There was a time before the passage of major civil rights legislation when discrimination was the law of the land. It was ugly and overt and codified into law by years ofindifference to the Constitution by those who claimed to revere it most.
In those days, discrimination's apologists never had to raise their voices. It was understood by the majority of Americans that a God-given right to free association trumped everything, including expectations of equal opportunity, colorblind justice, a quality education and a non-biased workplace.
Before the civil rights movement challenged the status quo, America was dominated by white males. Those in power subscribed to laissez-faire economics, a muscular foreign policy that sought to expand markets overseas, a knee-jerk accommodation to corporate power and a toothless Christianity that preached contempt for the poor.
Racial and religious minorities, women and homosexuals were relegated to the margins of society or reduced to second-class status in their homes. Even children were considered just a notch or two above property.
This is the era that commentator Pat Buchanan and his terminally nostalgic colleagues at Fox News think of as "the good ol' days." They miss the time when their fathers and other well-meaning white men exercised a level of social control no longer possible because too many minorities now believe they have rights not specifically enumerated in the Constitution.
Recently, Mr. Buchanan penned a defense of the Arizona law that Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed, which would have allowed discrimination against same-sex couples on religious grounds.
"What we are seeing in Arizona in microcosm is what we have witnessed in America for half a century: the growing intolerance of those who preach tolerance and the corruption of the concept of civil rights," he wrote in his most recent column.
Because conservative extremists like Mr. Buchanan continually lose their arguments on the merits, they've turned to whining about the "intolerance" shown to Christians who refuse to be complicit in the "sin of sodomy" by treating same-sex couples with respect.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson argued that tolerance and equal treatment of gays amounts to fascism if, say, a baker is forced to do business with a same-sex couple whom he'd rather not have anything to do with for religious reasons.
Mr. Carlson's logic was echoed in Rep. Michele Bachmann's contention on CNN that a veto of the Arizona law would effectively eviscerate "the rights of freedom of speech, expression and religious expression for the people of Arizona and set a terrible precedent."
This, of course, was the same argument used by white segregationists in the 1950s who insisted that sitting on the bus next to "subhuman mongrels" or serving them coffee at a Woolworth's was an affront to their religion, too.
While Mr. Carlson and Ms. Bachmann tried to win the argument by suggesting that Christians in Arizona were the ones being persecuted, Mr. Buchanan made a radically new proposal: "Suppose we repealed the civil rights laws and fired all the bureaucrats enforcing these laws," he wrote.
"Does anyone think hotels, motels and restaurants across Dixie, from D.C. to Texas, would stop serving black customers? Does anyone think there would again be signs sprouting up reading 'whites' and 'colored' on drinking fountains and restrooms?"
Mr. Buchanan sees the civil rights laws that keep Jim Crow at bay as the reason laws sanctioning discrimination are ruled unconstitutional. "[The civil rights laws] exist to validate the slander that America is a racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic country which would revert to massive discrimination were it not for heroic progressives standing guard," he wrote with a historical obliviousness.
Mr. Buchanan truly believes that only church-going white men heading traditional families experience bigotry in America. Unless we return to a pre-civil rights status quo of free association, America will continue down the path of intolerance. Up is down. War is peace. George Orwell's Big Brother would be proud.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.