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Trent Lott's Big Mistake
by Brian S. Wise, Fifth Columnist
09 December 2002

Last month in this space I mentioned Strom Thurmond for the first time, referring to him as That Old Confederate. A lot of people, both Right and Left, have nicknames around here: Thurmond’s was based entirely on the suspicion that, had he been around for the Civil War (and he didn’t miss it by all that much), he more than likely would have lined up on the wrong side. Strom Thurmond was, after all, a Dixiecrat.

Now what are Dixiecrats? (We could speak of them fondly in the past tense, except that they still exist, just by different names.) Thurmond came up with Dixiecratism in direct opposition to President Truman, who, in being from Missouri, was apparently neither redneck or segregationist enough for some in the South’s tastes. When he ran for president in 1948, it was under the general argument that, you know, the southern States are free to keep blacks from white schools, and that because whites were by nature the stronger race, they should forever remain the strongest race. This indescribable nonsense got Thurmond one million votes. But times were different in 1948. Thing is, That Old Confederate never quite got past them, publicly mending his ways in later life and being one of the first Senators to hire blacks onto his staff, but traditionally speaking of blacks as lower people.

Fast forward to 2002, last Thursday to be exact, and the open celebration held to mark That Old Confederate’s 100th birthday. Enter Trent Lott, who as future Senate majority leader was called upon to say some nice words about the departing Senator from South Carolina, and who basically said that his State (Mississippi) had voted proudly for That Old Confederate in 1948, and that if the rest of America had done the same, perhaps we wouldn’t have all the problems we have today.

Now wait a minute. What’s that supposed to mean? No one’s sure. One wonders if, in retrospect, Senator Lott knows exactly what he was talking about, but it sure got the talking heads to flapping. Premier race hustling poverty pimp Jesse Jackson’s first call of note was to Meet the Press, Mr. Russert reporting on Sunday that Jackson had referred to Senator Lott as a Confederate and called for his resignation, a tactic soon taken up by fellow race hustling poverty pimp Al Sharpton. A guest on The O’Reilly Factor Monday night, when asked by the host, flatly contended that Senator Lott is, in fact, a racist … and not the sort of garden variety racist the Left thinks lurks in the heart of every Republican, but a real, honest to God racist. Hasn’t Lott here and there called for Jefferson Davis, a native of Mississippi, to be granted his American citizenship 140 years after the fact?

Sure, but look: One reasonably assumes that not all of Mississippi is, well, refined, and that in some of the darker corners of the State, a call for American citizenship for the Confederacy’s only president may get you some positive responses, and therefore votes. Not that it makes the tactic any less objectionable, of course, but at least a very small amount of consideration can be laid to an unreasonable request.

Otherwise, reaction was twofold. The first was to wonder outloud why the liberal media hadn’t jumped on the story with the sort of vim and vigor one would expect if, say, the media as a whole had stumbled upon a gigantic pot of gold; the second part was to call for Lott to give a public apology. To the first part, it bears mentioning that there were a lot of other important things on deck late last week, from Iraq’s “disclosing” its weapons capability to Saturday’s Louisiana run-off election for the Senate seat, both of which were more important than some wacky comments dropped at a very old man’s birthday party, even if they were by the next Senate majority leader. The media as a whole doesn’t take That Old Confederate seriously, both because of his age and because of his party affiliation, and thought the story a non-starter.

To the second part, one is hard pressed to find a concept more universally useless than the public apology. Surely the Senator should be made to answer to the question as often as the electorate (Republicans especially) should call upon him to answer. But apologies never really makes up for something stupid, and Trent Lott would be wise to remember that the Confederacy wasn’t admirable, neither was Dixiecratism, and neither were the men who spearheaded either cause.

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