Avoiding Racist Views, Organizations

By the Editorial Board
Kansas City Star, Sunday, January 31, 1999
© Copyright 1999 The Kansas City Star

The chairman of the Republican National Committee has appealed to members of his party to disavow racist views and distance themselves from organizations that espouse such views.

The plea from Jim Nicholson comes at a time when the party has been embarrassed by high-ranking associations with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi and Georgia's Rep. Bob Barr, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, have appeared before the council. Lott's picture has appeared in the council's newsletter, the Citizens Informer. The lawmakers didn't volunteer their affiliations but were exposed by others during the impeachment proceedings in Washington.

Both Barr and Lott have since claimed not to know what the council stands for. Even RNC member Buddy Witherspoon, a member of his state's chapter of the council, has pleaded ignorance. The South Carolina orthodontist, like Lott and Barr, was not eager to disavow the divisive messages of the council. Witherspoon told reporters, "Never have I heard anything said about race in any way, shape or form." He told Nicholson that he would not resign from the council.

Nicholson's appeal to conscience was directed at Witherspoon, but it should apply to Lott and Barr as well. To no one's surprise, the council itself is big on denials. Although it has bemoaned immigration of nonwhites and likened interracial marriages to an affront to Western civilization, leaders contend the council is not racist. Rather, it's just "pro-European-American" and "pro-white."

Nicholson, who recently won re-election to the GOP top post, is correct to be concerned that his party continues to be viewed as not particularly inclusive. The apologists for the council who also are Republican members of Congress are an embarrassment and deserve public scorn.

But it's not as if the GOP hasn't been down this road before. Years ago, Missouri's Jack Danforth warned that his party was on the verge of becoming "the redneck party" if it didn't stop catering to racist extremists.

The approach of the presidential and other elections should be of concern for all in the GOP who worry how a Klan mentality could hurt them. Not even the election of Oklahoma's J.C. Watts in the line of succession in the U.S. House will change some people's minds. Why hasn't Watts, an African-American who has challenged his party on affirmative action, been more outspoken on this issue?

Sometimes what is politically expedient is also right. Nicholson's decision to attack the problem is an example of a start in the right direction, but it lacks punitive force.

As Nicholson said, "A member of the party of (Abraham) Lincoln should not belong" to such organizations. Neither should members of the party of Clinton.