This year it seems especially appropriate that Halloween falls the week before Election Day. And that timing hasn't been lost on the Democrats, who have found new and creatively deceptive ways to spook voters. One official Democratic Web site offers a spoof on a popular horror film -- Iknowwhatyoudidintexas.com. With features like "The Bush Record: Our chilling favorites -- sometimes the truth is scarier than fiction," the site aims to frighten visitors about George W. Bush's supposed legacy in Texas and the policies he and the Republicans would impose on an unsuspecting American public if elected. The site also provides this dire warning: "Nothing is more terrifying than the official platforms of the Republican Party and its state parties."
Somewhere in Michigan, the sister of James Byrd, the African-American tortured and lynched in rural Texas two years ago, is trotted out by Al Gore's campaign to accuse Bush of being soft on hate crimes, and thus implicitly of being a racist-lover himself. Somewhere on television, an "independent expenditures ad," funded by the NAACP National Voter Fund (a tax-exempt organization helmed by two former Democratic legislators), is airing images of the lynching, while making the case against Bush even more directly.
Meanwhile, Iknowwhatyoudidintexas.com has this to add to the tragedy: "When faced with one of the most horrendous crimes motivated by racial hatred in recent memory, Bush chose to sit on the sidelines and not lead in expanding and strengthening laws against those kinds of crimes."
A pack of fear-laced lies.
The men who murdered Byrd by dragging him behind a pickup truck in Texas have been condemned to death or life in prison by Texas courts under existing Texas law, which includes a hate crimes bill that has been on the books since 1993.
Moreover, Byrd's killing wasn't the most horrendous crime motivated by racial hatred in recent memory. An 8-year-old boy named Kevin Shifflett was murdered last April in the very shadow of the nation's capital. Kevin was killed by a 29-year-old African-American, who screamed racial epithets at the youngster and slit his throat with a butcher knife, as the boy was playing on the sidewalk in front of his great-grandparents' house. In contrast to the killing of Byrd, which became the subject of much presidential hand-wringing, Capitol Hill grandstanding and national outrage in the press, Kevin's murder was not even reported as a racial crime. To this day, it has been systematically and consciously kept out of the public eye. Collaborators in this suppression include local authorities, the media and every hypocritical organization -- the Democratic Party and the NAACP foremost among them -- that claims to oppose racial violence and stand up for civil rights.
For four months following the atrocity, the local police in Alexandria, Va., where the crime took place, actively suppressed the racial identities of Kevin and his attacker. Now that the race of perpetrator and victim are known, and the racist motive of the attacker is clear (the assailant was previously imprisoned for a hammer attack in which he allegedly called his victim "whitey" and left a racist note in his hotel room around the time of Kevin's stabbing about "killing them racist white kids"), the crime has still not been declared a "hate crime," and the nation still could care less about Kevin Shifflett's fate.
Far from regarding Kevin's slashing as a "hate crime," Democrats involved in the case are on record praising the police gag order, and they are anxious to keep the racial aspects of the crime hidden. Alexandria Democrat and City Council member Joyce Woodson said of the police suppression: "What they did was proper. We already live in a racially charged world. I don't think knowing that would have any impact on the way they investigated the case. It could have colored their approach in ways that would have been inappropriate." Democratic Mayor Kerry Donley and council member William Euille agreed. And even those vocal congressional advocates of hate crime legislation, Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and Maxine Waters, D-Calif., have maintained a silence about Kevin's fate that speaks louder than words.
Evidently, hate crimes against 8-year-olds -- if they are white -- are OK with liberals. This is one reason why Republicans like Bush have opposed hate crime legislation directed at specific groups like gays (laws that would be the human equivalent of the Endangered Species Act). Why should gays be protected from hate by heterosexuals, but not heterosexuals from hate by gays? (Remember the violent attack by ACT-UP militants on St. Patrick's Cathedral a decade ago?) Consider the fact that no liberal or feminist group has proposed making rape a hate crime, even though rape is universally regarded as an act of hate. Could the reason be that such legislation would jeopardize another protected group -- African-American males -- who commit over 40 percent of such crimes?
Beyond this problem lies a much larger one. Hate crimes are "thought crimes," and thought crimes are the defining transgressions of anti-democratic, totalitarian regimes. The very essence of a totalitarian regime is its determination to punish the "thought crimes" of those who disagree with its rule. For much of the left, this may not be a problem. After all, during the Cold War many who now call themselves liberal were able to view the democratic West and the totalitarian East as "morally equivalent." But for anyone concerned about the future of American democracy, it's a very real concern. It's dangerous to make individual conscience the target of prosecution by the state, however distasteful that conscience may be. The Christian cross and the Star of David are hateful symbols to some. And a gay activist group in Chicago has even gone so far as to protest a proposal to hold the Southern Baptist Convention in that city as a "hate crime."
The problem of racism and similar hates is one of attitude, not law. To turn attitudes into crimes is the antithesis of democracy. The charge that the Democrats are attempting to lay at Bush's foot in respect to the lynching of James Byrd is tantamount to the accusation that a skeptical attitude toward hate-crime legislation implies a less than militant opposition to hate itself. In the right circumstances, this might eventually be construed as a crime. Those who defended the civil liberties of communists during the McCarthy era, for example, often found themselves accused of being soft on communism and, thus, culpable, too.
There's also a problem inherent in the way liberals and Democrats habitually demonize their opponents when it comes to racial issues.
In this regard, the most remarkable non-story of this election campaign has been the candidacy of Pat Buchanan. Have we forgotten how, until recently, Buchanan was cast as the quintessential Republican racist by Democrats? The author Michael Lind even made himself the toast of the New York media a few years ago with a defamatory screed called "Up From Conservatism," in which he characterized the Republican Party as being run by anti-Semitic racists -- specifically Buchanan, Pat Robertson and the Ku Klux Klan.
When Buchanan left the party last year, liberals and Democrats excoriated candidate Bush for openly lamenting Buchanan's departure, and took his gesture of inclusion as a sign, instead, that Bush -- along with Republicans generally -- was really a member of the "Bob Jones (racist) right." (Of course, Bob Jones University has itself performed an act of contrition in removing its last color bar.) At the time, a writer for the Boston Globe referred to Buchanan as "the paranoid activist for white Christian rights," and concluded "Bush's silence [over Buchanan] is scary."
But when Buchanan actually left the Republican Party, nobody went with him. Far from running the party, as Lind preposterously claimed, or being a representative of the Republican mainstream, Buchanan emerged as a political eccentric with less of a following among Republicans than a fringe socialist like Ralph Nader has among rank-and-file Democrats.
The most un-remarked on event of all was Buchanan's choice of an African-American woman, Ezola Foster, to be his running mate. How can it be that none of Buchanan's reckless attackers has since commented on this fact, which would appear to refute most of the hateful smears that had been directed at him concerning the volatile issue of race? It is true that unguarded statements by Buchanan lent some weight to suspicions on this issue. I was even one of those who welcomed Buchanan's departure from the Republican Party. But now that Buchanan has shown -- and shown dramatically, in unmistakable deed -- that his America does include all Americans, it is time for a public reappraisal. The failure of liberals and Democrats on the left to do so is all the more telling.
Intemperate remarks are one thing (and in a democracy need to be protected). Epithets like "racist" or "paranoid activist for white Christian rights" are quite another, and when mistaken need to be retracted. In the present political climate, is an epithet like "racist," so casually applied to Buchanan (and other Republicans like Bob Barr and Trent Lott), any less wounding or destructive than "faggot" or "kike" or "nigger?" Why, then, are there no apologies from the sensitive left for its demonizing slurs against Buchanan and Bush?
Hate crime legislation is a bad and dangerous idea. If we must talk about hate crimes, as a possible means of combating hate, it is time for the left to include the hate speech that liberals regularly employ against Republicans and conservatives as well.