Friday, January 17, 2003

In the new National Review, John O'Sullivan has an article (not online) in which he says what a shame it is that the "self-righteous mob" of "libertarians, conservatives, and neoconservatives," especially bloggers, succeeded in hounding poor Trent Lott from office. I'm going to comment more extensively next week. But to begin with:

"Into this political gap [between the national and the southern Democratic party] stepped the Republicans-- including Trent Lott-- to persuade a resentful reagion to accept a steady movement toward racial equality. In order to soothe the South into accepting the Civil Rights Act, such politicians had to treat their constituents not as bigots but as essentially good people open to change... [T]hey had to make speeches to bodies like the White Citizens' Council.
"What did those speeches say? Usually, behind closed doors, they went like this: 'Look, boys, I know you all are decent folks. But we gotta admit we treated the Negroes badly, and there have to be some changes. Some of those changes I don't like any more than you. Others-- let's admit it-- are long overdue. And all of them will help us attract new industries and make everybody, white and black, better off. But we need responsible leadership. And that sure as hell doesn't mean the northern Democrats.'
"This kind of politics is uninspiring, which explains why a master of it, like Trent Lott, strikes Charles Krauthammer, Andrew Sullivan, and the philosophers of the blogosphere as insincere and opportunist."

This sounds like Georgia. It doesn't sound like Mississippi. And it sure doesn't sound like Trent Lott.

Is there anyevidence that Lott was a master of this sort of politics? That he ever lifted a finger to bring his fellow white southerners along in this way? That he ever told them that any of the changes of the civil rights era were "long overdue"? In his floundering statements after the Thurmond speech, I did not hear someone who knew in his heart that Jim Crow was wrong, but had had to compromise with the sensibilities of those who didn't know. I heard someone who was only just then beginning to think about Jim Crow at all. Lott's astonishment and befuddlement, as much as anything else, indicted him and makes O'Sullivan's portrait implausible.

Now I've never been tro a meeting of a White Citizen's Council; maybe O'Sullivan has and knows what he's talking about. But even if--if!-- this was the message that some enlightened southern Republicans were spreading to their neighbors, I don't see anything in Trent Lott's public career that would suggest that he was one of them.

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