Conservatives Against Being Against Racism

I think David Frum’s essay in The Week on the dual legacy of Jack Kemp is very good. But while Frum appreciates the merits of Kemp’s attempted outreach to the African-American community and the problematic nature of most conservatives’ failure to follow his lead, I think he winds up understating the extent of the problem. For yet another example of the nature of the problem, consider this clip of Glenn Beck angrily booting from his show an ACORN spokesman. Beck is full of righteous indignation at having been called a racist:

Robert Stacy McCain hails the clip as a great example of “how to deal with cheap liberal accusations of ‘racism.'”

And I should say, if someone called me a racist I’d get pretty indignant about it. Nobody likes that accusation. And I wouldn’t like to see someone I admire get that accusation leveled at them. But at the same time—and this is the crucial difference between progressives and conservatives on this front—I also get indignant about actual racism. Glenn Beck, by contrast, like most conservatives, think that the preeminent racial problem in the United States is that white people are too put upon by political correctness. Conservatives are very very very concerned about this alleged problem of anti-racism run amok. And they’re very concerned about the alleged problem of reverse discrimination. But they don’t seem concerned at all about racism or discrimination and certainly not nearly as concerned as they about helping out the poor, put-upon white man.

And it’s not just a quirk of Beck’s. This attitude goes deep in the DNA of the modern conservative movement. National Review’s position on Civil Rights was that segregation was bad, but the cure of the civil rights movement was worse than the disease of white supremacy. Barry Goldwater campaigned for president on the proposition that Jim Crow might be bad, but not nearly so bad as the Civil Rights Act. As the policy status quo shifted, the precise nature of the conservative position changed with it so that now affirmative action is worse than discrimination against minorities and “political correctness” is worse than racism, but the basic spirit is the same.