The Democrats Peddle Racial Politics in Iowa

Lucas Morel

January 1, 2000

While the news media focused on the flag controversy in South Carolina, Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley faced off at the Brown-Black Presidential Forum in Des Moines, Iowa. To no one’s surprise, both offered proposals that required race to play a role in how the federal government secures the rights and opportunities of American citizens. And it’s this racial mindset, and not one state’s flag-waving, that poses a greater threat to the dignity and aspirations of Americans of all colors.

Both Gore and Bradley pledged support for affirmative action. When asked whether Thurgood Marshall or Clarence Thomas would serve as his model for civil rights adjudication, Gore responded, “Two words: Thurgood Marshall.” It did not occur to Gore that the question itself presumed that only a black Supreme Court justice could ensure that black Americans would receive the equal protection of the laws.
Bradley at least acknowledged that progress had been made in civil rights enforcement, but quickly added that subtle racism still occurred in bank loans and computer/internet access—the so-called “digital divide.”

When an audience member asked if either candidate would appoint a Hispanic to the Supreme Court, Gore pledged that Hispanics would be appointed to both the Court and his Cabinet but refused to give the names of short-listed prospects. Bradley would not commit to a Hispanic appointment, but stated “there are many who could” be appointed.
Earlier he noted that minorities had served as advisors when he was a Senator and currently served as key campaign staffers. Granted, this is not quite the equivalent of saying, “Some of my best friends are minorities,” but it’s not far off—especially with Bill Russell joining him in the audience.

In short, when it comes to racial diversity, Gore and Bradley don’t mind riding the coattails of President Clinton, who entered office with the promise of an administration that would “look like America.”
Now his Democratic, would-be successors are following his script to the letter.

As if this racial tokenism wasn’t bad enough, Gore informed everyone that “the first baby born of the millennium here in Iowa was an African-American child, and the first born in Des Moines was a Latino child.” What on earth was he trying to prove with this inane comment? The escaped-slave-turned-abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass once said that in the company of Abraham Lincoln he was never reminded of his color. With Gore and Bradley, Americans are never allowed to forget.

To Gore’s credit, his rhetoric rose above racial mindedness for a fleeting moment when he praised a black doctor in the audience, Dr. Paula Mahone,
who became famous for delivering the McCaughey septuplets. As Gore put it, “There were countless young African-American girls and boys, and boys and girls of all backgrounds, who saw you on the national television screens at the very top of your profession, demonstrating to one and all that there’s nothing you don’t know how to do in the field of medicine.” The inclusion of “boys and girls of all backgrounds” showed that Gore was uncomfortable with the message of racial role modeling: namely, only blacks can learn from blacks. Unfortunately, he returned to race-mongering by touting “medical school classes that look like America” in yet another sacrifice to the diversity gods who rule the Democratic Party.

By the end of the evening, Gore and Bradley made one thing clear for Iowa voters: the Democratic Party still doubts that racial minorities are capable of succeeding in America without special government assistance. But this shouldn’t make white Americans feel any better about their own abilities. Gore and Bradley think Americans in general cannot prosper in the 21st century without more government programs to smooth that long transition from cradle to grave we call life.

Bill Clinton began his presidency by announcing that the era of big government was over. The vice president apparently didn’t get the message. Ditto for Bradley.
Both intend to increase federal involvement in education and health care, and at no small cost to American citizens. Here the contrast with conservative, Republican principles could not be more striking. All six candidates for the Republican, presidential nomination believe that a free society requires a limited government—not one that regulates every aspect of human life.

But what about that flag atop South Carolina’s capitol building? Yes, Governor George W. Bush and Senator John McCain have shown poor leadership in their ambivalent remarks about it. But a Gore or Bradley presidency, with its heightened racial mindedness, would send the banner of division up the pole of American political life. And that’s a flag no American should salute.

Lucas Morel teaches politics at Washington and Lee University and is an adjunct fellow at the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University.