Why Strom Won in '48;
Why Biking's Bad for (Some) of You
by Alexander Cockburn
December 18, 2002
It's one of the staple and indeed few remaining pleasures of American political life. A Republican taken with drink, speaking unguardedly near a live microphone, or in Trent Lott's case coasting through a ritual farewell speech on automatic pilot, drops a racist gibe or fond salute to America's dark past. The rituals of outrage, apology, self-abasement, renewed outrage, deeper self-abasement, forgiveness or rejection, duly follow.
Sometimes the sinner is ceremoniously booted into oblivion, as happened with Richard Nixon's secretary of agriculture, Earl Butz, or Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt. Sometimes, as is now happening in Lott's case, the Democrats give him a thumping while hoping that in the end Lott will hold onto his post as Senate Majority whip, the better to remind black voters that this is the true face of the Republican Party, featuring the Klansman's robe, the burning cross and the lynching tree. Better Lott than some oily substitute like Frist of Tennessee solemnly declaring that the Republican Party has finally put the past behind it and that the healing should now begin.
One of Bill Clinton's many offenses was that he devalued the public apology. He had to make so many of them that they ceased to be valid as currency, like bank notes in the German inflation of the early 1920s when people had to take a wheelbarrow of cash to buy a sausage for lunch.
These days, post-Clinton, a manly mumble of contrition is no good. Unless a politician comes out with a truckload of apologies and keeps sending them round the track for a week, people claim he's refusing to climb down, and keep insisting, Does Lott really and truly mean it. And for that matter, why stop with Lott? What about the four Dixiecrat states which voted for Strom Thurmond back in 1948. Shouldn't their governors today issue formal apologies, make available "apology bins" in every neighborhood wherein those who actually voted for Strom or their descendants, can deposit personal expressions of remorse?
Another factor in this inflation is the fact that sometimes the apology is rejected, no matter how often repeated. The Democrats and the press did this to Jesse Jackson. Columnists like the late James Reston who defiled the editorial pages of the New York Times on a weekly basis with racist diatribes about Jackson's effrontery as a black man in presuming to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988, then whacked him again for inadequate demonstrations of remorse for his crack about Hymietown. Senator Joe Lieberman even managed to bracket Jackson and Lott last, saying that neither of them were sincere in covering themselves with sackcloth and ashes.
The rhetorical undertow of the Lott uproar has been rosy-cheeked affirmation that because Strom Thurmond didn't become president in 1948, didn't even draw enough votes from Truman to put in the Republican Dewey, America thereafter made decisive strides towards racial equality, with justice and prosperity for all, achieved at some undefined point in the middle past.
Perhaps I missed somewhere in the press a useful update of the Kerner Commission, which was convened after the urban uprisings of the late 1960s to investigate the causes of that violence and which concluded that despite formal renunciation in the early 1960s of the old, abused doctrine of Separate But Equal, at the practical level Separate And Unequal remained the overall condition of black Americans. How much better are things for black people today?
True, a few overt statements of racism by politicians get chastised from time to time. True, as George Bush likes to point out, his administration is adorned by Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell, which is like saying that all Nubians were doing well under the Roman Emperor Augustus because a Nubian eunuch stood at his elbow. But who are, either absolutely or in terms of proportion, the poorest, the most harassed by cops, the most imprisoned, the most executed, the most under-served in terms of schools, doctors, housing, lawyers, the most often at the receiving end of the economic boot, the most vulnerable to any adverse stroke of fortune, the least protected by those institutions can offer credit, emergency assistance in a time of need?
Banished these days from public venues and discussion is the designedly vicious racism of the sort that prompted Strom Thurmond to declare in 1948 that "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the nigger into our homes, our schools, our churches." (As Tom Gorman recently pointed out on the CounterPunch website recent press accounts of this speech have been sanitized, replacing the word "nigger" with "Negro." According to Gorman, audio recordings of the speech have Thurmond saying the former. You can listen to them here. Adam Clymer in last Sunday's Times went out of his way to assure his readers that "the better spoken white Southerners of the time, including Mr Thurmond" eschewed the word "nigger" in favor of Negro.)
The politicians, the think tanks and the academics these days don't use the word "nigger" but embrace concepts with which Thurmond or the young Trent Lott, one of the leaders of segregationist forces at the University of Mississippi, would have felt entirely comfortable. Remember the Bell Curve, which amid much earnest praise in the press, mustered statistical trumpery to argue that blacks are stupider? The basic intent of The Democratic Leadership Council that greased Clinton's career (and of which Senator Joe Lieberman was once the chair) was to wean the Democratic Party away from any sense of obligation to "the special interests", meaning mostly black people.
In other words Strom Thurmond won in 1948, to the extent that the Democratic Party took his point entirely to heart. When the Mississippi Freedom Delegation tried to seat itself in the Democratic convention of 1964 the party regulars, including Northern liberals like Humphrey and Mondale, fought savagely and successfully to drive them out. It was in practical recognition of Thurmond's victory that Michael Dukakis began his presidential campaign in 1988, catering to Dixie prejudices in the Deep South, that Bill Clinton played to the same gallery in his campaign, railing at Sister Souljah and okaying the execution a black man with some of his brain missing.
The Democratic party that is now railing furiously against Lott is the same that didn't raise a finger against, indeed covertly connived at the coalition that overthrew Rep Cynthia McKinney in Georgia in the Democratic primary this summer and installed a woman, who had until recently been a Republican and who had enthusiastically endorsed Alan Keyes, the most rabid opponent of abortion on the campaign trail for the Republican nomination in 2000. Of course McKinney was not only an economic radical but also vocal on the topic of bipartisan US support for Israel's persecution of Palestinians. You want to talk about Democratic hypocrisy on the topic of racism, given its unswerving support for a state which has racism and segregation as part of its founding principles?
Imagine Strom Thurmond, the night before he launches his Dixiecrat campaign in 1948. An angel (heavenly host, Democratic side of the aisle) appears before him in a vision, and says, "Strom! Don't do it. The party you have just quit will one day have as its majority leader just one of those northern liberals you say is trying to destroy everything you and the South hold dear. This man will be called Tip O'Neill and according to God's blueprint he will, in the year 1986 if I am not mistaken, cooperate with the man you now know as a film actor but who will in 1986 be amid his second term as president of the United States. Listen to me now, Strom! These men O'Neill and Reagan will join together in framing drug laws that will ensure that by the year 2002 (when it is scheduled that you will reach one hundred years), many young black people will live in the certainty of spending long periods of their lives locked in prison.
Of course Strom tells the angel he doesn't believe him and pushes ahead with his Dixiecrat bid, but as the angel said, the fix went ahead on schedule.
Ahoy there, male bicyclers! There have long been stories about bicycling, particularly on those narrow modern saddles, being bad for the balls. Now comes fresh reason to avoid them. This just in from Britain's New Scientist. "Men who maintain grueling mountain-bicycling programs are apt to have lower sperm counts and more abnormalities of the scrotum than nonbikers are, a new study finds."
Tests on two groups showed that mountain bikers "had injuries, mostly subtle, to their scrotums and testicles." Semen samples revealed that bikers averaged 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen, compared with 47 million/ml in the nonbikers. Reason: Higher scrotal temperatures during strenuous biking depress sperm making, and "when viewed under a microscope, the bikers' sperm were also significantly less mobile than the others'. The doc in charge of the enquiry recommends bikes with shock absorbers and cushioned seats."
Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of CounterPunch, the nationís best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.