When Barack Obama dumped Rev. Jeremiah Wright during the presidential campaign, he explained that the Reverend was a man lost in another time, when hard-core white racism required hypersensitivity to issues of race.
Likewise, former President Jimmy Carter seems lost in the hypersensitive radicalism of the late 1960s. In controversial remarks, the former president recently tagged opponents of President Obamas policies as racists: I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.
During the late 1960s, activists on the left started to color-code policy debates, much like their white supremacist predecessors. Older readers will recall: before the health care debate, it was welfare. Welfare reform was code for white racism, according to the deep thinkers of the 1970s and 1980s. Never mind that there was strong black support for such reform.
Now it is health care and budget deficits. Oppose the presidents proposal? Youre likely a racist. Concerned about massive deficits? Also racist.
Here is what Jimmy Carter and others fail to see: On race, America has changed across the board. Witness the election of Barack Obama, the integration of new immigrants into U.S. society (even in the rural South), and the acceptance of racial intermarriage. In 1958, only 4 percent of whites approved of intermarriage; today it barely elicits a yawn.
Immigration and intermarriage promise to change the black-white race hustle in ways the Left and Right cant control.
This is a teachable moment for Jimmy Carter and others who do not know the hidden history of civil rights.
The civil rights movement owes much to individualssome famous, some forgottenwho placed individual freedom, the Constitution, color-blind justice, and self-help above other interests. The movement started with Frederick Douglass, Lewis Tappan (the financial angel of abolitionism) and other evangelical Christians who struggled against the pernicious pro-slavery Christians of the South. In later years, these champions of liberty stood against Chinese Exclusion (1882), race-based immigration quotas (1924), and Japanese internment. They also stood for anti-lynching laws, merit-based college admissions (rejecting quotas on Jews), welcoming Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and decriminalizing illegal aliens, a promise carried through by Ronald Reagan.
If Jimmy Carter reads about this long struggle he will hear much name calling from opponents of live and let live. But he wont hear it from Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, superlawyer Louis Marshall, H.L. Mencken, Zora Neale Hurston, Branch Rickey and the many others who opposed inserting race where it doesnt belong: sports, politics, college, and so on.
Part of the problem is that historians have blotted out this tradition. Only the progressive Left view is presented: that government is sometimes the problem, but always the solution. Those who favor nondiscrimination, what we used to call a colorblind society, are now to be considered racists.
In fact, it is government that has done the most harm to people living in our country because of their skin color. Government supported slavery, Jim Crow, Chinese Exclusion, Japanese internment, forced sterilization of inferior races, and todays race preferences in hiring, promotion, awarding of contracts, and other areas. Libertarians such as Ward Connerly, who led the charge against state-sanctioned racial preferences in California, are the true heirs of the long civil rights movement, not Jimmy Carter.
Going deeper than law and politics, Americans can learn from pioneers such as Frederick Douglass that people should be treated as individuals rather than as symbols of group stereotypes. Carter ought to read Douglasss orations, especially his speech envisioning an America where we are one country, one citizenship, one liberty, one law, for all people without regard to race.
Jimmy Carter is a relic of a time and mindset past. Its time to move on.
|Jonathan Bean is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the Institute book, Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader.|
RACE AND LIBERTY IN AMERICA: The Essential Reader
Race and Liberty in America explains the major themes of the anti-racist, classical liberal tradition of individual liberty and equality, demonstrating how it has inspired individuals to improve race relations in the United States. Rooted in the Judeo-Christian natural-law tradition, classical liberals have advocated freedom from governmental interference, abolition of prejudicial law, equality under a uniform rule of law guaranteed by the Constitution, and market-based entrepreneurial opportunity.