Segregations Last Best Defender

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

Unfortunately for Swann, this didn't work. Unfortunately for Pickering, it got noticed.

But fortunately for Pickering, not many people have realized this wasn't the first time in his legal career he has been involved with the issue of interracial marriage. In 1960, Pickering wrote a law review article complaining that Mississippi's laws against miscegenation weren't being strictly enforced. He offered suggestions on how the state could make its laws against interracial love more effective, and two months after the article appeared, the Mississippi state legislature adopted some of these suggestions in its campaign against "race mixing."

Pages could be filled with other reasons for objecting to Pickering's nomination, none of which have anything to do with his being, as Greenhut put it, "a Republican from Mississippi."

(In fairness, it should be noted that when Pickering wrote his law review article, he was a Democrat. He didn't switch parties until after the 1964 Democratic convention, when many prominent Mississippians left the party to protest the national party's decision to force the state delegation to admit two African-American members.)

But as blinkered and fact-free as Greenhut's take on the Pickering nomination is, it is positively enlightened compared with what he has to say about the Trent Lott debacle. Greenhut isn't upset that Trent Lott said America would be in better shape if Strom Thurmond, the candidate of the white supremacist States Rights Democratic Party (a.k.a. the Dixiecrats) in the 1948 presidential election, had been elected. He considers this just an example of Lott saying "some generous things," explaining, "I've been to many going-away parties where the speakers say overly effusive things." That's right: Who among us can say that once full of cake and punch, we've never told our fellow partygoers that what America really needs is a president whose campaign stump speech included "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the army cannot force the nigger into our homes, our schools, our churches"? Well, me for one, but then I don't travel in the same social circles as Greenhut. (Still, it's nice to see he does get invited to some parties.)

Greenhut is also not upset that someone like Lott could have risen to such a powerful position as Senate majority leader in the first place. No, what upsets Greenhut is that "Lott and the Republicans" didn't use the occasion to "inform and enlighten the public." How? By standing up for the platform of Thurmond's States Rights party. Greenhut is scathing about those who reject the principles on which Dixiecrats stood. He acknowledges in passing that segregation should be deplored before going on the attack.

"Secretary of State Colin Powell," he writes, "argued that there was nothing of any value coming out of the States Rights party platform, which—as one writer noted on this website—means that Powell either hasn't read the platform or doesn't believe in the Constitution."

Harsh stuff, indeed. But has Greenhut himself read platform? Plank four of the platform contains the heart of the States Rights party's appeal for its supporters in 1948. It's hard to believe Greenhut could have missed it. It's the plank that begins "We stand for segregation of the races." Sandwiched among the standard high-minded bloviating found in all party platforms is the heart of the matter: "We oppose the elimination of segregation, the repeal of miscegenation statutes, the control of private employment by the federal bureaucrats called for by the misnamed civil-rights programs."

That, rather than any appeals to the libertarian principles Greenhut moons over in his Register columns, is why people voted for Thurmond in 1948.

For the Dixiecrats, libertarianism was always a means to an end, and that end was always the maintenance of segregation. Let's be generous and assume that Greenhut hasn't read the platform; that seems likely given the rest of the article. The only document he quotes at all is the lyrics sheet to the song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down." (I feel it is important to note I am not making that up.) Let's also be generous and ignore that of all the Republicans who spoke out condemning the ideas of the States Rights party during the Lott debacle, Greenhut singles out for abuse the party's most recognizable African-American member. What is impossible to ignore is Greenhut's ignorance of the real South.

It would be tempting to write Greenhut off as nothing more than a ridiculous and ill-informed man, but that isn't possible. The nonsense that makes up his "They Keep Driving Dixie Down" is typical of the opinions of an important segment of the right wing of the Republican party that mistakenly believes it is standing up for the South. That couldn't be more wrong. Writers like Greenhut confuse the South, which is a vibrant cultural region, with the white-supremacist regimes that have blighted its history. The South really has produced some of "the most honorable traditions in American history," but they aren't the ones Greenhut celebrates. The South's real contributions to America and the world have come out the blending of African and European traditions, not the effort to keep the races separate. Out of the South's cultural mixing has come America's distinctive musical traditions: jazz, the blues, rock & roll. The encounter between the South's cultures has also resulted in a remarkable literary tradition, from Les Cenelles, a collection of French poetry published in New Orleans in 1845 and written by poets from the city's gens de couleur libres(free people of color), to Faulkner and beyond. And, of course, the South provided one of the 20th century's most stirring examples of political and personal courage in the civil-rights movement. By focusing his admiration for the South on the Confederacy and the Dixiecrats, Greenhut misses out on all this and encourages others to do likewise.

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