Racism Exposes our Own
December 17, 2002
By Jerome Doolittle
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
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
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