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Jewish World Review Dec. 11, 2002/ 6 Teves, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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A whole Lott of trouble | Just as I always suspected. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott isn't a Republican at all, but is really a Democrat. How else to explain his remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration that have made the Republican Party look like what it swears it isn't - racist?

All the way down in Thurmond's home state of South Carolina, you could hear the collective thud as Washington Republicans slammed their heads on their desks: "Oh, no, Trent, Trent, say it ain't so."

Lott's comments were part of a general Stromfest during which the eldest statesman was feted for outliving everyone, including himself. Lott said he was proud that his state of Mississippi, known in South Carolina as "Thank Heaven for Mississippi" (translation: their SAT scores are even lower than ours), had supported Thurmond for president in 1948.

You'll recall that Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was running as the presidential nominee of the Dixiecrat Party against Democrat Harry Truman, a pro-civil-rights candidate, and Republican Thomas Dewey.

Dixiecrats, you'll also recall, were among other things pro-segregationist. Who can forget Thurmond's voice (I mean really) when he declared: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."

Finally, in 1948, you'll surely recall, blacks generally weren't allowed to vote in the deep South.

In the context of those facts, hear this from the new hero of the anti-right:

"I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it." (LAUGHTER) (APPLAUSE) "And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." (GASP) (SILENCE) (EAR-SHATTERING SOUND OF PINS DROPPING)

Hmmm, wonder which problems Herr Lott had in mind? That darned black vote? Those integrated public schools? Hip-hop? White flight? Black crime? The blind date that darkens the door of the white family room? (I'm just speculating here.)

Whatever he meant - and no one is rushing forth to explain - it was, er, spellbinding. Sort of like Yasser Arafat saying: "If only Hitler had survived, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years."

Lott apologized late Monday for his remarks, saying they were "a poor choice of words." Earlier, his spokesman had issued a short statement saying, "Senator Lott's remarks were intended to pay tribute to a remarkable man who led a remarkable life. To read anything more into these comments is wrong."

It is true that Thurmond is a remarkable man who has led a remarkable life. As a resident of South Carolina, I can attest to his popularity here regardless of past positions that are no longer popular or acceptable. Nearly everyone has a Strom story, usually about his being the first to call when a family member dies or a baby is born. His Dixiecrat, segregationist days are part of America's ugly past, and most South Carolinians are no more nostalgic for those times than are most New Yorkers or most Californians.

It's possible, as Lott's spokesman said, that the senator was merely paying tribute to Thurmond rather than eulogizing a segregated past. Surely even Lott isn't wistful for those times and the horrors played out to keep blacks from becoming full citizens?

But then you have to wonder why he said it. What was he thinking? What did Lott expect others to think when he invoked 1948, not exactly a banner year in America's trudge toward racial harmony, and a political platform that was racist by any other name?

One struggles for a plausible explanation. Granting Lott the benefit of the doubt - that he is not a knuckle-dragging racist blockhead - the most likely explanation is that Lott simply wasn't thinking at all. He didn't mean it. It was just a gaffe. On the other hand, as Michael Kinsley once noted, a gaffe is when a politician is honest.

No, no, I stick by my original theory. He's a Democrat, a plant programmed to say extraordinarily stupid things in order to burst the Republican Party's post-election bubble and provide the reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton a full deck of race cards to play until kingdom come. There can't be any other explanation.

Nobody's that dumb. Surely.

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