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19.12.02

Clinton Calls GOP "Hypocritical" On Lott

Former President Clinton said Wednesday it is "pretty hypocritical" of Republicans to criticize incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott for stating publicly what he said the GOP does "on the back roads every day."

"How do they think they got a majority in the South anyway?" Clinton told CNN outside a business luncheon he was attending. "I think what they are really upset about is that he made public their strategy."

He added: "They try to suppress black voting, they ran on the Confederate flag in Georgia and South Carolina, and from top to bottom the Republicans supported it."


Now I think we can pretty much guarantee that Lott will hold onto his post.

I haven't said anything about Lottgate yet, but since I've put up that one-off observation, I'll delve a little deeper.

My first reaction was that it wasn't a big deal. He was just trying to suck up to Strom, and made a comment that implied things that were not acceptable in political discourse. Then I learned about Lott's history of segregationist sympathies (and, we're learning now, those of John Ashcroft and even John McCain, which wrecks my little fantasy that McCain could be voted majority leader by a coalition of anti-Lott Republicans and all the Democrats). So what is still (in the grand scheme of things) a minor comment has become an entry-point for exposing a lot of skeletons in the party's closet. This is important stuff to get out, but it seems like there has been an awfully exclusive focus on the Republicans. Sure, the Repblicans made a specific strategy of appealing to neo-Confederate voters, but there's no reason why and individual racist couldn't be in favor of abortion and labor unions and the environment. It's mentioned in passing -- if at all -- that Robert Byrd, a Democratic elder in the Senate (who I never did like, anyway), was a member of the KKK.

Conventional wisdom these days is that Lott's career is over. Liberals are getting excited about bringing Lott down -- especially if a Lott resignation and a Lincoln Chafee switch make Tom Daschle (who I don't care for either, though as far as I know he's not a racist) majority leader, while conservatives are hoping to make Lott the scapegoat for the party's image of racism. Meanwhile, some cynical-strategic types on the left are bemoaning Lott's doom, on the grounds that a wounded Lott would be a much more ineffective leader, as well as a constant embarassment to the party, than a self-righteous Don Nickles (who seems to have channeled all of his bigotry into homophobia). But I don't think Lott will be getting the pink slip any time soon.

The GOP conference to decide Lott's fate is scheduled for January 6. This gives Lottgate ample time to blow over. Especially given the holidays coming up, it's questionable whether the "racist GOP" storyline will hold for the next three weeks. Once it leaves the headlines and the pens of nearly every commentator, people will feel they have more perspective and that, in the heat of the media frenzy, Lott's comments were blown out of proportion. I mean, he never outright said "I hate black people," right? So public opinion will be behind giving him a strong scolding, but not removing him from office.

If the story doesn't blow over on its own, Republican spinmeisters will unveil a new talking point. "The Democrats," they'll say, "are taking one little comment and blowing it out of proportion as a divisive political tactic. Racism is bad, but we need to put this little fiasco aside and move forward." The media, eager for a fresh angle on the story, will lap it up. Liberal commentators will be put on the defensive. Conservatives will reconcile themselves to the idea that punishing Lott isn't worth jeapordizing the strength of the party, and he's been humiliated and forced to apologize enough, and besides, he's not currently proposing policies any more racist than opposing affirmative action (noting correctly that opposing affirmative action is not necessarily racist).

Wow. I think that's more footnotes and parenthetical statements than I've ever used in a post before.

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