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

Jack Kelly

Jack Kelly
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Nothing better illustrates Trent Lott's unfitness for the post of Senate Majority Leader than his desperate efforts to cling to it | Nothing better illustrates Trent Lott's unfitness for the post of Senate Majority Leader than his desperate efforts to cling to it.

We would like to believe that our political leaders - regardless of their party affiliation or ideology - believe in, and are dedicated to something larger than themselves: to country, to party, to certain core principles. Trent Lott has made it clear that nothing is more important to Trent Lott than the well-being of Trent Lott.

Lott may believe, with some justification, that the controversial remark he made at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party is being maliciously misconstrued by hypocritical political opponents who gave Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WVa) a pass after he made a more racially obnoxious remark.

But Lott, and only Lott, is responsible for the trouble he's in. He put his own foot into his mouth when he appeared to endorse segregation. Then he compounded the damage by failing to apologize fully for the remark until after he had been scolded in public by the president. This may not be racism. But it surely is gross stupidity. Gross stupidity is not a desirable quality in a leader.

If Lott has more than a room temperature IQ, it ought to be clear to him that - whatever his intentions - he has gravely embarrassed his party, and become a threat to its legislative agenda.

Lott ought to recognize that his ability to lead has been irreparably compromised. He has become a figure of contempt and ridicule. Most conservative pundits have said, sometimes in pungent terms, that he should step down. JWR's Michelle Malkin called Lott a "gutless, ineffective, self-preservationist sap." Other commentators were less kind.

Among the newspapers which have said he should resign as Majority Leader are the Wall Street Journal, the New York Post, the Chicago Tribune, and his hometown newspaper in Pascagoula, Miss.

Lott ought to recognize also that he has lost the confidence of President Bush. In a rare, if not unprecedented rebuke to a senior leader of his own party, Bush gave Lott a severe tongue-lashing in his speech in Philadelphia last week. Lott sought expressions of support from Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice. No such statements were forthcoming. The president has been pushing him towards the door, but Lott still doesn't seem to get it.

Or maybe he does. There were reports over the weekend that Lott tried to blackmail President Bush into supporting him by threatening to resign from the Senate if he were forced out as Majority Leader. Since Mississippi has a Democratic governor, this means Lott would be replaced by a Democrat.

Lott's office denied that this threat was made. But a Lott ally, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) raised the possibility in a Sunday talk show. Fortunately, the White House was not intimidated.

If Lott indeed made such a threat, then it is all the more imperative that Lott be removed as Majority Leader. Better that Republicans lose a seat in the Senate, even lose the majority, than that Republicans in the Senate be "led" by a (maybe) bigoted, blackmailing, selfish coward.

Lott hopes he can hunker down and the controversy will blow over. But it is unlikely to. The anger expressed by conservatives is genuine and deep. I became a Republican, at age 15, mostly because the GOP is the party of Lincoln. The fight against slavery was the greatest cause in American history. Racism is not merely a stain on the promise of America. It is a sin.

Lott seeks forgiveness for what he maintains - and I am willing to believe - was a stupid but innocent remark, misconstrued. But before forgiveness can be granted, there must be remorse, and there ought to be atonement. And exile to a committee chairmanship is not exactly the same as exile to Siberia.

Sen. Don Nickles (R-OK) broke a craven silence by Senate Republicans Sunday by publicly calling for Lott to step down. It is time now for his GOP colleagues to find their spines, and to remember their party's founding principle.

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© 2002, Jack Kelly