Monday, December 16, 2002

Trent Lott's Dixiecratesque Faux Pas May Cost Him His Career

Last week, Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) made the following ill-advised tribute to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina) on the latter's 100th birthday: "I want to say this about my state. When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. 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 was referring to Thurmond's 1948 run for the Presidency against then-President Harry Truman as one of the many "Dixiecrat" segregationists who broke with Truman's majority wing in the Democratic Party. (After the 1948 election, Thurmond returned to the Democrat Party but switched allegiances to the GOP in 1964.) The Dixiecrats claimed to be about "states' rights" versus increasing Federal encroachment.

But the Dixiecrats had broken with the Democrats specifically on the matter of racial integration in the areas of voting registration, education, housing, and employment --a reform which Truman and both the Democratic and Republican parties increasingly favored. The Dixiecrats argued that their Southern brand of apatheid was strictly a state-by-state matter, while the two major parties came to regard racial segregation as a violation of the basic Constitutional rights of its minority targets and therefore a Federal issue.

The Dixiecrat legacy is what Trent Lott, whether unwittingly or intentionally, seemed to voice support for last week in the eyes and ears of many, both Republicans and Democrats, especially those old enough to remember those bad old KKK-run days in the South. Even though Lott has since tried several times to get out from under the cloud of seeming to endorse segregationism, and even though most of his critics agree he's not a racist, his carelessness and lack of clear thinking may have turned his ability to lead into a pillar of salt. Hence the call from many Republican leaders and conservative pundits --such as Linda Chavez, Charles Krauthammer, Mona Charen, and Cal Thomas-- for Lott to step down as Senate Majority leader.

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