After rioting broke out in the Watts section of Los Angeles in August 1965, concerned Republicans persuaded Ronald Reagan to run for governor on a stern “law and order” platform. The former movie star did exactly that, trouncing California Gov. Pat Brown by 15 percentage points, the biggest prize among the eight governorships that the GOP picked up in 1966. And the Gipper was on his way to the White House.
We face a similar moment today. We need more Republicans, like Gov. Chris Christie, calling for an end to the mayhem outside of St. Louis and reminding the public, as then-Gov. Reagan advised the GOP’s 1968 platform committee: “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.” Spare us from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who parroted the phony line in Time: “Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.” That’s the tale the mainstream media want Americans to believe.
While the Kentucky senator considers the liberal press his base – much like his colleague Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) did in 2000 – the media and their accomplices continue to spin the Ferguson lawlessness as the latest chapter of their never-ending anti-American trope that casts African-Americans as permanent victims of a racist and bigoted country that never mended its ways. John Gaskin III of the St. Louis County NAACP, for example, has now declared Missouri “the most racist state in the country.”
So as “peaceful protesters” have destroyed all sorts of retail businesses, the Missouri governor and the U.S. attorney general, both Democrats, vent indignation over the release of footage showing a 6’4″, 300-pound Michael Brown roughing a diminutive immigrant cashier during a convenience-store robbery. That’s because the evidence doesn’t fit the mythology of an oppressive and hateful white America that the global Left and the Democratic party have preached since the assassination of JFK, a Cold Warrior, by a left-wing defector to the Soviet Union.
Indeed, media kingpins, who handle Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson with kid gloves, are on a constant witch-hunt for another Rodney King video. That nine-minute tape, too, is instructive: The only clip the media played in 1991 – over and over – was 20 seconds that framed the cops as the bad guys. Yet the entire video reveals the officers putting themselves in harm’s way to restrain King when they could have just shot him. For that restraint, the cops were subject to relentless prosecution, once for assault in state court (for which they were acquitted), and once again for violating King’s civil rights in federal court (for which they were found guilty). And Paul claims our biggest problem is the militarization of local police responding to civil upheaval.
Thanks to Fox News and the new media, the public has a more accurate picture of the events in Ferguson, a portrait that indicts the professional adversarial class that blames “the system,” not individual lawbreakers. As Fred Siegel writes in City Journal, “so many journalists and academics, not to mention black activists, have so much invested” in “the grotesque pantomime of repression and redemption,” condoning urban chaos as somehow virtuous. He calls it “riot ideology.”
Rather than enabling the politically correct groupthink, successful Republicans of the past debunked it. When LBJ’s Kerner Commission blamed “white racism” for the 1967 riots in Detroit and Newark, then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon lamented that its report “blames everyone for the riots except the perpetrators of the riots.” Likewise, the 1968 GOP platform shaped by Reagan’s input called not for liberal rationalizations but middle-class commonsense: “Respect for the law is the cornerstone of a free and well-ordered society… We must re-establish the principle that men are accountable for what they do” and “that criminals are responsible for their crimes.”
Were Sen. Paul following the Reagan-Nixon playbook, he would be standing up for Middle America – and her values, and acknowledging that the forgotten Silent Majority includes many African-Americans who are law-abiding, church-going folk who lead very different lives from those of the Ferguson troublemakers or their Upper West Side sympathizers. As Laura Ingraham tweeted, the rank-and-file are tired of being scolded as racists.
Moreover, Paul should not be afraid to ask: Why does President Obama continue to vacation with his rich liberal friends, emote vacuous lines like, “If I had son, he’d look like Trayvon,” and dispatch Eric Holder to cultivate grievances at every opportunity – rather than being the Nixon-goes-to-China leader who relieves racial tensions? But by not making waves, Paul gets lionized by Obama’s Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who justified the rioting on Meet the Press because Ferguson’s finest “don’t know the community.”
The bottom line: the libertarian junior senator is not merely the wrong GOP spokesman on Ferguson; he’s wrong for 2016. The party desperately needs an authentic conservative willing to fight, as did Reagan and Nixon in their day, for the country and the middle class against elites who condemn America – and her majority population – as the problem. That kind of leadership, sounding a clarion call for “law and order,” could save a party looking for redemption, and America.
— Robert W. Patterson served in the administrations of President George W. Bush and Governor Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania.