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October 25, 2006 | South Carolina Headlines


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The last on the last of Lott
Jonathan Pait
December 20, 2002

"I want to say this about my state: 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 all these years, either."

Thus began the demise of the Senator from Mississippi. He most certainly brought it on himself. It wasn’t because of what he said so much as it was the way he reacted to the attacks that followed. A non-racist Lott kowtowing to those who have misconstrued the meaning of his statement is more damaging to America than a truly racist Lott actually saying and meaning what is alleged.

Yes, yes, Lott was not wise to have uttered something that could be used as a weapon by those who wish to destroy him. Do you think for a moment that he knew that it would be used against him and said it anyway? If he did, he is more stupid than the pundits would have us think! One would have to assume that he did not think it was a dangerous statement. If so, I can certainly forgive him. However, I have a harder time forgiving him for what followed. Lott allowed the liberal press and activists to define him without even putting up a fight.

Consider this statement made in the Minneapolis Star Tribune shortly after Lott’s statement.

“There's only one way to interpret Lott's statement: The United States would be better off if the civil rights movement -- one of the nation's crowning political and humanitarian achievements of the 20th century -- had never happened. And this man is scheduled to become the leader of the U.S. Senate in just a few weeks?”

It could be a paragraph from any number of reporters or columnists. The debate over what Lott meant was finished before the podiums were set up and the moderator chosen. We have moved from questioning what Lott meant to reading statements such as appeared recently in The Greenville News: “Trent Lott said Tuesday he believes he has the votes to survive a furor over racially insensitive remarks...” I’m sure he did say he believes he has the votes to survive. Do you really think he said he has the votes to survive a “furor over racially insensitive remarks?”

As headlines trumpeted, “Lott expands on apology for segregationist comments” Al Gore took the ball and ran with it on CNN’s “Inside Politics” when he said, “It is not a small thing 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.” Did I miss something? I don’t recall Lott saying that. The AP reported, “Senate Republican leader Trent Lott, battered by a sharp backlash from a comment at a birthday party, has apologized for implying the country would have been better off had Strom Thurmond won the presidency when he ran in 1948 on a segregationist ticket.” Hmmmm, now who exactly made the implication?

The bottom line is that we can’t read Lott’s mind and don’t know for certain what he meant. However, it is incorrect to posit that “there’s only one way to interpret Lott’s statement.”

It is quite possible that if the Strom Thurmond of today had been elected during that 1948 election, we could be better off. I also believe that was the implication of Trent Lott’s statement. He has said as much in his interview with Sean Hannity. Unfortunately, he did not say it strongly and often enough. His greater error has come in his kowtowing and pandering. It is because of that behavior -- not his original statement -- that this incident will cause lasting damage to our political process.

Trent Lott has shown that now the liberal media and any number of activists can successfully define why we are doing what we are doing. Let’s say that you oppose a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Never mind that you also oppose any other additional (and some already instituted) national days off of work. They can now simply pull a Trent-o-tantrum and steer the debate into a wholly racial (women’s rights, “homophobic”, etc.) venue. Any past associations you may have had or any other statements that you may have made that they deem racist will also be brought into the mix.

Ah, if only Lott were truly a racist and he was pining for the days of segregation. If he were, the outcry from all quarters would be deafening. The fact is that most who know him realize he is not and while they do not have the guts to stand in his defense, they at least have the remaining character not to pile on him. We won’t comment on those political opportunists climbing the carcass to find their own power or to protect their own hides.

Unfortunately, the Lott known by his peers and backed by his record is not consistent with the implications attributed to him. This makes the actions of the media and those attacking Lott all the more malicious. It also means that they have reason to be all the more brazen in the future.

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