The Self Made Pundit
Thursday, January 09, 2003
SOUTHERN STRATEGY REDUX: To the surprise of no one with a cynical view of the Bush administration (in other words, a view based on reality), President Bush is not letting his politically expedient denunciation of Senator Lott’s pro-segregationist sentiments stand in the way of his goal to pack the federal bench with right-wing judges.
On Tuesday, Bush renominated Judge Charles Pickering for an appellate court judgeship along with 30 other judicial nominees that were not considered last year by the full Senate when it was marginally controlled by the Democrats.
Readers curious about Judge Pickering’s record should read Michael Crowley’s New Republic article that was published shortly before Pickering was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. After presiding over the trial of a man that was eventually convicted of burning a cross on an interracial couple’s lawn, Judge Pickering aggressively lobbied Justice Department officials to withdraw their toughest charges so that Judge Pickering could give the defendant a lighter sentence than the seven to seven-and-a-half year minimum sentence mandated by federal sentencing laws. Judge Pickering succeeded in getting the federal prosecutors to drop their toughest charge, which resulted in the defendant being sentenced to just over two years.
If there is anything surprising about President Bush’s decision to renominate the civil-rights challenged Judge Pickering for an appellate court judgeship it’s that some observers may have thought that Bush’s tardy condemnation of Lott meant that he actually had sufficient concern for civil rights to cause him to rethink his approach to judicial nominations. For example, in editorializing against Judge Pickering’s renomination, The New York Times states:
The nation didn't have to wait long to find out if President Bush's impassioned denunciation of Trent Lott's racial views last month presaged a new approach to the selection of federal judges. It didn't. That became clear on Tuesday evening when the White House decided to renominate Charles Pickering, who failed to win confirmation from the Democratic-controlled Senate last year. Judge Pickering, a Mississippi trial judge and a protégé of Mr. Lott, was rejected largely because of his insensitive handling of civil rights cases. The Senate should once again refuse to confirm Judge Pickering, and should carefully scrutinize the 30 other nominees the administration is putting forth.
Similarly, as the Washington Post reports, Democrats expressed puzzlement that Bush would renominate Judge Pickering, whose record on racial matters is sure to keep revitalize the media focus on the Republican Party’s checkered past on civil rights:
Democrats were also still puzzled over why Bush, who skated safely through the Lott furor by criticizing the senator's remarks but stopping short of overtly pushing him out the door, invited another fight over civil rights. “I'm still scratching my head in amazement that they actually [re]nominated him,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).
I must admit that I’m puzzled by all this puzzlement. If anything, it was entirely predictable that Bush would follow up his criticism of Lott's racial views with concrete actions that would signal to Southern whites that the Republicans are still the party of lax enforcement of civil rights laws. The Southern Strategy of Republican Presidents going back to Nixon has sought to combine actions that pandered to the worst instincts of Southern whites with rhetoric that did not unduly alarm voters in the rest of the country.
Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan were also willing to express support for equality in the abstract and then adopt policies that were racially insensitive or worse. Bush’s approach in mouthing platitudes in support of equal rights and then taking actions to undermine civil rights is a classic tactic of the Southern Strategy perfected by Republicans over the past 35 years.