Jewish World Review Dec. 18, 2002 / 13 Teves 5763

Thomas Sowell

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Lott, race, and hypocrisy: Part II | Behind the endless apologies of Senator Trent Lott is the implied threat, expressed obliquely by his ally Senator Mitch McConnell, that Lott might resign from the Senate if stripped of his role as majority leader. This is denied by Senator Lott, but Washington denials are not always all that they might seem.

If Trent Lott were to resign, that would leave the Republicans with just 50 senators and Vice President Dick Cheney's vote to break ties. That is as thin a majority as you can have.

Unappetizing as this prospect may be, it might well be a lesser evil than having Trent Lott as an albatross around the Republicans' neck as they engage in political battles in Congress and then in the elections of 2004.

Indeed, were the Republicans to oust Senator Lott from his post as majority leader, they would have made a dramatic statement that would not only put this whole distracting episode behind them, but also undermine the Democrats' long-standing and repeated attempts to paint them as "racists."

The time is long overdue for the Republicans to stop being apologetic on racial issues and to go on the offensive. After repudiating Trent Lott, they could do it.

Republicans could start by setting the facts of history straight. A higher percentage of Republicans than Democrats voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was Republicans who, for better or worse, created racial quotas for blacks in the 1969 "Philadelphia Plan."

It was Democrats who put confederate flags on Southern state capitols as a sign of defiance against the advancement of civil rights.

Today, when going after minority voters, Republicans can offer things that Democrats cannot possibly offer -- the most important being vouchers to provide a decent education for their children. Democrats have to oppose vouchers because the teachers' unions oppose vouchers -- and Democrats are beholden to these unions, both for money and for their ability to get out the votes on election nights.

It is Democrats who are for disarming law-abiding citizens in the face of heavily armed criminals. Hard data show that crimes against minorities and women have declined the most where state laws have allowed citizens with clean records to carry guns.

Republicans need to appeal to minority voters with Republican issues, not by trying to imitate the Democrats. But nothing that Republicans can do will erase the image that Trent Lott has created, except by repudiating him as majority leader.

Some may consider it unfair to come down hard on Senator Lott for saying things that were no worse than a Democrat gets away with saying. But, however unfair and hypocritical many of Trent Lott's critics may be, he is not just an innocent victim.

Senator Lott's ability to understand and care about the effect of his remarks and actions on others has never been his strong suit, whether the issue was race or anything else.

A few years ago, while the military had an important ruling pending on a high-profile case involving a woman pilot, Trent Lott was on nationwide TV spouting off on how he thought they should decide the issue -- oblivious to the larger and longer-run consequences of such political kibitzing on the whole system of military justice and morale.

In 1998, Senator Lott's remarks urging Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr to hurry up his investigation caused his own House counterpart, Speaker Newt Gingrich, to ask him what he was thinking about when making such public statements. Lott was probably not thinking about much of anything, just shooting from the hip as usual.

Nor did Senator Lott hesitate to pull the rug out from under his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives by setting up crippling preconditions for a Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton that cut off the House Republicans at the knees.

Senator Lott has long been an equal-opportunity disregarder of larger issues, other people, and other institutions. The big question now is whether the decision to stay or go as majority leader will be left in his hands.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, "Controversial Essays." (Sales help fund JWR.)


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate