Segregations Last Best Defender

Trent Lott is gone, but the right still has Reg columnist Steven Greenhut

Illustration by Bob AulIn the unlikely event you've ever read The Orange County Register's editorial page and thought, "If only these guys would stop writing about politics and actually run for office, the world would be a much better place," you need to know two things:

First, you should stop mixing alcohol with the medicine your doctor prescribed to make the voices in your head go away.

Second, you can scratch Register editorial writer Steven Greenhut from your dream list of candidates.

At the end of an article Greenhut recently published on—a website that advertises itself as "the premier anti-state, pro-market site on the net"—he announces he has "no plans for public office." Why? Because he knows he is unelectable—and not for the reasons those who have read his drivel in the Register might think.

Steven Greenhut is unelectable because Steven Greenhut has principles that Steven Greenhut bravely stands up for, no matter what the price. How do I know this? Because in his LewRockwell article, "They Keep Driving Dixie Down," Steven Greenhut tells us so. In this article, Greenhut praises the South and "the noble Confederate cause" as embodying "some of the most honorable traditions in American history"—which for Greenhut means Christianity and a belief in limited government of a libertarian sort—while also praising the moral beauty and courage of Steven Greenhut. He makes a point of telling us more than once what a dedicated and principled fellow he is. He can't write about limited government without telling us, "I'm not interested in being hip, if hip means abandoning the limited-government principles that are supposed to be the bedrock of the Republican party." He also wants us to know he is willing to rise to the defense of Christianity, even though he knows there will be a terrible price to pay: "I'm more concerned about salvaging a few scraps of Christian civilization than being an acceptable guest at cool parties."

And while I'm more than willing to believe people who know Greenhut don't consider him "hip" and that he rarely gets invited to "cool parties," I think he needs to look elsewhere for explanations about what's wrong with his social life. Greenhut's unhip politics are decidedly, momentarily hip. At least as far as services for the needy are concerned, the Bush administration is pursuing a strategy of rolling back the power of government with a relentlessness that hasn't been seen since the Vandals sacked Rome. And when was endorsing limited government ever a social risk in Orange County?

As for his willingness to stick up for Christianity, which blankets this country with more than just "a few scraps," that will be a brave position as soon as political candidates start winning by denouncing Jesus as a religious charlatan and a bad carpenter, rather than citing him as their "favorite philosopher."

These minor idiocies are perfectly in keeping with the whole article. Greenhut's argument is that the South has somehow become a pariah region of the nation, and only a few brave souls are rallying to its defense. "I keep wondering why no one, besides and a few others, will stand up for the South," Greenhut wrote.

The reasonable answer is that the South doesn't need anyone to stand up for it. Since 1964, every successful presidential candidate has either come from one of the states that made up the Confederacy or followed a "Southern Strategy" of vigorously pursuing Southern votes with a thinly veiled appeal to those nostalgic for a past when life seemed simpler and whites could always find a seat at the front of the bus.

Reason, however, just like fact, has little to do with Greenhut's article. Greenhut's main examples of prejudice against the South are the resistance to appointing Judge Charles Pickering to an appellate court and the hue and cry over Trent Lott's wish that Dixiecrat candidate Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948. Greenhut treats both with the same rigorous attention to fact and careful reasoning that he displays in writing for the Reg.

Pickering, who was appointed to the federal bench in Mississippi by the elder Bush, was rejected as a candidate for the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last year when Democrats controlled the Senate. In a move that has caused some controversy, the current Bush resubmitted Pickering's nomination to the now Republican-controlled Senate.

Civil-rights groups are outraged. Democrats threaten to filibuster. Why? According to Greenhut, opposition to Pickering is "based mainly on the fact that he is a Republican from Mississippi."

That is the sole reason he gives to explain the opposition to Pickering, and, of course, it is wrong. Among the many reasons cited in rejecting Pickering the first time was his unethical behavior in helping a defendant in a case in which he, Pickering, was the presiding judge. Daniel Swann, the defendant in the 1994 case, was convicted for burning a cross on the front lawn of a home owned by an interracial couple. The U.S. attorney in the case, following standard sentencing guidelines, asked for a seven-year prison sentence. Pickering, however, believing Swann deserved nothing more severe than supervised parole, went behind the prosecutor's back and asked an old friend in the Justice Department to persuade the prosecutor to back down.

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