Time to Stop Pitting One American Against Another

Commentary by Pete du Pont

In modern campaigns, there are a few things you come to expect. Republicans will always be accused of endangering Social Security and Medicare, and giving tax breaks to the rich. Democrats conversely will be described as tax and spend liberals who care more about butterflies than jobs, and who are in bed with trial lawyers and union bosses.

While tiring, and not always accurate, I can understand these types of arguments being used to distinguish one's self from an opponent in the needed 30-second sound byte. What I will never get used to, however, is when people use issues like race and religion to pit one group of Americans against another in the name of votes. Unfortunately, it is happening more and more, by candidates in both parties, and it is repugnant in every instance.

This is a consistent problem on the Democratic side of the ballot. Both candidates continually claim that both Republicans have wrapped themselves in the Confederate flag. In fact, in a recent debate sponsored by CNN and the Los Angeles Times, both Democratic candidates accused the Republicans of wanting to return to ol'conservative ideas (read, old south racist ideas).

At one point in the debate, CNN analyst Jeff Greenfield asked both candidates why they have been so quick to criticize the Republicans while not condemning bigots in their own party: neither Gore nor Bradley have condemned inflammatory language used by the Rev. Al Sharpton. Gore retorted, "I do condemn the language that he used." But then he quickly followed up saying, "But in America we believe in redemption." Bradley echoed Gore's sentiment about redemption and then spent the rest of his time justifying Sharpton's role: "The real question here is how do the voiceless get a voice? It sometimes takes someone that rubs a part of the population the wrong way." In other words, I need the votes of his supporters.

The Republican side has been no better. Ever since his defeat in South Carolina, Sen. McCain has made a concerted effort to use religion to pit one group of Americans against another in the hope that it will generate crucial votes. For example, McCain paid for taped phone calls that warned Michigan Catholics that Gov. Bush spoke at the now infamous Bob Jones University, which is an institution that is anti-Catholic and bans inter-racial dating. The implication: Gov. Bush is either anti-Catholic himself or is at least "in bed" with people who are.

While I agree that Bob Jones is not someone Bush should consider for his running-mate, candidates for president have been speaking at the college for years. In fact, McCain himself had urged his staff to arrange a speaking engagement there before the controversy erupted. Continuing the theme, calls are being made to New York Catholics claiming that Bush is seeking the support of "Southern Fundamentalists." And an unnamed McCain aid was quoted in Time magazine saying, "We're willing to concede the Confederacy."

This behavior by all four candidates is distressing and should stop immediately. They should instead focus their energy on attempts to bring Americans together. A good place to start would be for them to read the new book by Ward Connerly entitled "Creating Equal: My Fight Against Preferences." Connerly, you may recall, is the black conservative who made headlines as the University of California regent who proposed the university end racial quotas in its admissions process.

Connerly, who spoke to a recent NCPA luncheon, rightly points out that if we are ever going to heal the racial wounds in American, we need to get past putting people in categories. Prejudice grows from racial or religious stereotypes. If we are ever to conquer prejudice, Connnerly instructs, we need to work everyday to break the harmful stereotypes about people who are different from ourselves. After all, race is increasingly becoming a moot point in many places. For example, in California one out of every three marriages is interracial, and fourteen percent of all births are biracial. The old stereotypes no longer fit, not that they really ever did.

Honorable men who want to be the first president of the 21st Century should stop pitting one group of Americans against another by playing to their stereotypes and fears. They may win votes that way, but they won't be worthy of winning.



The National Center for Policy Analysis is a public policy research institute founded in 1983 and internationally known for its studies on public policy issues. The NCPA is headquartered in Dallas, Texas, with an office in Washington, D.C.