Monday, December 30, 2002

So Exactly What Did He Mean to Say?

This week's column is a riff on the idea that you should take Trent Lott's apologies seriously, that he really meant something else. And exactly what would that be?

Anticipating one objection, that conservatives were solely responsible for defeating communism, I note only that the fall of the Berlin Wall occurred during George H. W. Bush's term, and conservatives threw him overboard as one of them during the budget compromise, and they can't take him back now.

Isn't it interesting that whether Trent Lott deserves to be a U.S. Senator is strictly a matter for voters in Mississippi, but every Democrat in America was/is responsible for Cynthia McKinney?

Lott's Legacy

East Valley Tribune, Dec. 30, 2002

Maybe Trent Lott wasn’t nostalgic for segregation when he recalled Strom Thurmond’s 1948 presidential campaign with such undeserved fondness. Perhaps Sen. Lott somehow ignored the sole reason for the Dixiecrat party, and Thurmond’s only lasting political achievement (besides living so long) -- leading those conservative white voters with “problems” about equal rights out of the Democratic Party and into the Republican.

But what did Sen. Lott mean when he said that if ol’ Strom had won, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems.” Pray tell, exactly which “problems” of the past 54 years would we have avoided?

Better not ask black Americans. In 1948, in great swaths of this country we blocked them from voting, prohibited them from owning property in “restricted” neighborhoods, and sent them to segregated schools -- including, yes, in Arizona.

We prevented them from using the same restaurants, theaters, and hotels; when they enlisted in the armed forces, they served in segregated units. Presumably equal rights isn’t one of “these problems” we now regret.

Better not ask senior citizens, either. In 1948, we had no Medicare program. Vast numbers of seniors went without even basic medical care. Despite Social Security, the elderly were more likely to be poor, while today, the reverse is true. In 1948, even a minor illness raised the specter of destitution. While Medicare certainly isn’t perfect, I don’t see today’s seniors clamoring to give up their benefits. Presumably Medicare isn’t one of these unfortunate “problems,” either.

Next, recall the medical care available in 1948, before so many of today’s amazing medical developments in surgery, technology, pharmaceuticals, and treatments far better (and far more costly) than almost anything available then. Many of these developments -- including future advances -- come from publicly-subsidized research at universities or the National Institutes of Health.

Better not ask people facing diseases for which no cures existed in 1948 if government-sponsored medical research is one of “these problems” we could have avoided.

Don’t ask the disabled, either. They might think that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1991 opened doors of opportunity and self-reliance formerly nailed shut. Lots of women might point out that the civil rights movement also led to equal treatment for them in the workforce, too. It’s doubtful either group would consider the ADA or Title VII as “problems” we shouldn’t have had to endure.

I’d also suggest not asking any women who play high school or college sports. They might not take kindly to any suggestion that Title IX is a terrible mistake that electing Strom Thurmond in 1948 might have prevented. (And I’d especially advise you older guys against making a dedicated athlete angry, regardless of sex.)

So, we’ve ruled out asking minorities, women, seniors, the disabled, and those benefiting from new medical treatments -- and that’s just for starters; don’t forget television, computers, and microwave ovens, much less the fall of communism. So what exactly are these “problems” that electing Thurmond 54 years ago might have let us miss?

Despite the formidable impediment suffered by anybody born before 1960, that of no longer being young, life today is clearly better than in 1948. Any American who wants to trade now for then lives on a different planet.

Maybe life today is worse than in 1948, if you’re a U.S. Senator longing for those bygone days when a handful of old white guys controlled everything. You might want to reverse decades of years of progress -- none of which was brought to you by conservatives, of course -- thus avoiding “all these problems.”

But for the rest of us, it’s nostalgia that ain’t what it used to be.

No comments: