It has been announced
that Senate Republicans will meet on January 6 to
discuss what has become a crisis in their leadership. Until that time,
Republican leaders should stop talking about the Trent Lott matter.
What will fill
the media vacuum about this story will be the voices of those
who want to keep the issue alive: the Democrats. In the past week, the
debate over this situation has reached absurd proportions. The demand
punishment has grown from censure to resignation to removal. The rhetoric
has become shrill and the finger pointing indiscriminate.
For a solid week, The New
York Times has been relentless in its attacks on
Lott, George W. Bush and the Republican Party. On Sunday, CNN’s
Edition featured columnist Julianne Malveaux who declared that Lott “just
took the sheet off his head and made it clear what kind of Klan member
is.” The leaders of many African-American organizations came together
Monday to call for the ouster of Lott. During CNN’s Talk Back Live
day, radio host Tom Joyner repeatedly called Lott a racist.
The charges have become more
vicious, outlandish and reckless. Julian Bond
and Elijah Cummings among others are reading from the same flawed page
they criticize the Republicans for “putting a man like Lott”
fourth in line
to the presidency. In fact, the line of succession puts the President
Tempore of the Senate in that position. That person is Senator Robert
of West Virginia, Democrat and unrepentant former member of the Ku Klux
Klan. Last year, it was Byrd who used the “N-word” in a televised
with Fox News interview. Neither a denouncement of him nor a call for
resignation or censure was forthcoming. These are minor details not to
considered while the destruction of Trent Lott is in progress.
Those at the forefront of
this political witch-hunt will need to continue
turning up the volume against the silence. A lack of response from
Republican ranks will require them to keep this fire stoked for several
weeks among themselves and their media patrons. In they meantime, they
also need to secure the active support of the balance of the party. They
have already blasted the Democratic Party leadership for not responding
earlier and sufficiently loud.
A singular focus on this particular
issue may cause a schism within the
party. They will need to decide how much political capital they are willing
to spend to dislodge Lott, as substantial energy will be required to sustain
the necessary moral outrage until January. A fractured Democratic Party
not be up to it.
African-Americans are undeniably
an important Democratic constituency, but
they do not constitute a majority. A grateful Mary Landrieu called them
“the soul of the Democratic Party”, but the reality is that
receive the black vote 90% of the time, turnout is always a concern. Their
indifference was a reason cited for the Democrats’ poor performance
November. White Democrats, on the other hand, are unlikely to rally around
a cause that has such a limited upside.
Still more difficult will
be to portray Trent Lott as a rabid segregationist
and racist, as it simply doesn’t match the image of the public person.
will need to be demonized to the same degree as Newt Gingrich and Pat
Buchanan were for this issue to have any legs. An overreach has the
potential to backfire on the Democrats in the same way that Clinton’s
impeachment proceedings did on the Republicans. After all, the party of
Byrd and Hollings has its own history yet to acknowledge.
By the time the Senate conference
meets on Jan 6, the furor will have
subsided and the Democrats may be embroiled in the kind of infighting
they do so well.