Republicans were in a mad scramble earlier this month in a desperate effort to disassociate themselves from Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott’s reiterated endorsement of the racist campaign of Strom Thurmond as a candidate for President in 1948.
The public suggestion by their Senate leader that the “country would be better off” if Thurmond’s segregation campaign had carried the day fifty-four years ago struck political fear in the heart of Republicans who envisioned Lott’s words spurring greater turnouts of African-American votes for Democratic candidates and a loss of “moderate” voters on the fringes of their party.
With a roaring fire stoked by the news media, talk-show hosts and poorly-disguised nudges from the White House, Lott was dumped. The Republicans are hoping the move will discourage any more serious inquiries into how the actions of President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congresses are crushing the aspirations and the rights of African-American citizens and other minorities.
While Republican Senators raced to microphones and cameras to express their concern about the needs of minorities, the furor over Lott’s remarks may well serve to uncover some of the less publicized secrets about Republican policies which have continued to create and maintain economic and health divisions between the wealthy and African Americans and other minorities.
The monthly unemployment figures coming out of the Bureau of Labor Statistics are a constant reminder of the gaps. Consistently, the percentage of African-Americans without jobs is more than double that of unemployedwhite citizens. Last month, the labor survey showed that 11 percent of African Americans were unemployed compared to 5.2 percent of white workers.
Before Congress adjourned earlier this month, the Republican leaders and President Bush were in the forefront of a successful effort to block the extension of unemployment benefits which expire after Christmas–a move that hits low-wage African American citizens-with little savings-particularly hard. The Lott furor led Bush to change his mind in mid-December, The lagging federal minimum wage stands at $5.15 an hour which doesn’t approach anything close to a living wage. Here again, Republican lawmakers-and certainly their leaders-have consistently turned their backs on attempts to provide minimum wage justice for low-wage workers, a high percentage of which are African-Americans and Hispanics.
Probably nothing defines the Republican Party-with or without Trent Lott as its Senate leader-more accurately than the mammoth 2001 tax cut, centerpiece of President Bush’s economic policy. The $1.3 trillion tax cut went vastly disproportionately to the wealthy-40 percent to the richest one percent of Americans and only two percent to the 20 percent on lowest economic rungs which includes a high percentage of African-Americans and Hispanics.
Much more devastating over the long run is the fact that the size of the Bush tax cut jeopardizes vital economic and social programs like health care, jobs, affordable housing and education so vital to minorities and other low-income citizens. These deprivations come on top of existing discriminatory practices that do not arouse John Ashcroft’s Justice Department.
Of those who are HIV or AIDs positive, 43 percent areAfrican-American and 20 percent are Hispanic. The infant mortality rate for African American babies in 1995 was 15.1 for every 1000 live births-nearly two and half times the death rate for white infants.
Poverty rates for African-American families run nearly four times those of white families. More than 28 percent of African-American males will enter state or federal prison during their lifetime compared with 4.4 percent of white males, reflecting clear discrimination in many cases with equal offenses being charged.
Yet, we have a Republican Administration that believes tax cuts for the wealthy and many breaks for the big corporations are the national priority. That may not sound as harsh as Trent Lott’s echoing the battle cry for segregation or commending a racist platform for a presidential candidacy. But in the end an economic and social policy that is designed largely for the well-to-do is discriminatory and destructive to the hopes of low and moderate income citizens, a high percentage of whom are minorities.
It is nice that so many Republican Senators appeared on television and issued statements to assure the nation that they did not share the Senate Republican leader’s belief that Strom Thurmond’s 1948 racist Dixiecrat campaign was one of the highlights of our electoral history.
But, the repudiated words won’t change the deeds-economic and social policies–that do discriminate and do hold back low and moderate income and minority citizens. Republican Senators, who issued all those glowing words about their concern for African-American citizens, need to realize that they will be judged not by their rhetoric, but by their deeds.
If there is to be no change in policy-no attempt to reach out to the poor and minorities with real programs like prevention of child lead poisoning, redlining or predatory lending and other economic crimes in the ghettos–they might as well have kept Trent Lott in the saddle. He knows their drill well.