral foundation of the Civil War with no incentive to pander to blacks in his second Inaugural address: "[I]f God wills that [the war] continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.' "

To numerous American citizens, it is as much a psychological insult for a state to fly the Confederate flag as to Jews would be the flying the flag of the Third Reich, which is illegal in Germany. To say that the flag commemorates the individual bravery of Confederate soldiers is no more mitigating than to say that the Nazi flag celebrates the soldierliness of Gen. Erwin Rommel in North Africa.

As the nation's moral beacon, President-elect Bush should thus urge states to terminate any flying of the Confederate flag. He should also seek federal funds for a slave museum modeled on the Holocaust Memorial Museum. But he should concurrently stand four-square against racial preferences of any sort, including race-based scholarships epitomized by the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation.

The destitute and deprived need and deserve a helping hand to ameliorate the unfairness of life. But why should the hand be withdrawn because of the supplicant's skin color?

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