Playing Offense and Defense: What Rush Limbaugh (and the Rest of Us) Can Learn from History

Jonathan Bean

In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh defends his record (“I am not a racist”) and further points out the double standard allowing left-liberals off the hook for statements that are clearly racist. Mr. Limbaugh, be glad you didn't go into academe! Limbaugh's defense highlights several problems for any one who dissents from the Leftist party line, particularly on race: First, playing defense 24/7 is no way to move forward. It places dissenters in the untenable position of answering "when did you stop being a racist?" Repeated denials inspire the race hustlers to keep asking the same question. To Rush Limbaugh: You wanted to purchase a football team that played both offense and defense. There is a lesson here. Second, the Left dominance of higher education really does matter. Many individuals are in a state of denial about the insidious influence K-16 education has on the professions that shape public opinion: schools of journalism, education, law, social work are monoliths of the Left. Add the power of left-wing accreditation bodies and you have "the sound of one hand clapping"--the left hand, of course. Above all, there is the problem of ignorance and miseducation of our youth. Yes, surveys may show that graduates retain some of the values they had prior to entering college. Yet they are not educated well enough to refute left-wing attacks. Let me give you an example: Since 1995, I have advised College Republicans and Campus Libertarians. The knowledge base of libertarian and conservative students has seriously eroded. If I ask "why are you a libertarian? Why are you a conservative?" The answer is superficial: "because I am not a liberal." Oy vey! These students may retain a vague belief in individual freedom, nondiscrimination, and meritocracy but they fail to argue effectively against the Left. Why? Because they have never been exposed to information subverting the smug assumption that Leftists have always have been "the angels of history." Conservatives and libertarians are (and always have been) the villains, according to this fairy tale. That brings me to my book Race and Liberty in America: The Essential Reader (University Press of Kentucky, in association with the Independent Institute, 2009). This reader debunks the crazy notion that belief in individual freedom, capitalism, and colorblind law = racism. The book highlights how Frederick Douglass, Branch Rickey, Zora Neale Hurston, Clarence Thomas and others consistently championed the bedrock belief that all discrimination is wrong--and they embraced a philosophy of limited government. They experienced first-hand how the State acts as sponsor of discrimination. Back to the football analogy. Here is the offense: those "angels of history" on the Left--labor unions, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, and LBJ--committed some of the worst racist actions in our history. Labor unions demanded a ban on Chinese immigration--the first race-based exclusion of an entire race. Wilson segregated the federal government. LBJ declared that an anti-lynching bill was worse than lynching itself. FDR defended quotas to keep Jews from overwhelming Harvard (where he sat on the Board of Trustees). Roosevelt also wrote that interracial "mingling" (marriage) produced "horrific results." As president, FDR blocked Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and interned Japanese Americans during World War II. Not surprising. In each of these cases, the classic liberals in my book fought against those typically portrayed as "angels" in history. It is time for so-called liberals to give up the race hustle and learn their history. In so doing, they may discover some heroes of the classic liberal sort--neither Left nor Right--but committed to racial freedom and equality.

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