Jewish World Review Dec. 12, 2002 / 7 Teves, 5763

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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GOP ideologues turning on Lott --- better sacrifice the leader than the party | Trent Lott either meant what he said, or he didn't. In either case, if Lott does not resign voluntarily as Senate Majority Leader, his Republican colleagues should fire him.

At the 100th birthday party for retiring Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) Dec. 5, Lott noted that his home state of Mississippi had voted for Thurmond when he ran for president in 1948, and that Mississippi was "proud" that it had.

Lott went on to say that if the rest of the nation had followed Mississippi's lead, "we wouldn't have had all these problems."

Thurmond, then the governor of South Carolina, was the candidate of the Dixiecrat Party, whose sole reason for being was to preserve segregation. So more than a few people wonder what "problems" Lott had in mind that he thought would have been averted had Thurmond been elected in 1948. Blacks in public schools? Blacks voting? Blacks buying a home in Lott's neighborhood?

I don't believe Lott is a bigot who longs for the "good old days" when blacks in the South were denied civil rights. I think he went overboard in an oleaginous tribute to a remarkable man who long ago (at least in public) repented of his segregationist ways.

But I'm not entirely sure. The Clarion -Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi reported this week that Lott, then a Congressman, had made a very similar remark at a campaign event in 1980 at which Thurmond spoke. And Lott did get his start in politics as an aide to Sen. James Eastland (D-Miss), arguably the biggest racist in Congress at that time.

And Doug Thompson, in his web log, The Rant, quotes two former Senate staffers who said they have heard Lott utter racial slurs in private. The only possible defense for Lott - that he is an idiot, not a bigot - is an insufficient reason to keep him in a leadership position.

It was conservative web bloggers like Thompson who first expressed indignation over Lott's remark. Reporters for "mainstream" journals largely overlooked it in their accounts of the birthday party for Thurmond, but Glenn Harlan Reynolds (the Instapundit) and Andrew Sullivan immediately called for Lott's head, swiftly to be joined by David Frum and Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online, and Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard.

Lott made his remark on a Thursday. After Reynolds, Sullivan et. al. had been banging on him over the weekend, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and the rest of the usual suspects joined in the criticism the following Monday.

Some have noted more than a little hypocrisy in the belated outrage being expressed by Jackson, Sharpton et al. In an interview with Fox News on March 4, 2001, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WVa) spoke of white (racial epithet blacks find extremely offensive, except when they are using the term to describe each other). This passed without a word of criticism from black leaders. On Oct. 22 of this year, Bill Clinton travelled to Fayetteville, Ark., for a dedication of a statue to the late Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark), the Vietnam war dove who was also a rabid segregationist. Again, not a peep from Jackson or Sharpton.

But what Byrd and Clinton said can be distinguished from what Lott said. Byrd issued a prompt and abject apology. "The phrase dates back to my boyhood, and has no place in today's society," he said. "As for my language, I had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone else's race."

Compared to what Byrd said, Lott's apology has been lame.

And Clinton praised Fulbright the man without giving the appearance of endorsing Fulbright's noxious views on race.

Trent Lott is a nice guy. There is no other way to explain why he is in a leadership position. It certainly isn't competence. When last Lott was Majority Leader, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) routinely ate his lunch.

It's a harsh punishment to lose one's job because of what I hope and pray was a stupid but innocent remark, misconstrued. But it is better that Lott suffer for what he said than that the Republican Party be tainted because of what he said.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly