Jewish World Review December 18, 2002/ 13 Teves 5763
Lott's last gasp?
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | It's just a matter of time before Trent Lott steps down as Senate Majority Leader. In fact, it's possible that even before Congress convenes on Jan. 7, the smarmy Mississippian will have already done the right thing for his party, president and country. As Lott exits, it's worth pointing out that his self-inflicted controversy is a nonpartisan issue, most of which is based purely on political calculation by both Democrats and Republicans, and not just the Senator's bumbling set of apologies for making a dumb remark on the occasion of Strom Thurmond's retirement.
The sanctimony has been unbearable: Lott became majority leader in '96, succeeding Bob Dole, and yet there wasn't a liberal politician or journalist who produced the voluminous paper trail of his past offensive remarks. Why is that? The answer's obvious: There was nothing to gain. Bill Clinton was cruising to reelection against the inept challenger Dole, with the black vote in his back pocket, so the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation was satisfied to keep mum, on the off-chance that a debate over Lott might create a backlash, inflaming Southern whites to jam polling locations.
For example, Newsweek's Jon Meacham reports the following anecdote in the Dec. 23 issue. "It was just a quick stop, at a store on a campaign trip through the Northeast more than a dozen years ago. Trent Lott, then a Mississippi congressman about to make his move for the Senate, was visiting a state for a Republican candidate. When Lott walked in, he asked: 'Why aren't there any black people here?' a source who has spent time with him in unguarded moments tells Newsweek.
Nervously, someone explained that this was not the most diverse of regions. 'Not even behind the counter?' Lott said.
Warming to his punch line, Lott added: 'We'd be happy to send you up some if you need any,' and then chuckled."
Lott's never been popular in the mainstream media, so it's baffling why such stories haven't surfaced before last week.
Is Lott a racist? I've never met the man and so can't offer an opinion other than he probably does have fading segregationist beliefs because of where he was raised. By the same token, Sen. Robert Byrd, the Democratic windbag and former KKK member, who last year spoke on Fox News about "white niggers," is likely to have similar private views on race as Lott. Ditto for the elderly and dotty Sen. Fritz Hollings of South Carolina, another Democrat, who's been known to speak of "darkies."
Is Jesse Jackson, inexplicably still the "moral conscience" of black America, an anti-Semite, not to mention a moral hypocrite, demonstrated by his calling New York City "Hymietown?" Likely.
And is Al Sharpton, a "reverend" who one hopes runs for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, a bigot? Of course he is, as anyone who's followed his career in New York knows.
It's possible Lott figured he could weasel out of his jam because Democrats like Byrd, Hollings, Jackson and Sharpton, after pro forma apologies, succeeded. But it's a demonstration of Lott's lack of political acumen that he doesn't realize that there's a double-standard for Republicans when the issue is race. It's not fair, but no one forced Lott to run for office. Those are simply the rules.
As I wrote last week, Lott's never been an effective leader, and by all rights should've been deposed several years ago. I can still remember with disgust his steadfast support of Richard Nixon during the '74 impeachment hearings (when Lott was in the House of Representatives), long after it was clear that Nixon wouldn't survive as president. In recent years he's been out-maneuvered by Tom Daschle in legislative battles, was far too timid in seeking Clinton's conviction in the Senate after the President was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, and has always preferred procuring pork for Mississippi than serving the greater interests of the GOP.
All week, I waited for the modern Barry Goldwater-who famously met with Nixon and told him the jig was up-but aside from President Bush, who delivered a withering speech in Philadelphia last week that harshly rebuked Lott, no Republican was up to the task until last Sunday, when Sen. Don Nickles called for Lott to step aside. Nickles' position would be stronger if he declined to run for Majority Leader. In addition to Nickles, Sen. Chuck Hagel said, as reported by Monday's Wall Street Journal: "The genie is out of the bottle... This thing is growing like poison ivy around everyone's ankles. Every Republican senator is going to have to take a stand."
Some criticized Bush for not demanding Lott's resignation in his speech, but that's not a decision for the President, but rather Lott's Senate colleagues.
Bush has been called almost every name in the Democratic playbook-imbecile, corporate tool, moron, Karl Rove's puppet, illiterate, etc.-but not even John Kerry, Howell Raines, Kweisi Mfume or Charlie Rangel has labeled him a racist. Bush said in Philadelphia: "Recent comments by Senator Lott do not reflect the spirit of our country. He has apologized and rightly so.
Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals. And the founding ideals of our nation and, in fact, the political party I represent was and remains today the equal dignity and equal rights of every American. And this is the principle that guides my administration: we will not and we must not rest until every person of every race believes in the promise of America because they see it in their own eyes, with their own eyes, and they live it and feel it in their own lives."
There's little doubt that Bush will be glad to see Lott step down. On Dec. 14, at Bush Sr.'s presidential library in Texas, White House strategist Rove telegraphed his boss' feelings in no uncertain terms. He said, according to the Houston Chronicle: "In the  election, one of the greatest failures of the campaign was to get 9 percent of the African-American vote. No party can be a great party if it does so poorly in such an important part of our great culture...
"We [Republicans] helped create this problem. We've got to work at solving it.
"People are not going to change their attitudes overnight. They want to hear from us time and time again. Even when we share common values and common outcomes... they're still suspicious of us-and they have good reason to be."
A Dec. 12 New York Times editorial, calling for Lott's ouster as leader, conceded that Bush is not the George Wallace/David Duke figure that the wealthy proprietors of The Nation might imagine. The paper concluded: "No one has put more effort than George W. Bush into ending the image of the Republican Party as a whites-only haven. For all the disagreement that many African-Americans have with his policies, few can doubt Mr. Bush's commitment to a multiracial America."
Not surprisingly, the Times' op-ed columnist Paul Krugman didn't agree with his own paper's editorial. (Krugman, of course, is allowed to dissent with Raines, unlike back-of-the-bus sportswriters like Dave Anderson.)
On Friday, Krugman wrote: "My guess is that the White House believes it has now done enough. Mr. Lott has received his slap on the wrist; now he can go back to business as usual. "Bear in mind that while Mr. Bush finally denounced Mr. Lott's remarks [as opposed to Daschle, who excused Lott for a slip of the tongue shortly after the Thurmond party], he and his party benefit from the strategy that allows the likes of Mr. Lott to hold so much power. Let's not forget, in particular, the blatant attempts to discourage minority voting in South Dakota, Louisiana, Maryland and elsewhere. It's about time for those of us in the press to pay attention, and let this great, tolerant nation know what's really going on."
Krugman apparently suffers from amnesia. While there's little doubt that Republicans have been practitioners of dirty tricks in elections, some aimed at lowering minority turnout, the Democrats are equally as guilty. Like in South Dakota this year, when Rep. John Thune was ambushed by funny business on Indian reservations. Or Bill Clinton's notorious comments in the '98 midterms that black churches would burn if Republicans were elected. Or the repugnant James Byrd ad run in the 2000 presidential election that implied then-Gov. Bush bore responsibility for his fellow Texan's horrible death. Not to mention New York's senators Hillary Clinton and Charles Schumer recently voting against strict measures against voter fraud, claiming that showing proper identification was unfair to their constituents.
The Princeton professor-one hesitates to call Krugman a legitimate economist-also found it unnecessary to at least mention the torrent of conservative commentators and newspapers who've repudiated Lott. Even a partial list is staggering: The Wall Street Journal, The National Review, The New York Sun, The New York Post, The Weekly Standard, Charles Krauthammer, Linda Chavez, Peggy Noonan, Zev Chafets, Thomas Sowell, Cal Thomas, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, William Bennett, John McWhorter and John Fund.
The Boston Globe's excellent Jeff Jacoby, who's to the right of President Bush, wrote on Dec. 12: "You don't have to be a liberal-or a Democrat, or black-to be appalled by Trent Lott. You only have to be a mensch-or enough of one to regard Jim Crow and its trappings as one of the most shameful chapters in American history. Is that the view of Lott's Republican colleagues in the US Senate? If so, let them prove it by replacing him as majority leader when the new Senate convenes next month...
"Mississippi voters are free to send anyone they want to the US Senate-even a witless yahoo who waxes nostalgic for the pre-civil rights South. But Republicans in the Senate are under no obligation to make them their leader. Lott is a disgrace to the party. The longer his party waits to repudiate him, the steeper price it will pay."
Dick Morris, a former consultant to Lott, believes his friend will survive the internecine battle. Morris is almost always wrong about political predictions, which doesn't bode well for the Senator. In yesterday's JWR, he wrote: "[I]t's December; everybody will leave that hateful place [Washington] and go to their homes for Christmas. When they reconvene in January, Trent Lott will still be there for one good reason: The Republican senators don't want him to go."
Sure thing, Dick. And I suppose Al Sharpton will defeat George W. Bush in 2004.
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.