“In George W. Bush’s latest reincarnation, he claims to be Reagan-like. Mr. Bush, I know Ronald Reagan. I called Ronald Reagan a ‘fascist’ while he was still governor of California. And Mr. Bush, you are no Ronald Reagan.”–Patty Hearst, in a statement released this week by Al Gore’s presidential campaign.
Before Chatterbox’s phone starts ringing off the hook, let’s make clear that the above statement is a fabrication. The Gore campaign issued no such press release. Patty Hearst made no such comment. And Chatterbox isn’t completely certain Patty Hearst ever called Ronald Reagan a “fascist” (though it seems an excellent guess). But imagine the uproar if the Gore campaign had released this statement! Gore’s presidential campaign would be done for.
Now let’s look at the statement from Strom Thurmond that the Bush campaign did release this week: “In Al Gore’s latest reincarnation, he claims to be Truman-like, blaming Congress. Mr. Gore, I knew Harry Truman. I ran against Harry Truman. And Mr. Gore, you are no Harry Truman.”
As Michael Powell points out in today’s Washington Post, Thurmond accused Truman of “stabbing the South in the back” during the 1948 campaign in which Thurmond bolted from the Democratic Party to run for president under the segregationist Dixiecrat banner. “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches and places of recreation,” Thurmond said. When Powell read these quotes to Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer, Fleischer accused Powell of being a party-pooper. All the other reporters, he said, had “laughed uproariously” at Thurmond’s humorous reworking of Lloyd Bentsen’s famous “You’re no John Kennedy” riposte to Dan Quayle. “We are in a day when people make light of their past,” Fleischer told Powell. “The only people who’ve complained are the partisans at the DNC. And you.”
But imagine the uproar if a Gore spokesman urged reporters not to dwell on the unsavory memories stirred by Chatterbox’s hypothetical Gore endorsement from Patty Hearst! Even (perhaps especially) if the “fascist” line were left out! Yes, Thurmond, Republican president pro tem of the Senate, is not the man he was in 1948. But he’s a damn sight closer, Chatterbox will wager, than Patty Hearst, newspaper heiress and Connecticut housewife, is to the woman she was in 1974. This might also be a useful moment to point out that Thurmond’s segregationist views, unlike Hearst’s culty radical ones, did not come after being kidnapped and stuffed in a closet. True, Hearst robbed a bank for the Symbionese Liberation Army–and served two years in jail for doing so–whereas Thurmond’s Dixiecrats worked within the system. But the Jim Crow laws Thurmond was working to uphold, we can now all agree, were bad laws that would soon be overturned. When they were, white segregationists didn’t hesitate to resist–that is, break–the new laws promoting integration. Many of these lawbreakers were no doubt inspired by Thurmond’s Dixiecrat rhetoric. By comparison, the number who were inspired by Patty Hearst to take up arms against the state were almost too few to count. The toll of innocent lives lost in the early campaign for civil rights is, Chatterbox would guess, significantly higher than the toll of innocent lives lost in all the protests one can associate even vaguely with student radicalism in the 1960s and 1970s.