Democratic Underground  

A Lott To Be Ashamed Of
December 12, 2002
By Barbara O'Brien

Let's see if we've got this straight.

"Republicans must secretly enjoy being smeared as racists by their Democratic critics. There's simply no other way to explain the pathetic non-response of elected GOPers and their handful of media defenders to this weekend's attempt to paint Senate Majority Trent Lott as a dyed-in-the-wool, segregationist-loving bigot.

"Lott finds himself once again in the crosshairs of the Democratic racial sensitivity police over his birthday tribute to retiring South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond, who turned 100 last week." []

Oh, gracious me, those poor babies! Newsmax goes on to complain that the Libruhl Media said NOT ONE WORD about the fact that Roger Clinton (bro' of Bill) was heard using the "n" word on a 1984 police surveillance videotape. Shocking!

You've heard about how Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi got a tad carried away during a one-hundredth birthday celebration for the antique Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina by recalling with fondness Strom's third-party run for the presidency back in 1948.

Strom was a Democrat back in the post-Reconstruction period, as were most conservative white Southerners. Younger readers who are puzzled by this must remember that during and after the Civil War, the Republican party of Lincoln was (more or less) in favor of civil rights for African Americans, and the Democratic party was populated by ex-slave owners and other white racists. During Reconstruction (1865-1877), newly enfranchised African American men voted for Republicans and carried many elections. After Reconstruction, by means ranging from terrorism to legal trickery, the white Democratic establishment of the southern states saw to it that African Americans didn't vote at all.

In 1948, President Harry S Truman, running for a second term, and some other progressive Democrats nudged the party toward the light of racial equality. When the national convention adopted a strong civil rights plank, white Southern racists walked out and formed a States' Rights party, also called the Dixiecrats. Thurmond, who was governor of South Carolina at the time, was the Dixiecrat presidential nominee. The Dixiecrat platform had one plank: White supremacy. Thurmond ran well enough to receive 39 electoral votes.

Fast forward to last Thursday. Trent Lott said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over these years, either."

Folks, there is no way you can spin those words to make them not-racist.

Over the weekend, African American Democrats such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson denounced the remark. As Anthony York points out in Salon, white Democrats were a bit slower to catch on, but a few finally did. On Monday, Al Gore told Judy Woodruff of CNN, "It is not a small thing, Judy, for one of the half dozen most prominent political leaders in America to say that our problems are caused by integration and that we should have had a segregationist candidate. That is divisive and it is divisive along racial lines. That's the definition of a racist comment."

Most of the media either ignored the remark or downplayed it.

"It's strange and disturbing when Andrew Sullivan is angrier about Trent Lott's 'unreconstructed' racism than the editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Public Radio and the rest of the so-called liberal media establishment. John Kerry's haircut and Howell Raines' obsession with a golf club are topics of giggling comment in every TV studio - but the incoming Senate majority leader's public expression of nostalgia for the era of Jim Crow and lynching passes virtually without comment. If only Drudge had given the Lott story bigger play, maybe Judy Woodruff and the Times editorial board would consider it important." [Joe Conason, Salon, December 9, 2002]

Paul Krugman of the New York Times continues,

"It's unlikely that Mr. Lott will be forced to explain himself. The 'liberal media,' which went into a frenzy over political statements at Paul Wellstone's funeral, have largely ignored this story. To take the most spectacular demonstration of priorities, last week CNN's 'Inside Politics' found time to cover Matt Drudge's unconfirmed (and untrue) allegations about the price of John Kerry's haircuts. 'Just two days after moving closer to a presidential race, John Kerry already is in denial mode,' intoned the host. But when the program interviewed Mr. Lott the day after the Thurmond event, his apparent nostalgia for segregation never came up. [Paul Krugman, "All These Problems," The New York Times, December 10, 2002]

On the December 9 CNN Crossfire, Bob Novak waxed indignant.

"Anybody who watched the birthday celebration on TV would have known the senator was just engaging in good-natured hyperbole common to such occasions. Reverend Jackson and Vice President Gore, you're just demagoguing and playing the race card."

Of course, Novak had a very different tone when he was whipping up a backlash against the Paul Wellstone memorial. The fact that a few speakers delivered political messages, and that a few people at the memorial booed Senator Lott, greatly violated Mr. Novak's delicate sensibilities. Senator Wellstone's opponent declared frequently that he wanted to "change the tone" in Washington.

Just as "states' rights" was and is code for racial discrimination, "change the tone" is code for suppressing opposition to the Bush Regime.

Last night, Senator Lott apologized. "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past, Lott said. Nothing could be further from the truth, and I apologize to anyone who was offended by my statement." [MSNBC]

Will the news media and most Democrats will now politely drop this little matter, as if it had never happened? If a Democrat had made this gaffe, of course, we'd never hear the end of it.

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