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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Comparative Advantage Takes a Holiday

Kristof writes on the economic challenges facing Argentina and the rest of South America; Krugman writes on race in America.

In an update to an earlier post, we noted how Al Gore managed to present himself as phony and hypocritical in discussing the Trent Lott debacle. Let's go the the text again:

Asked if he believes Lott is a racist, Gore said, "Trent Lott made a statement that I think is a racist statement, yes.

And Al Gore gave an evasive answer to a direct question, yes. Having worked with Lott in Washington for years, one might presume Gore to have an opinion on this subject.

Prof Krugman takes a similar tack in his column, substituting innuendo and rhetorical questions for a straightforward accusation.

Let's see:

Mississippi is a major net recipient of federal funds.

But Mississippi is, in fact, the home of Trent Lott — a leader of a party determined to roll back as much as it can of the Great Society, perhaps even the New Deal. Why do Mississippi and its neighbors support politicians whose economic policies seemingly run counter to their interests?

Do I really need to answer that?

Hey, it's his column, he can answer whatever he wants. But the "answer" amounts to a discussion of "Jim Crow" laws and attitudes. Too bad - lots of folks have wondered why high-income states seem to vote for high Federal taxes, and low income states do not.

...Yet race remains a major factor in our politics.

Indeed, this year efforts to suppress nonwhite votes were remarkably blatant. There were those leaflets distributed in black areas of Maryland, telling people they couldn't vote unless they paid back rent; there was the fuss over alleged ballot fraud in South Dakota, clearly aimed at suppressing Native American votes. Topping it off was last Saturday's election in Louisiana, in which the Republican Party hired black youths to hold signs urging their neighbors not to vote for Mary Landrieu.

Well, that's pretty blatant, in a nation of 280 million people. Leaflets in Maryland, possible vote fraud in South Dakota, and Republicans hiring kids to electioneer prior to an election. Take your best shot!

Still, nobody now misses the days of overt racial discrimination. Or do they?

Last week, at Strom Thurmond's 100th-birthday party, Mr. Lott recalled Mr. Thurmond's 1948 race for the presidency. "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

What, exactly, did Mr. Lott mean by "all these problems"? Mr. Thurmond ran a one-issue campaign: "We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race," declared his platform.

Is it possible that a major modern political figure has sympathy for such views? After all, the Bush administration includes figures like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice; some of Mr. Lott's best friends . . . Yet during the 1990's he was extensively involved with the Council of Conservative Citizens — a descendant of the White Citizens Council — telling them at one point that they "stand for the right principles and the right philosophy." When this came to light in 1998, Mr. Lott declared himself ignorant of the group's aims. Was he also ignorant of the aims of the 1948 Thurmond campaign? Or was he just, in the excitement of the moment, blurting out his real views?

Rhetorical answers, but no accusation. Well, if Prof. Krugman is unwilling to connect the dots, I will echo his restraint.

Finally, an accusation:

Now Mr. Lott has apologized for a "poor choice of words." But choice of words had nothing to do with it. What he did, quite clearly, was offer a retroactive endorsement of a frankly racist campaign.

Well, yes, he did. We all agree. Which many on the right think was stupid, and showed horrible judgement and political skill. Whether Prof. Krugman goes beyond that to conclude that Lott is a racist remains shrouded in a verbal fog.

And yes, there are political implications. In the midterm elections, Democratic candidates carefully avoided doing anything to mobilize the black vote, fearing that this would just encourage turnout by rural whites.

Hmm, who is suppressing the black vote now? Oh, never mind - just a rhetorical question.

UPDATE: We get a physics lesson and more from the Man Sans Q - scroll down for a double feature.

UPDATE 2: Wow! Here is an original and devastating review of Kristof's effort.

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