>> Monday, January 11, 2010
There's not much to add to what Ta-Nehisi Coates has to say about the false equivalence between Trent Lott's segregationist nostalgia and Harry Reid's linguistic incompetence.
Still, it's worth remembering that Strom Thurmond's bid for the presidency was not simply animated by a general opposition to Harry Truman's civil rights program based on the possibility that it might at some future date alter the "customs and institutions" of the South. It's true that Thurmond played upon Southern white fears of a multiracial dystopia and -- in one of his more restrained fits of hyperbole -- insisted that Truman, if re-elected, would create a "super-police force with power to rove throughout the states and keep our people in constant fear of being sent to a federal jail unless we accepted the decrees turned out by a bunch of anti-Southern bureaucrats in Washington." But Thurmond and his South Carolina colleagues were motivated more immediately the fact that the racial caste system in their state was already eroding. Among other concerns, the herrenvolk of South Carolina were enraged by J. Waties Waring's ruling in Elmore v. Rice (1947) that the state's primary system ran afoul of the Constitution, despite all efforts to pretend the Democratic party was a private, unregulated organization with no formal ties to government. In April 1948, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case on appeal from the Four Circuit, which had upheld Waring's decision; three days later, the Mississippi Democratic party's executive committee announced that they would nominate Strom Thurmond for president.
In other words, to state an obvious point -- one that the New York Times among other media sources nevertheless usually fail to mention -- South Carolina mattered to white supremacists in 1948 because it was there that the rights of African Americans to join in the political process were being acknowledged by Southern white judges like Waring. Strom Thurmond, while not the most radical of his state's white brethren, was nevertheless celebrated as a regional savior because he was willing to "fight to the end" (as he so often put it) to roll back rights these rights. And noted friend of the Confederacy Trent Lott, by praising Thurmond's Lost Cause over and over through the decades, was announcing quite plainly that he believed the country would have been better off if such a rollback had actually taken place.