The Hypocrisy of Trent Lott’s Critics

At Strom Thurmond’s 100th birthday party, once and future Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott gushed “I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of him. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.” Lott’s supposed endorsement of Thurmond’s “States’ Rights” candidacy in 1948 was met with condemnations from both Democrats and Republicans.

Former Vice President Al Gore 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.” Gore added that Lott’s comments were “racist.” Nancy Pelosi, soon to be the House Minority Leader, argued, “Lott can apologize all he wants. It doesn’t remove the sentiments that escaped his mouth that day at the party.” Senator Joe Lieberman felt that President Bush needed to condemn Lot’s remarks. “The longer the president waits to speak out, the more the wounds that were done by Trent Lott’s statements go deeper,” cautioned Lieberman. President Bush did jump on the bandwagon, telling a mixed-race audience, “Any suggestion that the segregated past was acceptable or positive is offensive and it is wrong. . . . Every day our nation was segregated was a day that America was unfaithful to our founding ideals.”

It would seem, then, that the Democratic leaders in the country are stridently antiracist, and loathe Lott’s remarks as nostalgia for the time of American apartheid. The hypocrisy of this outrage is belied by several factors, though.

It should be remembered that when Thurmond broke off to form the “Dixiecrat” Party in 1948, he broke off from the Democratic Party. Thurmond’s legacy of bigotry is also the legacy of the Democrats. Another Democrat of Thurmond’s ilk, J. William Fullbright, (as noted by Mark R. Levin of National Review Online) was honored by President Clinton with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, in 1993. Clinton praised Fullbright as “a visionary humanitarian, a steadfast supporter of the values of education. . . . The American political system produced this remarkable man, and my state did, and I’m real proud of it.” Anyone thinking that Clinton may have distanced himself from his views of Fullbright since 1993 should note that in October of this year, Clinton dedicated a bronze statue of Fullbright in Fayetteville, Arkansas. What people may not know, and what Levin points out, is that Fullbright was one of the most steadfast defenders of segregation when he was in the Senate, voting against both the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Nor is Lott the only Senator to have heaped praise on Thurmond. Carl Levin, Democrat from Michigan, said on September 24th, “I am pleased to join my colleagues in paying tribute to Senator Strom Thurmond and honoring him for his unparalleled record of public service to this Nation.” At the same event where Lott made his offensive remarks, Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, praised Thurmond as “an institution within an institution,” a “man of iron with a heart of gold.” These accolades are given to a man who said, while running for President in 1948, “All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the nigger into our homes, our schools, our churches.” (Most recent media accounts of this speech have been sanitized, replacing the word “nigger” with “Negro.” Audio recordings of the speech have Thurmond saying the more offensive term. This in itself shows that Lott’s desire to look at Thurmond’s record through rose-colored glasses is by no means idiosyncratic.)

But perhaps the most glaring hypocrisy of those criticizing Lott is that they portray themselves as antiracists opposed to segregationist policies of the past. While this may be true as far as past American society goes, Gore, Lieberman, and Pelosi seem to have no qualms about supporting Apartheid regimes operating abroad in the present day.

Gore ran his 2000 campaign with the unflagging support of the pro-Israel lobby. For years, as discussed by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair in Al Gore: A User’s Manual, Gore has pandered to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), taken direction from rabid Zionist Martin Peretz (whose New Republic has also come out with a duplicitous condemnation of Lott), and steadfastly defended Israeli settlement policy.

Pelosi (whose rise to leadership is supposedly indicative of a “liberal shift” in the Democratic Party) has argued that “Prime Minister Barak made a generous and historic proposal at Camp David in 2000.” Speaking before AIPAC on April 23, 2002, Pelosi said “When I met with Chairman Arafat in Ramallah last year, I explained that he had lost credibility when he rejected Barak’s proposal. His answer: ‘There was no proposal.’ It takes your breath away. It is really tragic that he would say such a thing,” (emphasis in original). Pelosi seems not to want to face the reality that Arafat was right_there never was a proposal by Barak. (For more on the “generous proposal,” see my essay “The Only Thing ‘Generous’ is the Propaganda,” CounterPunch website, June 24, 2002).

Lieberman has prided himself over the last two years as being further to the right on Israel than President Bush. Commenting on Colin Powell’s “peace mission” to Israel and Palestine in April 2002, Lieberman stated, “I believe strongly we should not ask Israelis to stop their war against terrorists until they have achieved greater homeland security.” Later that month, in a statement of support for a “Resolution Expressing Solidarity With Israel,” he argued that “in supporting Israel’s right to protect itself, to defend itself, we are supporting our own war against terrorism,” adding that we must not “lose our bearings and muddy the moral clarity with which we began and are carrying out our campaign against terror.” This “moral clarity” quickly becomes opaque when we compare outrage at American apartheid with support for Israel’s version of “Jim Crow.”

The “Jewish State” has achieved a system of Apartheid that would make Strom Thurmond blush. From schooling to housing grants, from police protection to simple freedom of movement, Palestinians not only in Israel, but especially in the Occupied Territories, face ever-increasing deprivations in the face of domination by “God’s Chosen People.” While anyone in the world, as long as they are Jewish (even if they are recent converts from the indigenous tribes of Peru), can claim citizenship in Israel at any time, Palestinians are not allowed to return to the homes from which they were driven in 1948. A Jew born and raised in Brooklyn is given the right, along with substantial government subsidy, to “settle” in the West Bank or Gaza. An Arab Israeli has no such right. Palestinian land and homes are routinely confiscated for this very purpose, their occupants thrown to the curb. “Jewish only” roads, built with American taxpayer funds, crisscross the West Bank, making the shortest of journeys into a nightmarish odyssey for Palestinians. Curfews are enforced against Palestinians; Jewish “settlers” (occupiers) have no curfew. The Arab people of the Occupied Territories suffer regular humiliation at checkpoints; Israeli soldiers murder Palestinians with impunity.

And increasingly, in a trend that would have made the Strom Thurmond of 1948 drool with envy, mainstream Israeli policymakers are talking openly of “transfer”_expelling the Palestinian population altogether from the Occupied Territories. Even when he was running for President, Thurmond could only have dreamed of such a policy being implemented against African Americans.

Both the United States and Israel were founded as racist states, though Israel more overtly so. Where, at its inception, the US did pay some lip service to pluralism, the entire idea behind the founding of Israel was that there should be a homeland where Jews would have special status. This special status, defended by the likes of Gore, Lieberman, and Pelosi, was what Strom Thurmond sought to preserve for whites in 1948. One would only have to look as far as these politicians’ support for the racist, segregationist State of Israel to see the hypocrisy of their horror over the racist nostalgia of Trent Lott.

TOM GORMAN lives in Glendale, California. He welcomes comments at