Sunday, December 15, 2002
TRENT LOTT, POLITICS AND RACE: For Republicans and conservatives, particularly white Republicans and conservatives, the first step in reaching out to African-Americans is there has to be an acknowledgment of the profound pain and suffering endured by the black community throughout America's history. The average black person will not even to listen to a Republican if they don't think that candidate doesn't "get it" when it comes to what it was like to be black in America, in our country's first two-hundred years.

So the issue with Trent Lott isn't whether he is a racist or a segregationist. The issue is, does he "get it?" When he waxes nostalgically about Jefferson Davis or Strom Thurmond the problem isn't that he is suggesting we go back to slavery or Jim Crow. The problem is he seems to have no understanding and shows no empathy of what it was like to be black in Jefferson Davis's Confederacy or Strom Thurmond's Dixiecrat South. And like I said last week, for someone who was born in Mississippi in 1941, grew up in Mississippi in the '40s and '50's, and attended the University of Mississippi in the early 1960's you have to wonder how the hell he doesn't "get it"?

And you know what, I don't care. I accept Trent Lott's apology and I don't think Lott is a racist, but this isn't about Trent Lott. This is about the future of the Republican Party and the future of this great nation. Contrary to the hysterical spinnings of the liberal left (Paul Krugman, Eleanor Clift, Bob Herbert) the GOP is not the party of racists, the Republican Party isn't the party that winks, nods and throws "code words" to racists. Liberals and Democrats may want America to think that is what the Republican Party is all about, but that simply is not the truth.

How often does the leftist press remind the country that a greater proportion of Republican Senators and Representatives voted for the 1964 civil rights bill than did Democrats? But Republicans aren't guiltless on the issue of race as they did embrace a "Southern Strategy" that exploited racial tensions and in many ways was the foundation of the current GOP powerbase in the new South. But the reality is those tactics, where they were used, in the 60's, 70's and to a lesser a degree the 80's are now thankfully mostly a thing of the past. While there may be a few isolated campaigns where those tactics may still be employed they are now dwarfed by the Democratic Party's racially polarizing tactics. The liberal press completely turns a blind eye to the lies and hatred the Democratic Party spews toward Republicans in the final weeks of campaigns in order to turn out the black vote in the 90% plus numbers they need to win elections.

I won't even get into the ridiculous double standard and hypocrisy of the Democrats when it comes to race where Senators Byrd and Hollings racist remarks go completely ignored by the left. But this current fiasco isn't a Democratic problem, it's a Republican problem, and because the GOP does have the historical baggage of sometimes using racially divisive strategies in the post-civil rights years (1964 through the early eighties) the Party can not have as its leader some one who doesn't "get it" when it comes to race in America. John M. 1:53 pm

Saturday, December 14, 2002
THE APOLOGY: From the minute I heard Lott was holding a press conference not to resign but to apologize again, I had the sinking feeling it was going to be a train wreck - and that's exactly what it was. I didn't have quite the visceral reaction to Lott's apology that some people had, but as soon as the Senator launched into his family's sharecropper background and begin reciting the names of all the black people he's ever known, helped, employed, etc., I felt like reaching through the television and cuffing the guy. He just doesn't get it.

Lott says he won't resign because he's not a racist and stepping down would effectively be admitting that he is one. Sorry pal, it doesn't work that way. That's the trick about public service: we can never know what's in the hearts of our leaders. The best we can do is to examine their statements, actions, and voting records and then make a decision as to whether we want them to represent us. Lott has spent a lifetime building such a record and now he's reaping the fruits of it. This isn't to say Lott is and has always been an out-and-out racist, but that his remarks about Thurmond - even if they were meant benignly - represent the tipping point in a career that has been spent being too tolerant of intolerance and too cozy with abhorrent organizations like the CCC. Such a record simply isn't acceptable for one of the national leaders of the Republican party. Nor, in my opinion, should it be acceptable for the people of Mississippi - but that's for them to decide.

In the end, nothing has changed or will change. Lott can shed tears, go on BET for hours, schedule meeting after meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus, and pass as many bills as he wants to try and placate African-American groups, but it's too late. The train has left the station and there's no bringing it back.

Astoundingly, it looks like the Senate Republicans are incapable of doing the right thing. The fact they all chose to sit on the sidelines and wait to see if Lott could extricate himself from the situation instead of publicly denouncing his comments as antithetical to the ideals of the Republican party is a pathetic abdication of their responsibilities as leaders in this country.

TOMORROW: If you can stomach any more discussion of the Lott ordeal here's your menu for the Sunday shows. - T. Bevan 9:07 am

Friday, December 13, 2002
LOTS MORE LOTT: The President's speech was right on the mark, though I'm still disappointed by the silence of Senate Republicans. But let me ask, is anybody else tired of this story?

Now that it's gone mainstream, things have gotten a little out of hand. Exhibit A is today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution which carries five, that's right, five stories on Lott including this one:

'Hooters' Joke Renews Lott's War With NOW

Now the guy is an unrepentant sexist and racist. I certainly don't want to get into the business of defending Trent Lott, but I think it's worth noting that now that the floodgates are open, everyone is rabidly sifting through Lott's record ascribing a racist motivation to every vote he's ever taken and everything he's ever said. Again, given Lott's record people have the right to be skeptical, but that doesn't necessarily make it all so.

Take Josh Marshall, for instance. He's posted a ton on this story (most of which I agree with, by the way), but I think in his aggressive push to assemble evidence of Lott's bigotry he's fired a few blanks. Like this post about Lott voting against establishing a "Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner Day" in honor of three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964. Marshall presents this item as another "gotcha" on Lott and suggests that because they made a movie about the tragic event it somehow has more moral weight and thus confirms Lott's racist motivations. As I said before, Josh has a right to be skeptical and is free to ascribe racism where and when he wants, but this one struck me as a bit of an overreach. Sort of like saying that anyone who votes against the establishment of a "Matthew Shepard Day" is a homophobe. I half-expect to see Josh breaking more news:

TPM EXCLUSIVE: Three years ago Trent Lott revealed in an interview that he doesn't like chocolate ice cream! Yet another example of Lott's troubled racial history.

I'm kidding, of course, but you get my point.

The piece in Time yesterday also left a sour taste in my mouth, only in the sense that it seemed like a personal vendetta and a chance for former CNN President Tom Johnson to publicly assuage his own guilt over his involvement in the fraternity episode. Just the facts, please.

More than anything I'd like this to end. More specifically, I'd like Trent Lott to do the right thing and end it himself - and soon.

CALLING MR. FITZGERALD: A quick expansion on my point above about the disappointing response of Senate Republicans. For a very vulnerable Republican Senator hoping to avoid a primary challenge and seeking to be reelected in 2004 in a state where he will need moderate Republican and Independent votes, I'm speechless as to why Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL) hasn't publicly denounced Trent Lott's comments and nominated someone else for Majority Leader. Decrying Lott's remarks isn't just good politics, it's unequivocally the right thing to do. And Fitzgerald - who has made a reputation for himself as an indpendent by breaking ranks with the GOP on many issues - could do himself and the party a whole lot of good by stepping up and taking the lead. Not to mention it's easy to imagine how much fun Jesse Jackson will have in his hometown wreaking havoc over the issue if Fitzgerald remains silent.

LUCKY REPUBLICANS: A reader emails the following thought for Republicans:

How lucky we are that Thurmond's birthday party was in December and not September or October. If it had been earlier, we would not have regained control of the Senate. Just as practical politican, Senator Lott should understand his actions threaten Republicn control of the Senate in 2004. But with Lott, just like Clinton and Gingrich, it is all about him. Me first these guys say. Screw the Party or the Country.

He's probably right on both counts - with the exception of Gingrich. Whether you agreed with him or not, Gingrich was a leader with a vision and ultimately resigned when he realized that he was hurting the party. If Lott gives a damn about the GOP then he should step up (or down, technically) and take his medicine.

LET THE RACE BEGIN: New poll on the '04 Dem Presidential race showing that although Kerry leads in New Hampshire, Gore holds strong leads in Iowa and South Carlolina. But if Gore chooses not to run, Kerry makes big gains in both those states. It must make 'ol Al feel pretty good having the entire party watching his every move with baited breath and holding them in suspended animation until he makes a decision. Or should I say until he officially announces that he's running again? - T. Bevan 8:30 am

Thursday, December 12, 2002
MORE APOLOGIES: No, not from us, from Senator Lott. I caught his phone interview on Larry King last night. It's a virtual carbon copy of his interview with Sean Hannity and even though he apologizes repeatedly and says "the right things", it's not enough. The biggest problem is that he's just not believable. I agree with Andrew Sullivan, Lott's answers are stuffed so full of Clintonian weasel words and clichés - including a pathetic reference to George Bush "let's be uniters not dividers" line - they dilute the conveyance of any sincere regret.

The problem isn't that Republicans want Lott to issue public apologies ad nauseum (even a thousand more interviews with Larry King aren't going to help) but that they seem to be asking for something that Lott can't give: a convincing expression of regret that repudiates segregation and racism. But even that probably won't be enough.

It's like the guy at the fancy dinner party who decides it's the perfect time to tell the joke about the Rabbi, the Priest and Lesbian to the horror of all the guests. And even though he may go on later to apologize and say it was in bad taste, it's too late - the words are already out there - and everyone is left wondering how in the hell the guy could think the joke was remotely funny in the first place. When something like that happens (especially more than once), you don't get invited back to dinner.

THE FUTURE: Here's the predictable result of Trent Lott's idiotic comments:

"The Republican Party has become a haven for white racist attitudes and anti-black policies. The party of Lincoln is now a safe house for bigotry. It's the party of the Southern strategies and the Willie Horton campaigns and Bob Jones University and the relentless and unconscionable efforts to disenfranchise black voters. For those who now think the Democratic Party is not racist enough, the answer is the G.O.P. And there are precious few voices anywhere in the G.O.P. willing to step up and say that this is wrong."

That's Bob Herbert in today's NY Times. For a liberal like Herbert who is constantly harping on the evils of stereotyping, he wastes no time painting the entire GOP as racist. (And who knew that lower taxes, school choice, faith-based charitable programs, and more accountability in education were "anti-black policies?")

Regarding the last line of the quote, even though Herbert omits any reference to the considerable outrage of conservative pundits that has been zipping around the Internet and voiced on many editorial pages (see today's RCP front page), I think he's referring to this. It's a good question: where are the Republican voices in the United States Senate condemning Trent Lott's comments?

Forget about the "collegiality" of the Senate and forget about defending the honor of a fellow Senator. This isn't about Trent Lott anymore (if it ever was), it's about the party. Lott's comments - whether they were intended, unintended, racist or not racist - have seriously injured the Republican party, plain and simple. For that reason alone he should step aside. He has damaged his ability and his credibility to lead the GOP. It's high time that someone, preferably a number of GOP Senators and President Bush, explicitly condemn Lott's comments and ask for Republicans to find a new Majority Leader. - T. Bevan 7:05am

Wednesday, December 11, 2002
APOLOGY: No blog yesterday - we had a couple of issues with the site that needed our urgent attention. Don't worry, we're back.

NEW BLOG: Reason Magazine has long been a favorite source of ours and their new blog called "Hit and Run" is a nice addition and exactly the sort of blog treatment you'd expect from them. Take a look.

THE SECOND TIME: It looks like Trent Lott has been choosing his words poorly since 1980 with respect to Strom Thurmond's 1948 Presidential candidacy. The last two paragraphs of this story nearly made me lose my stomach:

Mr. Crespino, a fellow at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who had the Clarion-Ledger article as part of his research, said he included Mr. Lott's comments in the introduction to his dissertation for their "shock value.

"I couldn't believe he said it in 1980, let alone 2002," he said. "These kinds of appeals to the racist right have been the G.O.P.'s dirty little secret for years."

Everybody get that? Racism is the 'GOP's dirty little secret." Not just Trent Lott, the entire party. Every member. This is exactly the sort of impression that Republicans should 1) be incredibly sensitive to avoid making at all times and 2) vehemently denounce any instance where it occurs. This is why Trent Lott's comments are so harmful to the party and why he shouldn't be allowed to continue as the national face of the GOP.

STILL WAITING: I love this story. House Democrats have been huddled inside the Capitol trying to come up with some sort of coherent economic plan. Um, guys, the election was last month. Better late than never, I guess.

Sure, they've taken time out to eat and bash the Bush administration's "failed policies", but the whole thing has a "give me a minute while I try and figure out what I think" feel to it. It's a bit different than Bush's economic forum last year which was more of "I already know what I believe but I need to resell it to America in a public way" type event. There is a certain hokiness to all of it. - T. Bevan 6:58 am

Monday, December 9, 2002
TRENT LOTT'S COMMENTS: ďI want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. Weíre proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn'tít have had all these problems over these years, either.Ē - Trent Lott at Senator Thurmond's 100th birthday party on Friday.

I hadn't heard of Trent Lott's comments until it came up on Meet the Press yesterday, here is the exchange.

BOB NOVAK: This was a birthday party, 100th birthday party, for Strom Thurmond. Trent Lott got out there and he winged it. Thatís one of the dangers of not having a text. He thought it was a social occasion. Heís thinking what comes to his mind. Heís saying-if you listen to the whole speech, heís making extravagant statements about Strom Thurmond, as he should on his 100th birthday. And he goes over the line. Now, the idea that Trent Lott thinks we should have a segregated America, that we should have had Strom Thurmond and Fielding Wright-Remember Fielding Wright, Tim?óhis vice presidential candidate, as the people running America in 1949... .is-itís nonsense. And I think that the idea that Jesse Jackson wants him to resign is ludicrous. I think it was a mistake. I donít think he was at all serious, and I donít even think we should dwell on it. The idea that race is important, I think, is the biggest problem for the Democrats as it is for the Republicans. And in South Carolina, where they had a disaster on November 5th, they were relying on the black vote and there just arenít enough blacks to do it.

JOE KLEIN: Well, I donít know. Maybe we should dwell on it a little bit, especially in an atmosphere where any Democrat is immediately saddled-where Max Cleland was saddled with Osama bin Laden in TV ads in Georgia. I think that if a Democrat had made an analogous statement, like if Henry Wallace had been elected in 1948, we would have had a much easier road with the Soviet Union because we would have just given them everything and there wouldnít have been a Cold War. You would have been jumping up and down. And I think that this kind of statement in this country at this time is outrageous, and it should be called that.

BOB NOVAK: I think the problem, Joe, is that he didnít come out with a statement saying, ďBoy, oh, boy, I thought this over and we should have had a Thurmond administration.Ē Heís at a damn birthday party. I mean, this is the kind of thing that makes people infuriated with the media, is they pick up something thatís said at a birthday party and turn it into a case of whether he should be impeached.

JOE KLEIN: Yeah, itís the mediaís fault.

BOB NOVAK: Yeah, right. I think it is that weíre talking about it.

DAVID BRODER: Why does the thought cross his mind that he...

BOB NOVAK: David, heís kidding around. He is-I donít know if you watched that speech. They were saying that this was the greatest living American, which Strom Thurmond certainly is not. Itís his birthday. Heís saying all these things. Boy, if he had been elected, weíd have been better off. Why donít we forget it?

I think Broder and Klien's attempt to suggest that there is something nefarious here is a complete reach. Novak's characterization of Lott's thinking is correct, he's at a birthday party making ridiculously embellished comments about Senator Thurmond and he says something off the cuff that he thinks is funny, but it is actually colossally stupid and offensive. Klien's pathetic analogy to a Democrat and Cleland is a complete joke. Senator Bob Byrd threw the N word around on national television and the only news channel that covered it to the best of my knowledge was FOX. So the Republican-Democrat double standard stuff is ridiculous.

What bothers me though, I want to know how can someone who was born in Mississippi in 1941, grows up in Mississippi in the '40s and '50's, attends the University of Mississippi in the early 1960's and then becomes a professional politician from Mississippi in the '70's be so clueless when it comes to the issue of race? Trent Lott knows damn well that Thurmond's Dixiecrat campaign in 1948 was about one thing, and that was maintaining white superiority in the South. So given Trent Lott's personal history and the fact he has been a national leader now for years, it should be absolutely impossible for him to make the ridiculous comment he made. Yet for some reason it isn't.

Bottom line, Lott needs to make a massive public apology ASAP or he needs to step down as Senate Majority leader. And even with an apology, the Republicans in the Senate should think long and hard whether this man is the best person for the job. JM 11:08 am

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