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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Sunday | June 29, 2003

What are they afraid of?

CNN had an interesting ceremony on Saturday.

It seems that Maynard Jackson, Atlanta's first black mayor, died quietly, with little fanfare or notice on Monday. Everyone seems to have missed it, the news, the blogs, but CNN had his memorial service on.

All of Georgia's politicians, as well as Bill Clinton, was there. And they said nice things about him. I sat there and said to myself "another sop to local politics. Why the hell is his memorial on national TV?"

But then I realized that it was a fitting thing to be on TV after this week. I know the harried moms. hung over single guys and lazy Saturday sex partners watching the ceremony probably didn't think much about it, but it was a pefect coda in a week that saw two notorious segregationists die and two landmark decisions on rights come from the Supreme Court.

I think Gwen Ifill summed up Thurmond's career best, noting his segregationist past and his vote for the King holiday. She did it at the end of Washington Week in Review, mainly so her white collegues would be unable to say nice things about an evil man who turned to pragmatism as a way of political survival. I would think Ifill, like most blacks, had few kind words for Thurmond, alive or dead.

Thurmond wasn't evil because he was a racist, but because he was a pragmatist. When the segs ruled the land, he sided with them. He consorted with murderers and terrorists to gain votes in a desperate bid for national office so disgraceful it was mostly forgotten in the last 30 years of his life. This, despite having a black daughter he didn't mention for 60 years.

When that train crashed and burned, despite his best efforts, he decided to serve his black constituents. Not because he had a change of heart, but because he realized he had to keep his job. So he opened doors for them, not out of kindness, but because of the same pragmatism he showed when he ignored their suffering and denied his own child.

Unlike the virulent racist, Lester Maddox, Thurmond was able to do what it took to stay in power, so to condemn him for a life of evil would be wrong, since only 60 percent of his life was in the service of evil. We need only note that his world died long before he did and he adapted to new times.

His world ended when men like Maynard Jackson could become mayor of Atlanta. No one had to qualify their praise, minimize his acts or pretend he was a different man than he was. Jackson, like so many from that era, represented the best of what America could be.

We are a different world than the one Jackson entered in, and it was because he sought to change that world, that we live in it, with scant help from the Thurmonds of the world, who turned their back on a war waged on school girls and the unarmed.

It was this world that the Supreme Court addressed last week. Affirmative Action remains to redress the past. Sandra Day O'Connor's prediction that we will not need Affirmative Action in 25 years was no optimist's hope or firm deadline. It was the recognition that we live in a world where race means less and less. Interracial marriage grows each year, with less concern from the public. Hollywood has made Halle Berry as desirable as Cameron Diaz or Lucy Liu and we are so used to images of beauty being based on looks, race, once predominant, fades into the background.

O'Connor was looking ahead to a world where class and education would matter more than race.

Later on in the day, I caught the Michael Savage show. He was railing against immigrants and I was wondering, what was he afraid of. Mexican immigrants?
This is a man with the best education one can get in America. He has a doctorate from Berkeley, he's rich, he's successful. What could some poor Mexican immigrant take from him? Why does he fear people who can cause him no harm. take nothing from him.

The whole lot of them, Coulter, Scarborough, O'Reilly. What are they afraid of? What can happen to them if the world doesn't go their way? Nothing. Coulter has a Cornell degree for God's sake. O'Reilly did graduate work at Harvard. What are they afraid of? They've made it and no one is seeking to take anything from them. Yet, they cower in fear like scared rabbits, jabbering as some new threat, defending the indefensible.

Nowhere was this fear seen more clearly than in Antonin Scalia's shameful dissent from the bench this week. His rantings about "the homosexual agenda" was out of the worst gay bashing propaganda of the 1950's. What homosexual agenda? The right to marry and protect their assets and relationships? That's an agenda? Scalia sounded small and weak as he ranted against the basic right of people to choose their partners and live their lives as they saw fit.

It's sex. People make goofy faces. Whom you sleep with should not control your future to the point where you can lose a home or job. Scalia's fear-based rejection of that will define him as much as Strom Thurmond's life was defined by race hate and terrorism.

Americans want a fair country, not one where the rights of others are at the whim of other people. Just as a fear-based concept of race died in 1964, despite the best efforts of men like Thurmond and Maddox, the fear-based concept of sex died last week in the Supreme Court. Those who try to reverse it will meet the fate of Thurmond and others who served evil for their own ends.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 29, 2003 03:31 AM | Comments (66)


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