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Chapter Fourteen: It Started in the ‘60s

 

If I may generalize, liberals and conservatives have a different attitude toward their constituencies. The conservative attitude is straightforward: If we are a privileged class, then hang on to that privilege as tightly as possible. Punish your enemies and reward your friends. Be remorseless in squeezing every ounce of advantage from a given situation. And don’t worry about it. We deserve to be on top because we are superior. The liberal attitude is morally more complicated. Liberals want to hang onto power just as much as conservatives do, but they also want to be seen as being virtuous. They are sensitive to criticisms about associating with unsavory characters for the sake of power. These liberals have “principles”. The solution often lies in jettisoning loyal supporters, especially individuals who are personally unattractive or unpopular, to save their own skins.

These liberal tendencies came out during the Kennedy administration. President Kennedy was a Democrat. His party’s base of support lay in labor unions, the “solid South”, and big-city “bosses”. So what did John and Robert Kennedy do? They went after corruption in the labor unions, targeting Jimmy Hoffa among others. They withdrew support from Carmine de Sapio, the Tammany boss of New York City. They supported Civil Rights protesters against the southern political establishment which had always been loyal to the Democrats. They cracked down on organized crime- yet another double crossing if reports that ballot-stuffing crime bosses helped John Kennedy win Illinois are true.

This attitude carried over into foreign policy. When South Vietnam’s president Ngo Dinh Diem seemed unable to restore order in his country, the Kennedy administration secretly gave its blessing to a military coup against Diem, a U.S. ally. The coup resulted in the deaths of Diem and his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the country’s security chief. (Remember Nhu’s wife, dubbed the “Dragon Lady”? She was a bad woman if you can believe the newspapers.) The point man for this double dealing was a State Department official, Roger Hillsman, who saw a parallel between protesting Buddhists in South Vietnam and Civil Rights protesters in the American south. Interestingly, it was reported that Ho Chi Minh and Mao Tse-tung, talking over the situation following Diem’s assassination, both felt that Diem was not such a bad leader.

It was not just the Kennedys. Senator George McGovern, the Democrats’ Presidential candidate in 1972, called a certain South Vietnamese government official, perhaps Nuygen Cao Ky, a “little tin-horned dictator”. When his announced running mate, Thomas Eagleton, was discovered to have been treated for mental illness, McGovern first said he supported Eagleton “one thousand percent”, then dropped him from the ticket. Jimmy Carter withdrew support from a long-time U.S. ally, the Shah of Iran, paving the way for the Ayatollah Khomeini’s takeover of Iran. And, of course, I saw the same pattern in the Minnesota Green Party’s treatment of its endorsed Senatorial candidate, Ed McGaa. For political liberals, “principle” trumps personal loyalty. We must always be seen as morally superior people who will have nothing to do with wrongdoers. From another perspective, however, this posture has given the U.S. Government the reputation of double crossing its allies while being self-righteous about it. Our friends know instinctively that they must watch their backs.

I say this as a prelude to discussing race relations. The U.S. population has long been dominated by persons of European ancestry. A minority - perhaps 10% of the population - consisted of blacks who were descended from African slaves. Other relatively small groups such as native Americans or immigrants from Asia and Latin America also entered into the racial mix. A century ago, there was indeed a feeling among America’s majority population that white people were superior to other races. After all, European nations had colonized much of the world. In this country, an Anglo-Saxon aristocracy concentrated in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and other large cities was positioned at the top of society. Their offspring attended the best colleges and became top-level corporate managers or partners in professional firms. The upper-middle classes from the Midwest and other provincial areas aspired to join their ranks. In the American south, the white gentry dominated a largely rural society which kept black people subservient under Jim Crow policies.

All this started to change in the 1950s and especially the 1960s. We had the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott led by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. in defense of Rosa Parks. We had “Freedom Riders” from the North traveling down to southern communities to aid in desegregation efforts. Jews, who had long suffered from social disadvantage, were entering prestigious colleges in greater numbers. Dominating the entertainment industry, they were also making inroads into journalism, law, medicine, and other professions. Other ethnic groups were also enjoying new prosperity as managers, professionals, and members of labor unions. The Anglo-Saxon hegemony was being challenged.

A major fault line lay across the college campuses. During this period, U.S. colleges were opening up to other kinds of students than those from traditionally privileged groups. Jews and even a few blacks were being admitted to the Ivy League colleges. The professors held left-leaning political, social, and religious views which William F. Buckley and others believed were at variance with the views of mainstream America. Educated young people began to engage in behavior that shocked their parents. They engaged in promiscuous sex, took drugs, listened to rock ‘n roll music, supported black people’s bid for civil rights, flirted with communism, and opposed the Johnson Administration’s conduct of the war in Vietnam.

With respect to race relations, young white Americans were feeling the influence of black culture, especially in music and sports. College campuses were hotbeds of support for the Civil Rights movement. The assassinations of President John Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, created an atmosphere of violence and social unrest. Then came the race riots following Martin Luther King’s death. Detroit and other U.S. cities burned. The Black Muslims, “Black Panthers” and other armed groups gave the impression that, despite Martin Luther King’s nonviolent stance, black Americans might soon use violence to overthrow the social order. White conservatives were suitably alarmed. Mayor Richard Daley gave Chicago police the order, “shoot to kill”, when rioting blacks tried to set fire to buildings in his city. White liberals had another reaction. There were reports of “limousine liberals” in New York City hosting parties for Black Panther luminaries.

Why was this? One should keep in mind that the college-educated segment of the U.S. population was developing attitudes and tastes at variance with those of small-town America, blue-collar workers, and other residual elements of the white society. The picture of southern segregation was before its eyes. Maybe other parts of the country were also “racist”? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had empowered southern blacks politically while northern blacks, through their numbers, were beginning to take over big-city governments.

Hoping to capitalize on these trends, the Democratic Party began catering to blacks. The nation’s political leaders used flattering rhetoric about them. (Politicians always get excited about groups waxing in power. They want to get in on the ground floor of any trend that might carry them along to future election victories.) Blacks had a higher birth rate than whites. They were becoming more assertive and cohesive as a group in demanding their rights. Black violence was not such a problem. Violence, especially when accompanied by the morally superior, “good cop” posture of Martin Luther King’s nonviolent Civil Rights movement, had much appeal for these ‘60s liberals. Such was the social and cultural environment in which political liberals, predisposed to double cross their traditional supporters, prepared for the future. The odd man out was white America.

After President Kennedy’s death, the new President, Lyndon B. Johnson, became a champion of legislation to advance black people’s interests. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in public accommodations and in the work place, creating the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to enforce the measures. A sponsor, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, dismissed fears that this law would create racial quotas. He promised to eat the pages of the civil-rights bill “one after another” if that ever happened. Yet, before long, the federal bureaucracy was beginning to pressure employers to adopt racial quotas in the guise of goals and timetables. Affirmative action replaced color-blind treatment. In 1968, the Small Business Administration began to award grants and low-income loans targeted to “socially disadvantaged” - i.e., black - persons.

An agency at the U.S. Department of Labor devised the “Philadelphia Plan” to ensure that federal contractors hired minorities according to their share of the population. While this plan was abandoned under public pressure, Richard Nixon revived it a year later when his Labor Department issued Order Number Four requiring federal contractors to submit goals and timetables for minority hiring. Soon, the EEOC was requiring all private businesses to do this. Evidently, Nixon thought he could win support from black voters by instituting such measures. Thus, racial preferences favoring blacks and disfavoring whites became law through administrative action. This system of “double treatment under the law” has survived a number of court challenges.

In 1965, the U.S. Congress also passed the “Immigration and Naturalization Act” which replaced quotas based on national origin (mirroring the current population) with a system giving preference to would-be immigrants on the basis of occupation or family connections. Senator Edward Kennedy was its chief sponsor. The immigration reformers, concerned that the old quotas were “racist”, nevertheless assured the public that the change in the law would not result in greatly increased numbers of new immigrants or change their composition by country of origin. They were wrong on both scores. The 1965 law capped annual immigration at 290,000 but, in 1985, 570,000 immigrants legally entered the country. The new immigrants were disproportionately from the Third World.

What had happened was that, once new people entered the country as professionals or politically persecuted refugees and acquired permanent-residency status, they were able to obtain visas for their spouses, children, brothers and sisters to enter the country. Numerous others found that they could enter the United States illegally and stay on for an indefinite period due to lax enforcement of immigration policies. There was then increasing political pressure to legalize their status. The Immigration and Refugee Control Act of 1986 (a.k.a. “Simpson-Mazzoli act”) tried to deal with this problem by creating a “temporary” guest worker program, offering amnesty for illegals who had lived here since 1982, and providing sanctions against employers who knowingly hired illegals. Yet, Congress also created a new office within the Justice Department to prosecute and fine employers who discriminated against ‘foreign-looking” workers. Employers had to accept any two of thirty possible documents as proof of legal residency, all easily forged.

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