Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Sins of Omission

Commenter David Bird makes a strong case for why Lott’s second apology is inadequate given his inability to say the word segregation, let alone to place it in the same sentence with the words "morally wrong." His most intriguing point, however, is that elected Republicans should be held accountable not only for what they have said, but by what they have failed to say. It’s all good and fine that Kemp, and pundits, and the writers of this blog beat up on Lott on a regular basis, but it is high time that the elected Republican officials took him to task. I couldn’t agree more.

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In my previous comment on Alt’s blog, I said that I had not heard or read any comment from Lott that specifically and expressly acknowledged the evil of racial segregation by law. Since then, I read today’s Washington Post article by Edsal and Balz which reports on Lott’s comments on last night’s "Larry King Live". According to the story, Lott told King, "’I do reject segregationist policies of the past .... We’re way beyond those policies of the past, Larry. They were bad at the time; we’ve made huge progress since then. My state has more African American elected officials than any other state. We need to come together; we need to be uniters, not dividers.’"

This comes much closer to what I insisted Lott should say. Lott’s specific choice of words still strikes me as very slippery. For example, Lott says that "the segrationist policies of the past" were "bad at the time" but not "wrong" or "evil". Likewise, Lott’s suggestion that we need "to come together" seems inappropriate since he was the one who set this controversy in motion. In fact, it seems like most of us _have_ "come to together" ... to denounce Lott’s offensive suggestion that America would be a better place today if the nation had elected a segregationist Dixiecrat in 1948. I guess this proves that Lott is a uniter, not a divider, after all. Overall, Lott’s statements to Larry King come much closer to acknowledging the specific policy that made and to rejecting that policy, but Lott still seems to me to refuse to take full personal responsibility for saying something so appalling. Perhaps Lott could learn something from the example of John DiIulio, who early this weak explained his apology for much less exegregious remarks by saying that his father taught him to appologize on his knees or not at all.

Sadly, I can’t say that any Republicans on Capitol Hill have heeded my call to prove that they are still the Party of Lincoln. In fact, the same WaPo article cited above shows that some Republican leaders have started to take the position that I discussed in a previous comment -- namely, the position that Lott’s comment is stupid but harmless and overblown by the media.

According to the WaPo article, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), defended Lott:
"Stevens called the criticism an ’overreaction’ and said that ’it’s now time to move on.’ Specter said he was confident that Lott did not support Thurmond’s segregationist platform, adding, ’His comment was an inadvertent slip, and his apology should end the discussion.’"

I’m sure Lott’s comment was "an inadvertent slip" insofar as Lott did not intend to express a Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, but that hardly makes the comment any less offensive. It doesn’t even make Lott’s comment insincere (although Lott now implicitly insists that it was not sincere.) But I think Stephens is right, it is "now time to move on" ... to new Republican leadership in the Senate.

Apparently the White House has decided to give Lott’s critics everything we wanted, except Lott’s job as Senate majority leader.

According to The Washington Post, President Bush publicly rebuked Sen. Lott for Lott’s recent comment.

Lott’s office immediately responded with a statement saying that "Senator Lott agrees with President Bush that his words were wrong and he is sorry. He repudiates segregation because it is immoral."

This is precisely what many of us have insisted upon all along, and I am glad that the President was willing to take this extraordinary step. However, according to Presidential Press Secretary Ari Fleischer "the president does not think that Trent Lott should resign." That is disappointing (but not surprising) and it gives this victory an almost-Pyrrhic quality. Why? Because it makes the President’s comment look very much like a politically shrewd move to stop the public hemmorhaging, end the scandal, and bolster the President’s own image as a "Compassionate Conservative". If that sounds like a criticism of the President’s comments today, it’s not meant to be. The likelihood of Lott being forced out was always very remote and, while many (including me) hoped and called for it, it would have come at a great cost to the Party. I think the President and, no doubt, Karl Rove, are trying to find a way to turn this political disaster for the Party into an opportunity to strengthen the Party and clarify its fundamental principles to the entire nation. Such political cunning in service of the "dignity and equal rights of every American" is no vice.

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