Trent says he’s sorry. He says his words are being misinterpreted. He says he was only seven years old in 1948, so he couldn’t be expected to have a realistic grasp on the issues of that campaign anyway (like he hasn’t had 54 years to study up). He says that an earlier statement about Strom Thurmond had nothing to do with Strom’s racist, segregationist views — they were about the Dixiecrat Party’s belief in a strong national defense.
What Trent Lott is doing is what racist Southern politicos have done since they scuttled Reconstruction and instituted Jim Crow — wink at their white supremacist supporters while they try to soothe the rest of the country with blandishments like “I didn’t really mean it.”
Okay, here’s what he said — “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.”
All these problems, like African-Americans enjoying equal rights. Guess what folks. He said it, and he meant it. And all this mealy-mouthed backpedaling is something we’ve seen before in Southern demagogues.
I fished out my copy of Robert A. Cato’s “Master of the Senate” and re-read the section on Senator Richard Russell of Georgia. Like Thurmond, Russell opposed allowing black Americans to vote. He fought laws to protect them from lynch mobs. He fought giving them equal rights in the military, and filibustered every Civil Rights bill to death. Incredibly, he got a virtual free pass from the national press, because he was so filled with Southern charm. As Cato puts it, (The press thought) “Dick Russell didn’t really mean the arguments he was making. He was such a decent man, they said–he couldn’t mean them.” (p. 186)
But of course he did mean them. He used charm as a weapon to disarm his opponents even as he ran racist campaigns back home in Georgia, causing millions of African-Americans to suffer. And Lott means what he said as well.
Bob Novak said that Lott was “just kidding.” Look at the tape. He wasn’t kidding. He meant exactly what he said — White Southern politicians like himself have been greatly inconvenienced by having African-Americans in their schools, swimming pools, lunchrooms and polling places, and we’d all be better off if we went back to the “good ol’ days” of racial segreation.
Pat Buchanan used his TV pulpit to say that Lott was “just wishing an old man a happy birthday.” No, he wasn’t. He was telling America that the great Civil Rights revolution — a cause that good people fought and suffered and died for — was a horrible mistake, and we’d all be better off if it had never happened.
Rush Limbaugh said, “This is all phony-baloney, plastic-banana, good-time rock ‘n’ roll outrage because these people (liberals) all know Lott’s not really a racist.” No, Rush He REALLY IS A RACIST. He wasn’t kidding. He said it, live, on C-Span, right in front of God and everybody.
Frederick Douglass once said, “I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.” The light of truth is shining on Trent Lott. He’s trying to tapdance, backpedal, and finesse the result of his actions, but the actions speak for themselves.
Racist politicians like Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond and Trent Lott have been pedaling the poison of racial hatred and intolerance for hundreds of years. They love to present the Southern cause as being righteous, and the Southern people as being courageous. If the cause is righteous, why not defend it? And where’s your courage, Trent?
You said we — the American people — would be better off under Jim Crow segregation. You said it. And you meant it.
RICH PROCTER can be reached at: email@example.com