eter Beinart of The New Republic wrote recently:
Actually, my contention has been that not only do liberals have selective moral outrage i.e., that they're hypocrites on the subject of race for refusing to criticize their own tolerance for, or even embrace of, racist politicians but that numerous conservatives are trying to avoid comparisons between Trent Lott's comment and segregationist (or neo-segregationist) Democrats because they don't want their moral outrage with Trent Lott's comments to be construed in any way as a Clintonian diversionary device, or an excuse for Lott's comments.
Mr. Beinart's first point is that while Clinton praised ex-Arkansas senator J. William Fulbright, "he never praised his segregationism." I believe James Taranto (a conservative) of Opinionjournal.com was the first to make this argument, or one similar to it. If anything, it underscores my contention.
The following excerpt from my December 10, 2002, "Selective Moral Outrage" piece is probably what Mr. Beinart finds "dumb."
Even if we ignore completely what Clinton said, how do you ignore what he did? He gave the nation's highest civilian award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to a man who spent the vast majority of his public career and life as a proud segregationist. Mr. Beinart sees a substantive and, therefore, moral distinction between Lott's comment and Clinton's action. I doubt he would cling to this position if, say, Strom Thurmond had been awarded the Medal of Freedom by George W. Bush a medal that neither Fulbright nor Thurmond deserve.
Having blithely dismissed this embarrassingly obvious example of selective moral outrage, Mr. Beinart then asserts a second point in trying to distinguish the Lott-Clinton comparison: "Clinton doesn't have a record of segregationist comments and actions."
Let me encumber Mr. Beinart with some disturbing historical facts.
1. Bill Clinton interned for J. William Fulbright in 1966-67, when Fulbright was still a segregationist. Fulbright became Clinton's "mentor." By comparison, Lott worked for a segregationist congressman.
2. In April 1985, Governor Bill Clinton signed Act 985 into law, making the birthdates of Martin Luther King Jr. (the preeminent leader of the civil-rights movement) and Robert E. Lee (the general who led the Confederate army) state holidays on the same day. Of course, the word "segregation" never passed Clinton's considerable lips, but the (uncoded) message he was sending to certain of his white constituents could not have be clearer. His support for the Lee day seems as bad if not worse than a gaffe at an old man's birthday party and Lott's opposition to an MLK day.
Lott's 1983 vote against making King's birthday a national holiday which he opposed for reasons other than race (as did Warren Rudman) is now said by some to be further evidence of his racism or insensitivity to race.
3. Clinton had a Confederate flag-like issue of his own. Arkansas Code Annotated, Section 1-5-107, provides as follows:
Clinton took no steps during his twelve years as governor to repeal this law. And we know why, don't we? He didn't want to offend certain of his constituents.
"Clinton had so irresponsibly pandered to the backwards feeling of the white constituency," Cunningham told Guinier.
Clinton's "we lost" comment referred to the South losing the Civil War. Let's imagine if the South had won the Civil War. Among other things, was Clinton endorsing segregation, or much worse? Yes, I know, what a "dumb" suggestion, albeit made to demonstrate the selective moral outrage surrounding Lott's comments.
The truth is that during much of his political career, Clinton has been dancing with segregationists. But Mr. Beinart assumed Clinton hadn't, so he didn't bother to investigate, or he simply didn't want to know, or he simply dismissed the evidence. And herein lies the hypocrisy.
In the current climate, it's enough to condemn Trent Lott's comments and actions. If you take a step beyond, you are somehow defending him through evasion or diversion. Yet, many of those who hold this view who are parsing words and contorting logic to avoid the greater debate over race and Mr. Beinart is not alone in this regard now hold themselves out as the scorekeepers in this debate. They are now declaring who among us is righteous, who among us is righteous for the right reasons, and who were the first to be righteous. It's a pathetic spectacle.
Finally, I have no input into National Review editorial positions, but I found NR's justification for Lott's ouster to be both intellectually honest and largely persuasive. It condemned the hypocrisy of the Left, expressed moral outrage at Lott's comment, and denounced his ineffectiveness (past and likely future) in advancing the conservative agenda.