Rod Dreher says: “It’s more important that we look at what people do, not so much what they say.” In fact what people say is often as important as what they do even more important for certain classes of people, like professional intellectuals. The problem lies in how we interpret what people say. Trent Lott says that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems” had Strom Thurmond been elected President in 1948. It is possible to take a principled position that the Dixiecrat ticket, opposed as it was to federal power over the states, was the best choice available. (The distinguished libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, nobody’s racist, did so at the time; granted, he was very young.) Even at the most literal level, it is certainly true that, had the Dixiecrats been elected, we wouldn’t have had “these” problems but a whole new set.
The question of whether the Dixiecrats, with their love of state-imposed Jim Crow laws combined with their loathing of federal power, would have made for better governance in the long haul appears to interest very few, though it seems interesting to me. Of course actual historical knowledge is required to discuss it intelligently. Far more popular is the question of Trent Lott’s motives, because that’s pop psychology and anyone can play. Is he a segregationist? A racist? Just an idiot? What is at issue is no longer Lott’s remark itself, but what it purportedly reveals about his inner psyche: the subtext, as English majors say. Jim Henley, one of the few bloggers at least willing to take up the question of the merits of the Dixiecrats, takes the novel approach of psychologizing the platform itself:
One thing alone cheers me up: their patent insincerity about constitutionalism and individual liberty and federal police power. Reading [the States Rights platform], you can be pretty sure that a Thurmond Administration would have enthusiastically swung the power of the federal government toward preserving segregation. You can imagine Thurmond directing J. Edgar Hoover to deal with “outside agitators,” resegregating the army and passing latter-day “fugitive slave” laws to force states outside the region to support southern efforts to retard or reverse civil rights.
Well, sure. You can imagine whatever you like. Unfortunately Henley’s imagination lacks an iota of textual support.
Lott’s defenders insist that he isn’t “really” a racist, his opponents insist that he “really” is, and they agree only that they have this right to speculate blandly about his inner life, a conviction buttressed by Lott’s various apologies, most of which were professions of his non-racist bona fides. I wonder if Trent Lott himself knows what he “really” is, let alone the rest of us.
We’re not all Keynesians now. We’re all shrinks.
(Update: Dave Kopel has a detailed analysis of the Dixiecrat platform.)