GOP's gaffe Racist group: Excuse that roots of white conservative club weren't known doesn't wash.

December 29, 1998

TO THE chagrin of the Republican Party, its elevation of its lone black congressman, Oklahoma Rep. J. C. Watts, to a leadership position did little to move other African Americans into the GOP fold. Instead, the party was criticized for exercising a type of the same affirmative action it usually opposes.

The party wasn't taken seriously when it claimed it was Mr. Watts' credentials that led to his selection in November to be House conference chairman. The move did little to dissipate the cynicism of those African Americans who believe the conservatism of today's Republican Party is too closely linked to viewpoints they cannot accept.

Giving credence to such fears was the recent revelation that three prominent Republicans were keynote speakers for a racist organization. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia was the latest to address the Council of Conservative Citizens. But the CCC has also heard speeches by two Mississippi lawmakers, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott and Gov. Kirk Fordice.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based agency that monitors racist activity, says the CCC is a reincarnation of the old White Citizens Councils that terrorized civil rights workers in the 1960s. CCC members have ties to the Ku Klux Klan and the National Association for the Advancement of White People. The CCC Web site is rife with racist commentary.

These blistering revelations by the Southern Poverty Law Center elicited excuses from Mr. Barr and Mr. Lott that they didn't know the CCC was so contemptible.

It strains credibility to believe the staffs of such formidable members of Congress do not check the backgrounds of groups that invite their bosses to speak. It is also hard to believe these Southern politicians who pride themselves on knowing their constituencies knew nothing about the CCC.

If the Republicans' appearances before the CCC are summed up as mistakes, they are mistakes that the party cannot afford to make. The insensitivity of Mr. Barr, Mr. Lott and Mr. Fordice belies GOP pronouncements that the party wants to be more inclusive. Their CCC speeches make genuine efforts to achieve greater diversity look like tokenism.

Pub Date: 12/29/98

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