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Lott's Racism Exposes our Own
December 17, 2002
By Jerome Doolittle

The last few months have been unusually rewarding for those of us who enjoy zombie marches -- that stumbling lurch toward the graveyard by public men who are dead but don't yet know it.

First came Harvey Pitt, and then Cardinal Law, and just today on CNN we had Trent Lott, at full lurch in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The audience poll that appeared on the screen even before the senator was finished showed only 39 per cent of viewers satisfied with his voluminous apologies.

My personal favorite in this revolting display of insincerity was, "I'm not about to resign (as Senate majority leader) for an accusation of something I'm not." No one, of course, was accusing him of something he's not. He is accused of being a racist, a fact which he has hardly bothered to conceal throughout his long political career.

The senator explained his indiscretion of last week as "an effort to encourage an elderly gentleman to feel good . . . I couldn't say it was prepared remarks. As a matter of fact I was winging it."

When a reporter pointed out that he had winged it in almost the same words twenty years earlier, the soon-to-be-former majority leader gave this curious response:

"I've heard about the 1980 incident and I don't deny that almost the same words were used."

The suggestion seemed to be that the senator has an evil twin named Lott Trent who blurts out racist garbage from the wings every now and then, thereby mortifying his poor old Afro-American-loving brother.

Apart from these semi-high points, Lott's performance was subpar for this sort of thing. Clinton did it better, when Gennifer Flowers erupted during the 1992 New Hampshire primary. Even Nixon did it better, in the Checkers speech.

Lott began in the traditional way of Southern segs, claiming to have been doing the Lord's work behind the scenes: "We worked hard to overcome that (segregation) and to bring about reconciliation." He made no mention of the small arsenal of guns removed from his fraternity house by the troops that Kennedy had to send in to desegregate Old Miss. Lott was president of the fraternity.

The years having taught Senator Lott wisdom, he now wants "a color-blind society." And he does not want "the soft racism of lowered expectations." George W. Bush's speechwriters may call it "soft bigotry," but Trent Lott tells it like it is.

As Republicans always do when caught with their mean side showing, Lott tried to pass as a Democrat, demanding top-notch education for all, good-paying jobs, human dignity. He sounded like Teddy Kennedy with a mouthful of grits.

Lott's father was a sharecropper, he said. His mother taught school. He himself is a religious man who has read the Bible all his life, but only now has it been vouchsafed to him fully to understand what the scriptures mean by, "a broken spirit, a contrite and humble heart."

Well, you get the idea. Let us now turn to William Safire, who gave his opinion of the Lott affair on "Meet the Press" last week, "The thing that comes to mind with me is what we've all said here, that the black vote is monolithic, that it's running 90 and 92 percent Democratic. I think that's bad for black Americans."

If I've got this right, Safire is saying that blacks would be better off voting Republican. Hey, I can relate. Having long felt that German Jews would have done better to vote the straight National Socialist ticket.

In the New York Times, Adam Clymer pointed out that Senator Lott's remarks at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party were at first treated by the press with "amnesiac calm." This is true, and points to one of the most distressing things about the whole distressing mess.

We have lived so long with the soft racism of the Republican Party that we no longer think it is news. On the rare occasions when the truth is brought to our attention, we are shocked, shocked. Who would have dreamed that the Senate majority leader was of all things aracist. The horror, the horror.

Well, snap out of it, people. Almost half of us voted to put a Republican from Texas in the White House. Then we proceeded to give control of Congress to the most reactionary wing of our new president's party.

Most of us knew exactly what we were doing, too, just as we knew when we put Nixon and Reagan and Bush senior in the White House. We understood their nudges and winks and code words, even as we pretended otherwise.

If we're mad at Lott now, it's because he broke the unspoken rules of the game. He brought America's huge, shameful secret out into the open.

His punishment is to do the zombie walk, not for his sins, but for revealing our own.

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