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Louis Untermeyer


The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

December 12,  2002

Senator Lott Should Go

Senator Trent Lott's thoughtless tribute to Senator Strom Thurmond has hurt Republicans and done incalculable harm to conservatives and conservatism. He should pay for it.

First, some background. Way back in 1948, Senator Thurmond, who turned 100 years old this year, split from the Democrat party and ran on the ticket of a newly formed States' Rights Democratic party. Thurmond and other so-called Dixiecrats, mostly Southerners, hated President Truman's proposed anti-lynching and anti-segregation bills. So they formed the States' Rights party in protest. The party's overriding goal was preserving segregation. Thurmond didn't win the Presidency, obviously, but he did win a few Southern states, including Lott's Mississippi.

What happened to these Dixiecrats? Many of them joined the Republican party. Some, like Thurmond, renounced their segregationist views. Others did not and joined with some Republicans and conservative Southern Democrats to oppose civil rights legislation, like the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

So that prompted Democrats and liberals to label Republicans and conservatives as racists. Against affirmative action, or forced busing, or welfare? It's because Republicans hate blacks, of course. Never mind the decent, principled reasons justifying these positions that have nothing to do with race.

Conservatives have spent the last thirty years or so trying to convince voters they're not racists. Because it's impossible to prove a negative, progress has been slow but steady as conservatives stubbornly toiled away against the negative stereotype that Democrats tar them with. Ronald Reagan's election helped, as did President Dubya's in 2000 along with Republican gains in the House and Senate in last month's elections. Hysterical accusations made by the Left, comparing Dubya to the swine who murdered James Byrd, for example, or claiming that black churches would burn if anyone voted for a Republican, seemed to lose their potency. The Democrats still owned the black vote, but fewer white moderates and independents voted Democrat, showing they did not believe what Democrats were claiming. In the meantime, a small but growing group of brave blacks became conservatives, enraging the Left to no end.

Now jump to Thurmond's birthday party. Here's what 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 all these years, either." With those stupid comments all the years of hard work are vaporized. Democrats now have a heavy hammer with which to bludgeon Republican heads for the next two years.

Speaking of Democrats, they sound outraged and ticked off, but don't believe it. They're secretly thrilled with this political opportunity to give the full Gingrich to Trent Lott and President Dubya in 2004. Expect lurid and shrill ads replaying Lott's remarks and showing Dubya and Lott joined at the hip. How many other closet segregationists lurk in the Republican cloakroom? Dems will slyly ask.

Now, I do not think Trent Lott is a racist. His few defenders are probably right when they say that he was just trying to say something nice to an ancient fossil who has done nothing in the Senate for years but consume space and oxygen. He just got carried away in the rush of the moment and blurted out something stupid but harmless. He meant nothing by it. He's issued a few apologies since then (the latest was yesterday), but that won't help. To Democrats out for blood, apologies are like chum in the water.

It's true that Democrats carefully select what to get outrageous about. After all, their god Bill Clinton dedicated a seven-foot tall bronze statue of the late Arkansas senator, J. William Fulbright. In 1993, President Bubba awarded Fulbright the Presidential Medal of Freedom, calling the Southern Democrat "a visionary humanitarian," and "my mentor." Funny thing is, Fulbright was a segregationist who voted against the Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I don't recall anyone, conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, making this an issue.

In fact, it's interesting that many Democrats want Lott's head for mere speech while they excused and coddled Clinton for committing perjury, obstructing justice, lying to the American people, having sex with subordinates in the White House, waging war and killing innocents to distract from his infidelities, demonizing Ken Starr and other opponents, rifling through confidential FBI files, giving away nuclear secrets to the Chinese, renting out the Lincoln Bedroom to the highest contributor, handing out pardons to terrorists and rich fugitives, looting the White House, and despoiling the office of the Presidency.

So this episode is yet another example of the Left's hypocrisy. But it doesn't matter. The Left is largely immune to racial criticism and the Right is always vulnerable to it. Is that fair? Nope. But life isn't fair. It's the way it is. That's why conservatives have worked so hard to convince people they're not Klan members and why Lott's gaffe is so damaging.

Democrats will not let this go. They will make political hay of this for the next two years, and no doubt view this issue as their ticket to the presidency in 2004. They probably don't believe Lott is racist, but that won't stop them from trying to convince voters that he is.

Republicans must respond. They can't just brush the whole thing aside as a harmless slip of the tongue, as J.C. Watts did yesterday. His office released this statement: "As the incoming majority leader already said about himself, Senator Lott went too far. He told me he would like to have his words back, but I took his comments as complimentary humor that often accompanies personal tributes. His comments were as serious as the venue at which they were delivered - a birthday party. We should accept his apology, get out of our offices and do some holiday shopping."

This is the wrong response. Republicans cannot give the perception that they excuse racially insensitive remarks. Democrats will kill them for it, and besides, it just isn't right.

Here's what they should do. Lott should not run as majority leader and Republicans should tell the world over and over again that they care about principles and moral integrity more than power, unlike those Democrats who often excuse their own racial demagouges for political advantage. Paint Democrats as the hypocrites they are. Go on the offensive. Don't let them get away with racial slander.

As for conservatives, it's time to start educating people all over again.

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