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Lessons, anyone? Now that Trent Lott has “withdrawn,” sending his wife out to deliver a handwritten message (“please go home”), what have we all “learned,” apart from the obvious fact that Lott’s announcement conspicuously neglected to repeat any of his recent pledges to work for affirmative action and civil rights for all?

“One of the obvious lessons of the Lott firestorm,” declared the New York Times in a weekend editorial, “is that the Republicans must give much more than a passing glance to the record of the person they choose to lead them.”

Even as that sentence was being type-set, Republicans were preparing to elect Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist by acclamation in a hastily-arranged conference call on Monday. To heck with debate, screw deliberation. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell had already gone before cameras to hope aloud that no one would challenge Frist, given that Christmas is hard upon us. Competition under these circumstances would be practically un-American. Heaven forbid the Republican Senate should have to worry about leadership over Christmas. The unemployed, unlike Sen. Frist, will have to wait until January to find out whether they’ll have their meager benefits extended.

There were two clear reasons for the rush to rubber stamp the president’s hand-cloned man.

First, the GOP (like the registered-sex-offender-NBA-basketball-player recently arrested for choking his wife) was anxious to “get this behind us” and “move on” and talk about something, anything, else. They needed desperately to get the story off the front page, where it has squatted for two weeks like what Henry James, Sr. used to call a “vastation” — a hideous figure understood to represent a projection of one’s innermost self onto the external world.

Closure (escape from the grip of the hideous projection of the Republican inner reality) would involve getting the media to relax its focus on the party’s suddenly inconvenient history of code words and race baiting. Bluntly put, if GOP senators could vote over the phone, by electronic secret ballot, no one could interview them coming down the Capitol steps.

The other motive could be described as “remember Bob Livingston,” the Louisiana family values advocate and serial philanderer who had to withdraw before he could be installed as Newt Gingrich’s successor in the House. It seemed urgent to install Frist, a man so civic-minded he never bothered to vote until 1989, before any effort at scrutiny could gain momentum. In other words, the Republicans had no interest in scrutinizing him themselves. They just wanted to make damn sure no one else had time to do it.

How incredibly bracing it must feel to solve a big problem just in time to relax and enjoy Christmas. The president was so relieved he forgot all about Separation of Church and State and issued a Christmas Message in which he declared that “we” all celebrate the birth of “our” savior, Jesus Christ. In last year’s message he was more restrained and politic, content to acknowledge Christmas as a time when Christians celebrate the birth, etc. In this year’s giddiness, last year’s respect for multiculturalism disappeared. In the twinkling of an eye, with the resignation of Trent Lott, everything is back to normal, all is well with the world and American is a “Christian nation” again.

There was more than one thing that happened in the twinkling of an eye. You had to blink really fast or you’d miss some of them.

Lott’s silence, for example. Senator Snopes disappeared from public view for all of 24 hours before sniveling back to the microphone, just when even George McGovern was beginning to feel sorry for him, to snatch the last vestige of good will away by blaming his downfall on “people in Washington” who don1t like it “when you1re from Mississippi and you1re a conservative and you1re a Christian.” And you thought he had hit bottom on BET.

Last week Ari “watch what you say” Fleischer was asked to specify what the Bush administration has done for black Americans. The main accomplishment he was able to cite was that “the president looks forward to going to Africa.” Naturally, the minute Lott had resigned and the White House determined the firestorm to be over, the president announced that he was “postponing” his trip to Africa to attend to more pressing matters.

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch.

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DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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