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President Bush's "Care Not" Policy

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By Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.

"Care Not" Policy Reflects Douglas Not Lincoln


When it comes to race, Republicans like to remind Americans they are the party of Lincoln. Well, let's review some of Lincoln's history.

Senator Stephen A. Douglas (D-IL) introduced the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which was based on the "democratic" concept of "popular sovereignty."

It allowed people in the territories of Kansas and Nebraska to decide for themselves whether or not to allow slavery within their
borders. It became law on May 30, 1854.

The Act served to repeal the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which prohibited slavery north of the colloquial Mason-Dixon line. Kansas-Nebraska dramatically escalated the controversy over slavery.

In 1854, Lincoln gave a speech in opposition to Kansas-Nebraska. It spelled out a moderate, but central, theme that he used in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, his presidential campaign of 1860, and it became the rationale for his conduct of the Civil War between 1861 and 1865.

Lincoln wanted to end slavery - in an evolutionary manner - by not bothering it where it existed, but not allowing it to spread westward into the new territories. His strategy was that elected officials from free states would eventually outnumber their colleagues in the slave states and vote to end slavery.

Lincoln made his moral argument against slavery in the famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas senatorial debates. Still insistent on applying his principle of popular sovereignty, Douglas argued in the debates that he "did not care" whether slavery was voted up or down in the new territories.

Lincoln responded to this "care not" policy with a moral argument: "Everything that emanates from [Douglas] or his coadjutors, carefully excludes the thought that there is anything wrong with slavery. . . . If you do admit that it is wrong, Judge Douglas can't logically say that he doesn't care whether a wrong is voted up or down."

George Bush first sounded more like Stephen Douglas than Abraham Lincoln in South Carolina during his presidential campaign in his response to the controversy over the Confederate Flag. He said he was sure the good people of South Carolina could resolve this issue - a morally neutral states' rights and popular sovereignty response.

Like Trent Lott, candidate Bush was pandering to Strom Thurmond then!
President Bush knows what Trent Lott said. He knows what his words communicated to most Americans. He knows, at the least, they represented massive racial insensitivity, if not outright racism.

He now knows Trent Lott's upbringing and life-long association with extremely racist people, groups and organizations. He knows Trent Lott's anti-black and anti-civil rights voting record. Yet, President Bush is acting more like a morally neutral Stephen Douglas than a morally convicted Abraham Lincoln in dealing with Trent Lott and his race record.

While President Bush has strongly criticized Senator Lott's words, he is exhibiting a "care not" attitude by saying he will neither intervene to save his leadership nor take any overt action to defeat him.

Like Democrat Douglas's position in the Kansas-Nebraska Act debate, President Bush is taking a morally neutral "care not" position on a critical question of race.

Bush said America's segregated past ''was unfaithful to our founding ideals.'' But anything short of a request for Lott's resignation as Senate majority leader is a wink and a nod to the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) and its like-minded voters.

In other words, the leader of the party of Lincoln today is acting more like the 1850s Democrat Douglas than the Republican Lincoln. Bush seems to be saying - like the morally neutral "popular sovereignty" theme of Kansas-Nebraska - I "care not" whether Senator Lott becomes the face of the Republican Party as the Senate Majority Leader in the 108th Congress.

Let the people (the Senate) decide. Like Pontius Pilate, the President said his piece on race, so now he's washing his hands.
Why can't the leader of the party of Lincoln offer greater moral leadership on the question of race than a morally neutral, let the Senate decide, "care not" position?

Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., represents the 2nd District of Illinois and is the author of A More Perfect Union.

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