December 18, 2002
Chafee to Trent: Step down

Rhode Island Senator Lincoln Chafee says to Trent Lott "Put down the Majority Leadership, and slowly back away."

"I think the biggest problem has been that his apologies haven't connected," Chafee told WPRO-AM.

But "the only way to have a change, in my opinion, is for the White House to come in here and say to Majority Leader Trent Lott, 'It's time for change," the first-term senator said.

Well, the fact that his apologies haven't connected is one way of looking at it. Perhaps the fact that he's unclear about what he's apologizing for, and the fact that he's unclear about how to make up for his sins is more important.

What concerns me about this whole thing is the possibility that in the end, Trent Lott will be removed not because he has longstanding ties to various racist organizations and such associations are no longer acceptable in civilized society much less in political leadership, but because he got caught saying something stupid. In other words, as time passes and the conservative chattering classes decide that it's safe to resume attacks on John Kerry's hair again, Lott's passing will not be seen as a triumph of truth, justice, and the American Way but another example of Political Correctness stifling free expression and sending a Good Man to oblivion for a mere slip of the tongue.

And in a way, those who make such claims will be right. We now know of at least three prior occasions, including two within the last three years, where Lott has spoken fondly of our segregationist past and wished for President Thurmond, yet it's only now, in an otherwise slow news cycle, that his remarks have caused a furor. Surely the fact that he's made an identical statement at least three times on tape means that this is part of his standard schtick. So why is it just now that the media and his fellow politicians seem to care? Is it because we as a country, having finally been forced to face this garbage, ringingly reject it and those who stand for it, or is it "gotcha" politics?

We know that Trent Lott is not the only person in a leadership position who holds these views. We know that John Aschcroft is of a completely similar mind, yet he got through his confirmation hearings last year with barely a peep being raised. We know that Don Nickles, the outgoing Senate Majority Whip and strong contender for Majority Leader if Lott gets lost, has a very similar voting record and some equally intolerant views as Trent Lott, yet the only person raising an objection is Trent Lott himself with his use of the traditional he's-as-bad-as-I-am defense. If we're really rejecting Lott for his repugnant beliefs and not his loose lips and bad timing, then shouldn't we be rejecting these two as well? Should we not be consistent in what we condemn?

It's hypocritical for the Republicans to jettison Trent Lott and then say "See? We cleaned out our closet just like you told us to", and it's hypocritical for Democrats to let them off that easy. If this really is about a catalog of beliefs that Trent Lott subscribes to and not an example of "poor word choice", then Republicans should either make the case that Ashcroft and Nickles are different, or they should apply the same standard to them. If the GOP chooses the former, then Democrats should either make the case that Aschcroft and Nickles are indeed the same or agree that the matter is closed and move on. If what we get is a continued pileup on Trent Lott that gets discarded as soon as he is, without any other considerations, then this whole exercise really was just a feeding frenzy. And that would be a shame.

Finally, if you think that turning the spotlight on Ashcroft and Nickles and anyone else like them who might be lurking about would be a clear win for the Democrats and their agenda, think again. Radley Balko is right when he talks about all of the things that a Trent Lott-led Senate can't address, though he doesn't take this thought to finish line. However clean GOP skirts may be on racial matters overall, until most people believe that to be the case, many issues can't be put on the table. Once again, that would be a shame.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2002 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

Your argument against Ashcroft is weak at best. All he did was express reverence for the history of the Confederacy and its fighters, not an acceptance of segregation or the Dixiecrat platform. You tried to make a connection that simply doesn't work.

And are you ignoring Senator Bryd again, head of the Senate Appropriations Committee and fourth in line for the presidency? Democrats are being incredibly hypocritical about this, and I'm tired of feigned moral outrage coming from the left. These tenuous connections make a mockery of rational debate.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on December 18, 2002 5:11 PM

Enough with Byrd already. There's no comparison. Byrd has been open and forthright about his past. He has a decent voting record on civil rights issues. And he's not in a leadership position. You'll note I've never called for Lott to resign the Senate. What do you want Byrd to do?

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on December 18, 2002 8:57 PM

There is a strong comparison. Bryd made offensive comments and the Democratic Party didn't call him on it, not even the Black Congressional Caucus. And no, he doesn't have a good voting record on civil rights issues, especially not by your own standards.

And besides, your're the one making weak comparisons -- the mention of Ashcroft and Nickles as worthy of the same condemnation as Lott is ridiculous.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on December 19, 2002 12:26 AM