ELIZABETHTOWN, PA —In a recent syndicated column, National
Review editor Richard Lowry informs us that “liberals” are guilty
of identifying healthcare reform with a “victory as transcendent
as that of the civil rights movement.”
Lowry considers this movement to be a “rare and marvelous thing.” He
extols the “genius of Martin Luther King,” who spent his
life teaching us to love each other. Lowry ends his encomium by contrasting
the healthcare bill with the Christ-like purity of the civil rights
protestors, who were concerned with “freedom and securing the
most basic rights — to vote and to gain equal access to public accommodations.” Unlike
this “mess cobbled together by an embattled, ideological congressional
majority,” the civil rights movement and King “were catalyzed
by sacrificial love.”
With due respect to Lowry’s inspirational moment, it may be
argued that former civil rights activist John Lewis and other black
Democrats are correct to view Obama’s presidency and his healthcare
plan as extensions of the civil rights movement. Blacks are using what
Lowry considers their “basic right” to endorse people and
policies that appeal to them. Why would Lowry expect black voters to
do anything else, for example, by seeking to cut rather than increase
government social programs, which they think benefit them disproportionately?
Certainly that was not the view of Martin Luther King, whose socialist
economic views are a matter of record. Does Lowry really believe that
King would have opposed Obama’s healthcare bill?
This is not Lowry’s first lapse into clumsy special pleading.
On February 11, 2005, Lowry came up with another historical narrative
tailored to present needs, when he compared Condoleezza Rice’s
support for the Iraqi war to “the civil rights cause she supported
as a girl in Birmingham, Alabama.” Lowry’s rhetorical flight
had no perceptive effect on those whom he was seeking to persuade.
Blacks are not especially keen on getting embroiled in foreign wars
but overwhelmingly support healthcare and other domestic programs that
the current administration is considering.
The “transcendent” moment in the 1960s that Lowry invokes
was actually a transfer of power. Black voters have used their “basic
right” to advance what they want, and while Lowry recounts this
fact, he does so in a selective fashion. His “transcendent” moment
does not take into account the scope and depth of the changes that
occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Lowry recalls the past in the way
certain Frenchmen used to talk about their Revolution, by praising
the storming of the Bastille and then treating the next 20 years of
bloody history as anticlimactic. Why bother to discuss what does not
fit one’s current issue? But historical processes have a tendency
to go on and on, rather than end at the moment the narrator might wish.
Not content with the production of his civil rights movement, Lowry
offered another piece of revisionist history on April 9. He depicted
Mitt Romney, his preferred presidential candidate, as a “conservative
Republican.” It seems that Romney just happened to have introduced
government-controlled healthcare care in Massachusetts. That, of course,
was when Romney was governor, and before he changed his views on social
issues to make himself acceptable to those who fund Lowry’s magazine.
Unfortunately, the Democrats have been tactless enough to bring up
what Romney did as governor, and this indiscretion may hurt his run
for the presidency. I have no idea why Romney’s record in the
Massachusetts governorship is not a relevant political issue. But as
someone who is not in Lowry’s circle, there is no reason I would
The problem with this manipulated history is its patent dishonesty.
The civil rights movement led to monumental changes such as the Voting
Rights Act of 1965, together with the introduction of affirmative action
programs and anti-discrimination laws for a wide range of designated
minorities. While some people undoubtedly benefited from these changes,
the end result has been to make limited, decentralized government more
difficult for those of us who value it. What is widely seen as a positive
thing also has its negative aspects.
Lowry could have made this point without manufacturing his own movement
as a saintly, antiseptic alternative to what actually happened. He
could have explained that, like most revolutions, the civil rights
movement was a mixed bag. While it produced justice in some areas,
it also brought other consequences with which we as a country will
have to wrestle for centuries. The black vote has helped push our country
leftward, by lending support to government initiatives for redistributing
income and for controlling our social behavior and speech. But all
of these trends have overtaken Europe, where they have not been sold
as attempts to overcome racial discrimination, and so perhaps certain
changes are simply in the nature of modern democracy. As for Lowry’s
reconstruction of Romney’s political career, it might be best
for him to recognize that he is dealing with damaged goods.
The Ornery Observer archives
The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2010
by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All
rights reserved. A version of this column has been published in the
Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers.
Copyright © 2010 by LewRockwell.com. Reprinted with permission.
Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities
at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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